A better tool

Posted by on March 12, 2010. Tagged: rants, user experience

What's the worst app on any computer? The calculator. The Mac calculator is, sadly, as bad as all the others. Ever try to use this?

Mac OS X Calculator

A common task of mine is to make an educated guess to what a site enhancement would cost. Not a full on spreadsheet, just a ballpark for a client's budget purposes. This involves very simple math… adding up a string of task-time estimates, add a percentage for project management and QA time, convert to blended hourly rate. Simple stuff, right?  62+16+16+8+24…

The Mac calculator utterly fails, because it has a one-number display that destroys the preceding as you enter it. No good. And I end up running every calculation twice, just in case, because there's no way I can visually check what I entered before for typos. No good. (It has a "paper tape" view, but that's a barely readable mess too.)

And this is all too common, whether you use Mac, Windows, Linux…



With all the power and flexibility of a computer's graphics display, can't we do any better than this?

Back to basics?

Dave, a master of the computer if ever there was one, appears to have utterly given up on calculator apps:

Dave's Calculator

It has its limits, but it aspires to do nothing else but what it does, and it does that very well indeed.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

Slight Improvements

Eventually I realized that the Mac's built-in Spotlight search tool has dandy built-in calculator. It also is a one-line display, but it doesn't destroy the prior numbers as you enter them.

Spotlight as calculator

It even live-updates the result as I type. Heaven!

Unless I want to do another calculation. Throw it away and start over. The Core 2 Duo's mighty two by two billion instruction cycles per second and billions of bytes of memory, all for naught.

At least it's not inappropriately imitating an object anymore. Although, interestingly, Ubuntu's Calculator splits the difference in a fairly pleasing manner:

Ubuntu Calculator

Not clear where it shows the result, but at least it doesn't throw away everything you type in!

And this afternoon I found heaven

I followed a blog comment and discovered this…


Soulver is a calculator that completely discards the remnants of the physical device and just does what I want.  Add some numbers. Figure a percentage of them. Add it up and apply an hourly rate. Figure a deposit.

Without throwing away any of my work.

Soulver combines the ease of writing on a napkin with the speed of a machine and the intelligence of a scribe, creating something that couldn't have existed before the computer.

It's a better tool.


Check out Soulver for yourself: www.acqualia.com/soulver