Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Widgets on the beach

Ivan Pope is bringing us the first widgets conference in Europe: Widgety Goodness.
He has managed to put together an great group of speakers that will be presenting different sessions related to something we love: Widgets.

The event is on Thursday December 6th in the sunny and trendy city of Brighton and if I managed to convince my new managers (I'm changing jobs next month), I'll be there for sure.

Follow this link for more info.


Monday, October 15, 2007

Designing Screensavers: Best Practices

Bloggers Unite - Blog Action Day

Taking part in the Blog Action Day I will talk about this subject that is related to Digital Media and to the environment as well: Screensavers.


Many people tend to confuse the terms and end up calling "screens" to their monitors (the hardware); screen is part of the monitor, only where the software is projected or displayed and this one shows data as pixels for us, human, to understand.

What pixels show is actually light. This is basic Digital Media colours theory where each pixel shows a combination of Reds, Greens and Blues (RGB) and when their value riches 256 (100% for humans) then is white light.

When there's absence of colours, there's absence of light; this will led us to believe that: the less light, the less power your monitor spends.*(wrong statement!)

Idea behind Screensavers.
* Wikipedia:
A screensaver is a computer program designed to prevent a "Phosphor burn-in" on a CRT and plasma computer monitors by blanking the screen or filling it with moving images or patterns when the computer was not in use.

If you check the screensavers that that come by default in your windows (I haven't checked the Mac ones...), you will notice that all of them have a black background.

screensaver = saves your screen *(again, wrong statement!)

Now, what should we take into account when building screensavers?
- Something important from the Wikipedia's Screensaver definition is that they mentioned CRT monitors and these work in a different way as the TFT-LCD monitors that most of us use nowadays.
* Wikipedia:
Monitors running screensavers consume the same amount of power as when running normally, which can be anywhere from a few watts for small LCD monitors to several hundred for large plasma displays. Most modern computers can be set to switch the monitor into a lower power mode, blanking the screen altogether. A power saving mode for monitors is usually part of the power management options supported in most modern operating systems, though it must also be supported by the computer hardware and monitor itself.

Additionally, using a screensaver with a flat panel or LCD screen instead of powering down the screen can actually reduce the lifetime of the display, since the fluorescent backlight remains lit and ages faster than it would if the screen was turned off completely. As fluorescent tubes age they grow progressively dimmer, and they can be expensive or difficult to replace. A typical LCD screen loses about 50% of its brightness during a normal product lifetime, if left on continuously. (In most cases, the tube is an integral part of the LCD and the entire assembly needs to be replaced.)

Thus the term "screen saver" is, in most cases, a misnomer--the best way to save the screen (and also save electricity) would simply be to have the computer turn off the monitor
So, I would recommend:
- Check who your target is and depending on that, consider (or not) designing a clean and clear screensaver, avoiding a black background. Remember, those screensavers made by Microsoft for its Operative System, where made some years ago, when most of the people had CRT monitors.
- Be careful with the animations, definitely use them but don't abuse them. It's not good to have all the elements in the screensaver jumping from side to side as that can become annoying.
- Avoid using sound.
- Don't worry much about the file size as you would for a web application.
- Use vector graphics as you don't know the screen resolution of the final user if in case you would allow the graphics to be scaled (up or down) or if you want to use a fixed size for your animations, then consider a plain background colour as there might be people using really high resolutions that will want to use the screensaver.
If in case you have chosen to have a fixed size, then you can use bitmaps as they wont get pixelated and consider optimize the graphics for 800x600 pixels resolution as in the latest web browser statistics, there's a still big 14% of users with this screen resolution.

If you think of anything else that should be taken into account, please add it in the comments. And remember, the best way to save energy is turning off the monitor, so if you leave your desk for more than 5 minutes, just press that button ;)

more info: