The Critical 'I'

Read. React. Repeat.

Monday, January 19, 2004

I finally got around to trying out the NBOR software demo player, a couple of weeks after first hearing about NBOR. I spent about 45 minutes on it, with a couple of breaks.

My conclusion: Pretty much garbage. Which, I admit, confirms my original impressions from their horrendous-looking site.

I'm bearing in mind that this demo player is not the full package, and so is missing what might be some crucial elements from the completed version. I also realize that less than an hour of fiddling around may not be enough time to get a true feel for this interface, especially since I'm coming in with some 20 years of conditioning on Mac/Windows GUI environments.

But even with those caveats, I'm having a hard time seeing how the NBOR Blackspace is any kind of improvement over what already exists. In fact, the mechanics of this thing seem hopelessly clunky, reminiscent of nothing so much as Microsoft's old Paint program. There's way too much emphasis on continually needing to click on various function buttons like "RDraw" and "Text" to switch your cursor's functions; it gets old really quick. I found myself having to use the Undo and Delete functions a lot.

I really don't care for a program that likes to complete your thoughts for you. A quick scrawl drawing I dashed off resulted in the creation of a star-shaped drawing. That was nice, except I had no intention of drawing a star. Experimenting further with this, I attempted to draw a rectangle, in the same freehand style; it came out as a triangle. A second try at a rectangle did produce the desired shape, but I really don't think I should have to try twice when (again) this program is purportedly so intuitive. Further attempts at drawing more advanced objects like trapezoids resulted in upside-down triangles and the like.

One of the complaints about Windows and Mac environments cited on NBOR's website is the need to access pull-down menus to carry out tasks. Ironically, it appears to me that you have just as many menus you have to dive through to do anything in the Blackspace.

I'll also note that the player crashed three or four times while I was using it. That's not a big deal, considering this is a beta sample, but it's worth mentioning as I wasn't doing anything that I would consider taxing on the system.

The biggest beef I have with this program is the lack of any real intuitiveness, which is puzzling considering how much the marketing copy touts this as being more intuitive than existing interfaces. It's simply not there. I'm sure it's intuitive for the program's creator, who's a musician by trade; this is obvious by the presence of shorthand mousestrokes that quickly create fader switches and object-manipulation circular knobs. But if he believes the average person "naturally" thinks in these same terms, he's sadly mistaken. If the best hope for this software is that middle-aged GUI-phobic musicians are going to flock to it, then it's going to be a rough ride for the company.

I consider myself to be pretty adept with computer and electronic interfaces in general; my earliest encounters with Windows, Mac, DOS and other environments had me doing the most basic funtions within 15 minutes. Even the first time I turned on an iPod was a breeze; I was able to figure out basically all the devices functions through its text-menu driven interface. That's a great example of intuitive design, as is an ATM machine, or a DVR, or a microwave oven, even. NBOR is not.

The reaction I've seen from other quarters is generally not very positive; I get the feeling most think this is a pretty little piece of hype that'll amount to absolutely nothing. Most interesting was one reaction to a review of NBOR on OSNews. The comments from a user identified as Sodium Chloride, while speculative, present a pretty compelling argument for NBOR being nothing but a shell company, designed to be a launching point for dubious lawsuits against other software developers. Considering the fragile nature of comment archives, I'll reproduce the post here; it's worth saving for possible future reference:

NBORâ„¢ has been in secret development for nearly ten years - four years in conceptualization, three years in specification design and three years being written to code.

(the app does look like it was designed 10 years ago on a VIC-20, so this may be true)

It was invented by Denny Jaeger, a pioneer in computer applications for the audio industry. Frustrated by what existing software couldn't do, he was driven to find a way to make computers work the way people think they should.

(this is a funny one. most people have no idea how a computer 'should' work, more that it 'shouldn't work' the way it does!)

Beginning in 1993, Jaeger began designing what would become NBOR's unprecedented structure and carried the project for the first five years - during which he acquired his first patents on the technology, aided by Harris Zimmerman, a leading intellectual rights attorney and now a member of NBOR's Board of Directors.

(it is clear from the outset, NBOR is an IP company by what NBOR focused on first... certainly before they'd gotten any code to actually run according to the timetable above)

In 1996, the Intertactile Corporation (which was later renamed NBOR Corporation) was founded by Jaeger. He was joined two years later by John Doyle, a former Executive Vice President at Hewlett-Packard and head of HP Labs and now NBOR's Chairman of the Board. In 2002, Donn Tognazzini, a financial services industry expert with over four decades in the brokerage and investment management industries, joined NBOR's board.

(again, sounds like the perfect guy to hire for an IP shop that will make a living filing lawsuits...)

Both Mr. Doyle and Mr. Tognazzini are investors in NBOR Corporation, and they were instrumental in raising additional capital from a small group of very forward-thinking private investors.

(the absence of any well-known investment firm tells us that NBOR never had anything compelling to a venture capitalist who almost always wants to make a real company, not an IP lawsuit shell)

Critical to the software's development, Jaeger personally wrote all of the thousands of pages of application specifications that became the foundation of the working code produced by NBOR's hand-picked, international team of dedicated programmers, which he personally directs.

(the application is, in my opinion, total crap. the UI simply doesn't work, sometimes on extremely basic operations. either the specs were crap or the coders were crap... or both. i wonder if the coders were picked for IP purposes... one coder per country that NBOR is filing patents in)

It would not be an exaggeration to say Jaeger and his team broke the prevailing rules of how code has been written for the last 25 years.

(yes, the code's runtime behavior is worse than most code I've seen in the past 25 years. the 'player' hardly even could run without crashing. this paragraph probably means 'we incorporated more lines of patent claims per line of code than ever before!')

Significant of NBOR's revolutionary capabilities, over 1500 claims in 60 patents have been either issued or are currently pending with the U.S. Patent Office, plus a large number of pending foreign patents.

(and the claims to all these patents in the US and other countries pretty much puts the final nail in the coffin. NBOR is an IP company, pure and simple. they are only shipping this lame demoware so that they can say other people copied some part of it and then NBOR can sue them. it is beating an obviously dead horse to say that the number of patent claims is ridiculous for a broken drawing app that doesn't even run without crashing.)

It looks like NBOR is a small company that is designed as a lawsuit machine. It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. Perhaps Darl McBride will end up here after he is done with SCO.