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retrospect8-10: comments and suggestions on awkward UI in "media sets" client view

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the process of doing a rebuild is awkward in several ways and has been so through versions 8, 9, and now 10 of retrospect.


some observations:


under the media sets view in the retrospect client, there are a set of icons in the toolbar. some of them apply to the selected item in the list. others are just general actions that you can perform independent of the selection. even as an experienced user, i find this slightly confusing and it sometimes throws off my expectation of how things will work.


if my understanding is correct, {add, locate, rebuild} are independent of selection while {remove, copy, verify, unlock, and repair} are not.


i don't really have a problem with add/remove. they are pretty understandable and use clear icons that follow a somewhat standard UI pattern.


"locate" actually means to find a catalog file that exists on disk but does not exist in the list and add it to the list. in my most common use of this, however, i point at a media set in the list that can't find its catalog and then click "locate" to fix it, so it feels like it is an operation on the selected item even though it is not. perhaps this doesn't matter.


"rebuild" suffers from the same issue. it feels intuitively like "rebuild" is an operation you apply to an existing media set. in fact, when you select "rebuild" (from disk), you are starting from scratch each time, specifying a set of member folders. ask yourself: is the user supposed to intuitively grock that "repair" is an operation on the selected media set while "rebuild" is not? "rebuild" is non-optimal in several ways:


first, in the years i have been using retrospect, by far the most common scenario where i'm using rebuild is to simply reconstruct the catalog of an existing media set with the same set of members. thus, forcing me to locate the directory for each member is an unnecessary step and it introduces the possibility of potentially damaging user error.


second, the dialog for selecting members to use in a rebuild has several problems. once you have located a member folder, there is an extra step after you have identified the member folder where you are asked to select an identified member from a list. in my experience, there is only ever one item in this list. so i have to manually select this item, then click "next" or whatever the button says. this is a modal window that pops up on top of an other modal window - not ideal from an interface standpoint in terms of making the process intuitive. also, it seems to me that in the (common) case of there being only one candidate member in the directory that i select, the program should just skip this unnecessary "choose from a list of one item" step and go directly back to the higher-level window where i can add another member or proceed with rebuild.


third, after hitting the button on the aforementioned sub-dialog in the rebuild process, there is (at least potentially) a very long delay. beachball spins, the program becomes unresponsive. the program doesn't give any indication of what it is doing. this is bad. i think there are two possible improvements here. either take my input and save whatever "work" needs to be done based on those inputs for the end of the process or at least put up some indicator of what's happening - for example, if this process is enumerating files in the directory and processing them, then put up some kind of progress indicator that shows this. merely spinning the beachball and freezing the interface is annoying and makes it impossible to tell the whether the program is completely hosed vs. when it is just working on a very big task.


fourth, in the years i have been using retrospect, by far the most common scenario where i'm using rebuild is to simply overwrite the existing catalog file. thus, forcing me to locate the directory to save the catalog is an unnecessary step and introduces the possibility of potentially damaging user error. it is extra-annoying because (for reasons i understand) this is not a standard mac file dialog. a suggestion: at least add a button in this dialog for "use default catalog folder".


fifth, building on the first and fourth points above, i argue that there should be something like a "rebuild in-place" operation. unlike normal rebuild, this operation would use the selected media set. the "select members" part of the process could be skipped, since the user is requesting that you just use the existing set of member directories associated with the media set. similarly the "select catalog location" part of the process can be skipped - you just assume you will overwrite the existing catalog file. if this operation existed, it would be a time saver for me.


i gather that this may be what the "repair" operation is possibly supposed to do - i.e., it looks at the media set and the catalog and if it determines that the catalog is messed up somehow and needs to be rebuilt, it does essentially the kind of "rebuild in place" operation i describe above. if the catalog only needs minor repairs, it does something else (not sure i understand the details there). so "rebuild" is the right idea, in my opinion. however, i have encountered numerous situations where rebuild completes quickly (and thus obviously decides that a full rebuild is not necessary), however certain operations (like grooming) don't work, but if i manually/tediously go through a full rebuild, it works. thus, while rebuild seems like the right concept, there's something lacking there. perhaps holding option key down could invoke a "force repair" or something?

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Thanks David, it was good to read this. You've got some very insightful comments on our UI.


Regarding "Locate", I think some of the confusion is that it is actually multi-use, you can either pick a catalog that doesn't exist in the list and we will add it, or pick a catalog that has moved and we will find the backup set it refers to and adjust it. ("Add" in sources did the same thing but as no one got that, we ended up having a "Locate" button there as well.)


Maybe we should have kept "Rebuild" "Recreate"? That is what the Windows product and 6.0 for Mac used. We had a number of people confused about that which was what prompted the change.


For your workflow of reconstructing the catalog, "Repair" really should have been the action. That you didn't go to that right away certainly says we aren't doing something right. Maybe we should keep "Repair" but when the user chooses "Rebuild" (or "Recreate"), we ask up front "Rebuild set '<selected set>' or recreate a catalog from the media set's members?"


Let us know what you think.


JG Heithcock,

VP of Engineering, Retrospect, Inc.

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