I used to have a custom-made FileMaker Pro solution for cataloguing my books, my music, and my movies. But when Delicious Library came about, with its built-in access to Amazon’s data, I quickly made the decision to switch to this particular tool. The user interface had a few quirks, but on the whole the experience of using it for cataloguing and browsing my ever-expanding collection was a pleasant one.
There was even a golden era when Delicious Monster was actually able to provide an iOS application that would seamlessly sync with the desktop application and enable you to carry your entire collection around in a convenient portable form. Unfortunately, Amazon then imposed new restrictions that made it impossible for Delicious Monster to continue to offer the iOS application — as if it was “competing” with Amazon’s own on-line offerings as opposed to actually encouraging people to buy more stuff from Amazon. (The iOS application, while no longer available from the App Store, still works on my aging iPad and iPod touch devices, but it’s probably only a matter of time before I have to give up on it altogether.)
All this brings us to the major upgrade that is Delicious Library 3. I have no time to review all its new features, but I have to report that, for my own purposes and in my own daily use, the new version is a major disappointment.
One of the first things you will notice is that the application no longer has a “Preferences” dialog box. That tells you something about the flexibility and customizability that they have sacrificed, probably in the name of “simplifying” the user experience. There are still various viewing options, but these options are too limited and make the experience of using Delicious Library downright annoying.
For instance, the “View as List” option, which is the only one that enables you to view your collection in a workable format, now uses two lines for each item, which of course significantly reduces the number of items that can be seen at any given time. Worse still, you apparently can no longer sort this list by title or by creator alone. The only column option available is an option called “Title and Creator”:
By default, this column uses a sorting rule that follows a rather non-obvious logic, separating those items that do have a creator from those who don’t have one. When you know how inconsistent Amazon’s info is, especially for movies, this means that, for example, various seasons of a single TV show on DVD (say, Breaking Bad) will end up being listed separately, because some seasons have something in their “Creator” field whereas other seasons do not. (And of course all these items that have nothing in their “Creator” field take up as much vertical space as those who do have something, so there’s lots of wasted screen real estate here.)
It seems to me that, since Delicious Library is so intimately linked to Amazon’s data sets, using a data structure that assumes that all the data sets are in perfect condition, with all fields properly filled out, is rather ridiculous.
In addition, my initial impression was that the “Creator” field always took priority over the “Title” field, which meant that it was effectively impossible to have a list of all your titles in pure alphabetical order. DL would always sort by creator first, and then by title. It was simply unacceptable.
I only recently discovered, quite by accident, that you can actually somehow force Delicious Library to sort by title first and then by creator, by clicking on the “Title” word itself in the column header — although I am still not sure exactly what combination of clicks is required. (Now that I have achieved this, I am afraid to undo it.) Somehow, after clicking multiple times, I managed to have a column header that only has a triangle (indicative of sort order) next to “Title” and not to “Creator”:
Now finally my lists are only sorted by title, whether or not the items have something in their “Creator” field. Don’t ask me exactly how I did it, though. It’s still very mysterious to me. It certainly does not meet the most basic tests of “discoverability”.
The sort order is still not perfect, however. Even though DL obviously has an algorithm for ignoring the definite article “The” in titles (as well as its equivalent in other languages, such as French), I still have a number of DVDs whose title starts with “The” that are listed under “T”, even though the next word does not start with a “T”. I have no idea why.
When DL 3 was first released, there was — believe it or not — absolutely no way to keep item details visible at all times. DL 3 did away with the “Details” pane altogether, and the details were only visible in one of those horrible “pop-up” windows, like in iCal/Calendar. Thankfully, there was enough of an outcry to force the developer to bring back something similar to the “Details” pane from DL 2, in the form of a separate “Details” window.
Unfortunately, in my experience, the implementation of this window is buggy. I quite often find myself in another OS X application with the “Details” window from DL 3 still visible in the foreground above the windows of my other application. I can fix the problem by switching to DL 3 and then back to my application, but really… This is a bit much.
The whole application has also become significantly more sluggish than DL 2 used to be. Even on my relatively fast 2009 Mac Pro with 12 GB of RAM and an SSD for the system volume, everything is slow and choppy, including such basic things as scrolling up and down the list. (Let’s not even mention what happens in “View as Shelf”.) My collection is not tiny, but it’s not enormous either. I find such performance levels barely tolerable.
The search feature is not any better. While it has been fine-tuned somewhat since the original DL 3 release, you are still afraid of making a typo while typing your search request, because this will cause DL 3 to initiate a useless “search-as-you-type” search, which locks up the UI for several seconds, before you’ve finished typing your search request. Ugh.
The process of adding new items to the library is also affected by this sluggish performance. While this process has been simplified and you can now just scan your item’s barcode without bringing up a dialog first, if you are unfortunate enough to attempt to scan the barcode while the application’s UI is locked up, the application emits a useless system beep instead of buffering your data entry and processing it when it becomes responsive again. This happens to me every time I add a new item, because, once DL 3 has recognized the barcode and downloaded the data from Amazon, it takes a couple of seconds to move the newly-added item to the appropriate position in the sorted list of titles. If I happen to scan the next barcode during that resorting, all I get is a beep. Each time I add a new item, I have to wait until DL 3 has moved it to the appropriate place before scanning the next barcode. It’s quite frustrating. I frankly would rather have a modal dialog box than this, because effectively it’s the whole UI that is now modal in an invisible way and forces you, without any visual feedback, to wait until it’s finished “processing” the new item.
This whole situation makes me sad. Delicious Library has not become entirely unusable, but it’s definitely taken a huge step back in usability. I waited for a few months, hoping that these issues would be addressed in subsequent DL 3 updates, but there have been many updates now, and most of the issues I describe here are still there.
If this were a proper review, I would of course offer a more balanced report, by describing the new features, some of which are quite nice (such as the “Recently Added” list on the side). But for me, none of the new features comes anywhere near outweighing the flaws and limitations introduced in the new version. The sluggishness and the lack of viewing and sorting options are fundamental flaws that will have to be properly addressed before I find any pleasure in using this application again.