Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Mature burning

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Burning icon Now that they're both 60, I decided that my parental units are old enough to burn their own CDs. Having them do so, made me think about the easiest way to present this to them – ways that work predictably and that are somewhat logical and easy to remember. Actually talking them through doing it generated some new observations on the UI of all this.

My dad was first. As installing the upgrade to X.3 was left for me to do, I suggested he'd do a backup beforehand to be on the safe side. Seeing that he didn't have a backup at all, made this doubly useful – hopefully teaching a long term lesson on doing backups.

So how do you do a backup on OS X? There is no backup software included, nor does the help system give any information on this topic. Luckily the thing to do is ridiculously obvious: insert CD, copy files to CD, burn CD. However, it seems so obvious and easy that it wouldn't actually occur to people this might actually work.

Further problems even with this simple backup strategy are:

After I had cleaned out some old stuff from the 'Library' folder, we managed to fit documents, photos and the 'Library' folder on three CDs. No problems there. The update itself ran smoothly but it did cause problems with Mail later on [more]. Exposé was recognised as useful, the reappearance of labels and desktop printing was very welcome as well. Seeing your old labels back is nice – although I certainly don't blame particular thoughtfulness by Apple for this.

Next up, my mum wanting to burn audio CDs. Of course iTunes is the tool for this. A good thing here is that iTunes offers the 'large font' mode, which was very welcome in a 'I won't need my glasses for this' way. But from there on it's downhill. The whole library, radio, automatic playlists, playlists 'sources' concept needed a lot of explaining. You can change the blue playlists but you can't change the orange ones... Don't click on the 'Radio' thing as it'll start an internet connection and you won't need it. [Why can the music store and shared libraries be turned off but the radio can't?] Don't press delete in the library as it may delete your songs, don't press it in the purple playlists as it won't do anything, do press it in the blue playlists to delete a song there. ... No, that won't actually delete the song it will just remove it from the playlist. Do conversations like this with a person who never wanted to think about 'playlists' and isn't familiar with the concept or word – which doesn't exist in German in a reasonable form [Apple chose Wiedergabeliste for iTunes].

In addition the whole thing of selecting bands or albums in the library isn't obvious to understand. This concept of filtering the list below by selecting in the other lists is neither obvious nor frequently seen in other programs. Once this was settled, the question of actually doing some burning was tackled. It turns out you can burn CDs in many situations and you'll always burn the playlist you see, regardless of which source you have selected. I think that's quite neat but it does blur the distinction between the library and a playlist, say. If you want to burn an album from your library it leaves you with the choice of filtering for the album in the library and burning it right there or creating a new playlist containing just that album which is burned. Choice is confusing and bad.

The UI for burning in iTunes, as neat as it may be turns out to be bad. First you have to hit the 'burn' button. That's easy. The drive opens and you insert the CD-R. Then you have to close the drive yourself. And that's where problems start:

While iTunes may be perfectly easy to use to the technically inclined, all this suggests that there are many little caveats that can make something as simple as rip, mix, burn a frustrating experience. I expected that things like dragging and dropping files to playlists or rearranging songs in there would be the tricky bits. But they aren't – most likely because they work just like any other application does. But those few easy clicks to actually burn the CD turned out to be tricky. Too many non-standard interface bits, too many modes, too many unpredictable results.

We also made bad experiences with the new feature that burns long playlists on multiple CDs. We ended up with two identical copies of the first CD. Looks like a bug – but I am not going to invest the time or CDs to look reproduce it.

November 11, 2003, 11:38


Trackback “Grab Bag” from Michael Tsai’s Weblog:

John Siracusa gives his normal in-depth treatment to Panther. I liked his points about auto-hiding scroll bars, look and feel churn, the weird widget instead of a Labels submenu, Finder polling, and the sameness and unpredictability of the Finder. Mat…

November 12, 2003, 21:00

Trackback “Quarter Life Crisis on burning CDs with Mac OS X” from Betalogue:

Sven-S. Porst’s Quarter Life Crisis has an excellent article entitled “Mature Burning” on the deceptive “simplicity” of burning CDs (data or audio) with Mac OS X. I especially agree with the

November 17, 2003, 23:46

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Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.