Shiira vs. Bookmark Management

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This topic started off as a summary of outstanding bugs, to date, for the 1.2.2 release of Shiira, but a quick search of the Shiira forum produced a thorough and well thought out post from forum member ‘Brizon‘ covering almost every documented issue discovered by various forum members so far and although posted in January 2006 and relating to 1.2 on 10.3.9, most, if not all issues still remain with version 1.2.2 [ nightlies included ] up to Mac OS X 10.4.x [ 6 as of this post ]. Of course it has been nice to gain a handful of new features, but it would be even nicer to see these issues addressed in up-and-coming builds.

Rather to rehash that post, I have decided instead, to suggest a few ‘enhancements’ for essential, existing features starting with Shiira’s Bookmarks.

Use Appropriate Edge Automatically

Currently, Bookmark management in Shiira is somewhat rudimentary, providing an interface for only very basic management tasks [ ie. adding, deleting, renaming and re-ordering ]. While Shiira offers the user a dedicated panel for managing Downloads, it doesn’t extend this courtesy to any of the other tabs displayed in the Sidebar and confining it to the relatively small area of the Sidebar, managing a large number of bookmarks or groups of bookmarks can quickly becomes a bit of an issue.

I have witnessed a number of users voice their support for the Sidebar and its usage during the life cycle of this application, but none have really managed to convince me that it is indeed the best solution. Apple has improved the implementation over the last couple of System updates, but Drawers still have a unpredictable nature about them—sometimes they open on the left, other times they open on the right depending on the position of the applications’ window in relation to the edges of your screen. With other applications, such as Camino abandoning the drawer for accessing this kind of information around version 0.7 [ March 2003 ]—and even Apple seems to be dropping them in favour of ‘actual’ sidebars [ cf. Mail 2.0.x ], it seems this interface convention is on its way out.

What I suspect users really ‘love’ about the current Sidebar, is merely the convenience it offers in terms of a quick, visual reference to the data it contains without the need for complicated key commands, excessive menu navigation or new windows and/or panels. Click a button [ or use the appropriate key command; Show Bookmarks in Sidebar - ⌥⌘B ], have the Sidebar ’slide’ out resizing the main window if required and continue browsing. Your bookmarks are there, in plain view, ready should you need them. In fact, having the Sidebar exposed continuously doesn’t hinder the browsing experience at all [ provided you have a wide-ish screen ]. But is there another, more convenient method of displaying this information which builds on this ’simplistic’ nature most users have grown to enjoy?

Use Appropriate Inside Edge Automatically

Orientation is one aspect of the problem for me. With the length of the names of a number of my bookmarks, or having organising bookmarks into collapsible folders [ Shiira indents each folder ] increasing the width of the Sidebar is required—and that, for some reason, upsets me. I have been hacking Shiira’s .nib files to help soften my Sidebar experience, adding a horizontal scrollbar to save me from resizing and converting the scrollbars to ’small’ in an effort to save even more space [ I even enlarged the search field to align with the width of the Bookmark column to make things pretty ], but eventually grew tired of applying these changes to each new nightly [ I tend to be a bit of a beta junkie ].
I toyed with including these changes as an optional install within Spelliira, but quickly vetoed the idea once Spelliira’s file size outgrew that of Shiira’s, and offering a recomplied binary for the sake of a couple of interface changes seemed like overkill [ even though it would mean a chance to correct the ‘Help’ menu redirection issue ]. The ideal solution would be to have these changes made in the main source—this however, only addresses the issues inherent to the interface as it stands, without solving the bigger problem created by the restricted space allocated to the Sidebar.

I would much prefer the drawer to be positioned at the bottom of the main window—or within the main window [ cf. the iTunes [ 6.0.4 ] Music store popup ] following the recent HIG convention of Apple’s Mail and iTunes. The hierarchical list view currently used by Shiira works well for thin, elongated spaces but adding a Finder-style column view would allow yet another, possibly more efficient, way of ‘drilling down’ through bookmark groups when presented in this wider viewable area.

Not only would a wider interface reduce my need to scroll, it would also offer some room for more information such as ‘Description’, ‘Last Visited’, ‘Added’, ‘Last Modified’ or ‘Keyword’ et cetera [ loading a website via a keyword [ cf. Shiira’s Search Engines ] is commonly requested feature ]. This information could then help users collect, view and sort bookmarks with a common criteria or create relationships between bookmarks of a certain type. Saving these queries as ‘Smart Folders’ would allow the creation of groups, such as ‘Recently Visited’, ‘Recently Updated’ or a ‘Top Ten’ list that automatically updates itself. The ability to have duplicate bookmarks or ‘dead links’ flagged with an automatic bookmark validation function would also be incredibly valuable—grouping these marked links with a Smart Folder would aid in keeping your Bookmarks fresh and up-to-date.
Including support for the Systems Spell Checker and inline Dictionary panel is a great start but increased integration with Apple technologies and applications such as collecting URLs from Address Book or the ability to publish selected ‘public’ bookmarks via Bonjour to other Shiira users on a local network would ensure Shiira is a first rate third-party contender for the default browser.

Enhancing Shiira’s Bookmark parser to include even more bookmark formats may encourage a wider group of curious users to try out the browser without the need to convert their existing bookmarks and data—a great opportunity to help expand Shiira’s user base! A quick look through the source resources will turn up a Camino and IE folder icon to accompany the existing Firefox and Safari icons already in use for displaying external bookmarks which is not only promising, but suggests this could be closer to this than we think.

Sidebar Illustrated

GUI mockup depicting a new Bookmark management layout

To help illustrate these ideas [ and because everyone loves screenshots… ], I have put together a mockup of the GUI as I envision it with Photoshop, which highlights some of the features I have mentioned above. For the most part, this layout would behave the same as the current Sidebar. Toggled with a small icon in the status bar or via a key command, the ‘Sidebar’ [ Basebar? ] would slide to a user defined height, each section would have its own key command allowing a user to swap or call a section without needing to use the mouse. Repeating the key command would then close/hide the Sidebar from view.
List and column views are available for the browsing workflow that best suits the task, column view for quickly loading a site or the list view to provide more information about multiple bookmarks at a glance. Initiating a search will ’slide’ up the search field and return the results in a section below with the option to save or refine the search with multiple filters [ much like the Finder in 10.4.x ]. Saved searches are then added to the main ‘Groups’ section of the Sidebar as a Smart Folder, which when selected, will automatically update its contents based on the saved query.

With screens getting wider and wider with each new hardware release from Apple, this shouldn’t really present itself as an problem, but as most of the shortcomings stem from the vertical placement of the Sidebar, perhaps an alternative perspective is required to really address this issue. While not a complete solution to this interface problem, I believe it is certainly a good start—I look forward to next major release of this outstanding web browser.

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