Progress Report on MacBreakZ 4

Not so long ago, in this blog I called on interested parties to become alpha testers for the new version of our Personal Ergonomic Assistant sofware, MacBreakZ.

I expected one or two users to volunteer, but instead got an overwhemlming 43 alpha testers!

This, I think, illustrates that in the 9 years since MacBreakZ 1.0 was released, interest in ergonomic issues and awareness of computer-related health problems has increased dramatically. Unfortunately much of this is probably due to the number of RSI victims exploding after email, chat, blogging, surfing and all-night gaming have become normal parts of everyday life.

In the intervening years, I myself have learnt a great deal about what works and what does not work when it comes to break timers.

The major thing I’ve learnt is that prevention can only work if it is fairly painless. Sure, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”, but before you’re hurt you don’t really believe that you could be at risk and as consequence you’re not willing to invest time and energy to change your work habits.

I’ve found that a good 80% of MacBreakZ users already suffer of one form or another of computer-related health problem.

MacBreakZ 4 will focus much more on getting people to use it as a prevention rather than as a recovery tool.

What can I for my part do?

  • Make it fun.
  • Show you how you’re doing.
  • Let you customize the program to death.

MacBreakZ 4 features a lot of eye candy and has a “serious fun” feeling.

The omnipresent transparency effects are a nice example.

Take the activity monitor that shows you when you when your next break is due and how high your activity level is:

When the application is at the front, the whole window is draggable, when the application loses the focus, it fades into the background and lets clicks go through.

The “activity level” bar changes from “safe green” to “warning yellow” and finally to “danger red” as your continuous activity level increases. The amount of uninterrupted typing you do is a major risk factor in developing RSI. Even a tiny 5 second break from typing will dramatically reduce your injury potential.

Another example is the break window. It too is now transparent and features some additional eye candy:

Besides from being cool (you might disagree) these effects also have pratical value: they let you keep the information on how you’re doing on the screen while you are working.

My alpha testers and I are now on the 9th alpha release of the software and things are definitely starting to take shape. As often happens when I get end-users involved early, the feature list just keeps getting longer and longer and all bets are off on when the final version will be ready. Oh, yes I forgot: as usual, the end product will be 10 times better at least..

The call for alpha testers is now officially over because you can have too much of a good thing. For those of you are interested following the progress of this latest project, here is some additional info:

  • I will continue posting progress reports on this blog.
  • There should be a first public beta release in late summer
  • Anybody who has bought a license during 2005/2006 will get a free upgrade to the latest version
  • You can always leave comments on this blog or contact me via email; no need to be an official alpha tester to share your thoughts.

I hope you are as excited about this new release as I am..