A week and a bit of excited waiting and I just got my first book back from Blurb. Thought I would write and tell you about my experiences. My first impression of the book is very impressive, as good as I could have hoped. There is only one minor thing that disappointed me which is the fabric cover has no markings on it, I was hopping that the spine would have the book name. In general the colour of the images was spot on with nice rich colours and dark blacks. A few of the images were slightly dark which is probably down to me using a laptop with uncalibrated screen on top brightness. I have just uploaded a modified edition with those few images lightened and a few design changes. So the next few that I order should come out perfect.
So the question is how did my experiences with BookSmart fare. I am going to split this into two, the experiences as a user and designer and my technical impressions.
I like BookSmart a lot to use, it is very intuitive and simple to use. there is one thing I found challenging that could be improved. After importing an image into an image box I was zooming and panning it to set the crop. It is hard to get fine adjustment of this and as a result I got small cracks though the background between a few images. On some pages these show up when zoomed out and some they only showed up when I zoomed in. There are two things that could really improve this problem: adding support for moving an image small amounts with the arrow keys and adding some indication symbol when there is a small gap between the image and the frame.
The other thing is I would have liked more creative control. I know it is a hard balance between making the application simple for consumers and powerful enough to keep the power users happy. There is not much of extra functionality I would like: choice of custom colors for background color. The big one is more flexibility with layouts, either though custom layouts or just a few more layouts. The main issue was the majority of the photos I had to put in were 4:3 or 3:2 aspect ratios and I didn’t want to crop them much. There are not many layout that suit images of either of these aspect ratios.
I liked they way that you can upload the book and go online later to buy them, which meant that I can easily leave it uploading overnight as it takes over an hour. It would be nice if I could create a PDF of the book directly without any watermarks. I have printed a version to PDF with Apples PDF support but it has proof watermarks which is a shame although at least they are subtle.
I have long been saying that it is possible to build high class desktop applications with Java and Swing even in challenging areas like images, DTP and video. Generally the performance was very good though I am running it on a MacBook Pro with 2GB RAM. So getting good performance is quite a challenge as I have about 5Gb of photos in my book and most are 14Mpix which take 48.5Mb memory in Java as a IntRGB. So with a double spread with 4 images per page means processing 400Mb of images. All the main functionality of importing images, going page to page and zooming are all very snappy. Unfortunately it does not stay snappy, after a hour of working on the book adding pages and images it gets slower and slower. It is easily fixed by closing and reopening BookSmart and then it is fast again.
One technical thing that lets the user experience down is progress indication. When printing and exporting it can take 10s of minutes, during most of this time there is not much progress indication. If I had not looked at the CPU usage I would have killed it.
Swing Tip: Writing good progress indication is a challenging part of any GUI application. In Swing there is a handy class ProgressMonitor that helps with the UI side of progress indication. All you have to do is provide it with progress updates from 0-100%, it will show progress dialog if the task takes longer than a set mount of time. It is sometimes helpful to write simple InputStream or OutputStream that wraps another and keeps a count of the bytes that pass through. That can help in the hard part of progress indication which is getting good data to say how far through the task you are.
Overall BookSmart is a very well done application that would be impressive if it was native or Java. Though I have listed a few issues I had here it is still totally usable and amazingly polished for a beta version. I will be continuing to recommend that people checkout BookSmart as it a very impressive Swing application and I hope it will inspire more amazing Java Swing applications.
The quality of the book is very impressive and I am sure you wont be disappointed. I can’t wait to have enough free time to put together a book of my favorite photos I have taken over the last few years.
For your information, thare is another Java developped application to make books. The GUI is less polished than BookSmart but it offers some very interesting features. This is a french web site, but IIRC, an english version is also available. (http://www.picsmile.fr/picsmile/download/setup-SmileBook-v5.70-jre.exe).
Do the folks who created BookSmart know that you are reviewing/using their product?
If they do know, I’m thinking about your statements regarding the application.
1) “I am running it on a MacBook Pro with 2GB RAM.”
2) “Unfortunately it does not stay snappy, after a hour of working on the book adding pages and images it gets slower and slower.”
1. I have a PC with 1GB RAM, I hope that an application like this would work on my laptop.
2. If these guys are extremely good at Swing, I hope you and or Sun can work with them to find out why after an hour it lags. Because there are many not so extremely good Swing developers that need to learn about these anomalies.
PS I can’t get over how nice Nibus is!
I hope this can be available for 1.5.x (external jar of coarse)
Some of the Blurb guys read my previous comments, so hopefully they will read these. My comment on 2Gb Ram is probably not fair as most of the time I was running Aperture and Photoshop to collect and edit the images going into the book, plus the usual email,browser and messaging client. As both Aperture and Photoshop are good memory hogs it is not that fair on BookSmart.
Though it was frustrating as a developer as I know with a few hours looking at the code I could probably fix the memory problems. I have emailed Blurb offering to help them get it right, have to see if I hear back. BookSmart still did very well on memory considering I had 5Gb of images in the book, just a shame it got slower after a hour or two of running it.
Photoshop is a hog.
Yes, I hope the Blurb guys would reply. I am very interested in the findings. During the early days of Java there were books on performance tuning which help many of us. But there really isn’t anything out there to show us (mere mortals) how to test and tune Swing apps well. I am very happy with Swing so far, there so many tricks. When there are many ways to do one thing and you don’t know which is the best way, you can shoot yourself in the foot often.
If findings are to be reported this should be on Get Java website’s success stories.
I’m sure you know most of the complaints about Swing. I just hope Sun continues making Swing the best desktop toolkit on the planet!
Great job guys!
Blurb and Customer Service,
I ordered two books identical . One softcover, one hardcover. The books were delivered within two weeks start to finish and I was impressed with the speed of the process, however that was the only favourable impression I have had since. Once opening the package I discovered that the softcover book cover was ay least 20% darker than the
hardcover with a color shift. After inspectind the book more carefull I discovered that the softcover book’s binding were very poorly glued in the binding process. Both books were cut off center and have missing written type.
Blurbs response so far has been less than stellar. They initially offered 10% off on my next order and a standard form letter apology. I again requested the books be replaced , a slow response came a week later asking for pictures of the books. At present almost a month after the initial quality complaint I have two poor quality books, one with pages falling out of one of them and no resolution in sight. Blurb offers no telephone number for customer service .
What has the potential be a great service and product is falling short due to poor customer service and response.
I hope they get their act together…
I would like to voice my complaint against Booksmart. No phone number and no way to personally get in touch with some is pretty bad business. I had 4 books half way done but one night, after being gone for 2 days, my books had been deleted. I certainly would not delete my own books. I had put a lot of hard work into them. I decided to try it again and here is the message I get each time I dign on:
” HICCUP.HICUP Booksmart encountered a technical glitch and needs to close now. Sorry about that. In most instances your book has been saved. Help us improve BHookSmart by reporting this error.
PLEASE NOTE: This report does not go to customer service and you will not receive an email confirmation. If needed, click the Help botton below to access support at blurb.com.”
I have sent that form in, 4 times and get no where. Has anyone else had this problem? My next step to to report them to the Better Business Bureau, since I am a member.
me too — i get “hiccup hiccup” — it’s not a very funny error message, is it? too bad it’s a black box as far as getting support too. from what can tell on the forums, all the support tones are condescending and i wouldn’t care to write in and have someone from blurb write back: “it’s obvious” and still be without a product. and i was excited about blurb. sigh.
It seems such a shame that I keep getting bad feedback about blurb.com. I have spoken by email with a few people there and met one of the developers during JavaOne week. The seem like a nice bunch of people and I like the software and end product. Just a shame they don’t seem their support up to scratch.
My first two books with BLURB last year were superb! The photos in the book came out “exactly” as I had hoped. Since then I’ve had some problems–more with binding and books falling apart than reproduction. I do have some friends who have had reproduction problems though. My gut feeling is that BLURB is suffering from too much success and expansion. They’ve probably had to outsource to a lot of vendors and quality control has suffered. However, since they are so secretive one never knows. I think they have a lot of “goodwill” out there and make a major mistake by not leveling with their customers. I ordered two books from them last week so I am not totally soured with them but I am going with ASUKA for anything that is going to a paying client even though it is almost four times more expensive. My professional reputation would be ruined if I gave a customer a book that fell apart. I just can’t take a chance. I hope they (BLURB) survive their growing pains . . . whoops, I shouldn’t suggest that as it is just speculation 🙂 Anyway – I think Blurb is trying to clean up its act and I will follow their progress. They offer a great product at a great price when they put it all together (fingers crossed).
does anyone have an idea how much the postage to london/uk will be?
just roughly. 7×7 hardcover ~40pages.
thanks a lot
Marcel, My 2 books which were 7×7 and 300 pages worked out to be $54.00.
Like many others though I’m a little frustrated with their customer service as the two books were poorly bound. Trying to get a simple low res file to them has not been possible, with most emails bouncing back with some sort of error message. My background in design and photography is extensive and I’ve never had this conflict sending any image.
I have slurped a blogbook four times…163 pages and booksmart keeps crashing on me. Telling me it has encountered a technical glitch. I just cant figure this out. I have gotten one response from them, but it is the holidays. I turned off firewall, Norton, feedburners, downloaded firefox, uninstalled, reinstalled, deleted .settings from my documents…….it just wont open for me!! Windows XP and plenty of memory…..
Anyone have any suggestions? This is a gift for a friend who has dreamed of publishing her book for twenty years. Well it “aint” happening yet! Help email@example.com