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Jakob Nielsen Talks About Usability in FOSS 327

dokey writes "In an interview with Builder AU, usability expert Jakob Nielsen gives his opinion of usability in Free and open source software. The article echoed what Jon "Maddog" Hall said earlier this year in a keynote at -- "Programmers Are From Mars, Users/Managers/Companies are from Venus". Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)"
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Jakob Nielsen Talks About Usability in FOSS

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2004 @12:58PM (#10046459)
    I suggest Slashdot copy his website's color scheme [] for their next section.
  • it is what IT is (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2004 @12:58PM (#10046460)
    Don't expect usability from a programmer.

    Separate program logic from design and let a designer do the interface. Much happier for everyone involved
    • Its sad that most peeople don't realize how simple something like this is. As a former interface designer I tried to push this on a day to day basis. Most programmers couldn't grasp the concept of architecting a system so it fits into layers. These are the folks who should have been left behind after the .com bust.

      But what do I know, I'm just a glorified HTML guru.
    • by Rikardon ( 116190 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:44PM (#10046998)
      I appreciate your attitude; it makes it easy for me to steal your job. =)

      Seriously, I just can't understand this kind of thinking, although I encounter it all the time. If you're writing utilities for yourself or for a group of people very much like yourself, it's no problem. But if you're writing commercial software, you're not writing for yourself. Your whole livelihood revolves around solving other people's problems. Expecting your customers to adapt their way of thinking to your way of coding is just piss-poor customer service. You want their money; that means you make it easy for them, no matter how challenging that may make the coding task for you.

      Oddly enough, I came to these convictions not through coding, but through years of work as a DJ. No kidding. When I started out, I had all these pretensions about educating the great unwashed in what good music was. And you know what? I got the conceit beaten out of me very quickly, as I cleared dancefloor after dancefloor for the first two months.

      I soon realized that my job was to play what the crowd wanted to hear. And if their tastes had been informed by 30 years of top 40 radio, tough luck for me. My job was to figure out, at any given gig, what kind of crowd I was dealing with and play accordingly. And it's worked wonders.

      Interestingly, I came to learn that if I do that well enough, the crowd learns to trust me. They're so happy with what I'm playing (after 13 years, I virtually never have a bad night) that if I slip in something new, they'll usually give me the benefit of the doubt enough to dance to it anyway. That's right: I have more success introducing new music now, than I ever did when I was looking down on the people who were cutting the cheques.

      The same applies to software. I seem to be a rare case: someone with real interaction design chops, who has also written a C compiler. But it seems like a natural marriage, because what proper usability research does for me is confirm that I'm solving the right problem in the right way.

      I think Eric Sink has an article or two about this where he distinguishes between what he calls developers and programmers, but I'm too lazy to Google for it.
      • Seriously, I just can't understand this kind of thinking, although I encounter it all the time. If you're writing utilities for yourself or for a group of people very much like yourself, it's no problem. But if you're writing commercial software, you're not writing for yourself. Your whole livelihood revolves around solving other people's problems.

        This statement is in no way contrary to the parent poster. In most medium to large scale enterprises, there are *always* product management teams and UI designe

      • Your whole livelihood revolves around solving other people's problems.

        Which is exactly what he gave an architecture to do and you didn't.

        Usability is one problem, features or functionality are another. The solutions to these two separate problems should not be coupled, so that each can be changed easily without affecting the other and so that both converge as rapidly as possible to what works best for the customer. This is little more than a restatement of tried and true "separation of concerns" object o
      • by Mornelithe ( 83633 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:38PM (#10048523)
        I don't think you understood what the original poster said.

        He didn't say, "Usability is for losers. People should learn overly complex interfaces." What he said is that you should separate 'what it does' from 'how it looks.'

        Take k3b, for example. People usually say it's the best burner for Linux. I just click on a button to open a project, and then drag the files I want to burn onto a window. Or I can drag songs directly out of my media player, juk. Then I click a burn button and it makes the cd.

        But, does k3b implement its own cd burning functionality? No, it uses cdrecord and cdrdao and whatever other command line utilities are out there. People who know what they're doing write the cdr writing stuff, and then the k3b people use those to make a nice interface for it.

        Take gift as another example. It runs a file sharing client as a daemon, and then you use various gui programs to interact with the daemon. Don't like KDE? Use the Gnome interface. Or vice versa. Don't like any of the interfaces? Make up some totally new filesharing user interface. But underneath it all is the same piece of code providing the actual functionality, written by people who know how to implement it well.

        When functionality and interface are separate, you can choose your interface. People can develop new, better interfaces while preserving the existing functionality, and without having to rewrite it, and you don't force people who aren't good at interface design to make all of the decisions for it.

        That's what the original poster was saying. Not "usability doesn't matter."
    • by Morgaine ( 4316 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:43PM (#10048603)
      Don't expect usability from a programmer.

      You're making the same mistake as various high profile advocates who seem to think that usability is just one single thing. It's not. Usability has many different aspects, and the importance assigned to each of those aspects varies across different target groups. Usability is not just something required by granny. Programmers and managers and accountants and 4-year old Joey and granny all require high usability, and it's a complete mistake to think that non-programmers are the only users to whom the concept of usability applies, and that therefore programmers can't produce the goods.

      As a software developer, I expect high usability from my dev tools, and that includes powerful integration between all elements of the toolkit (instead of simplicity), and easy visibility of all component parts (instead of hiding detail on purpose). Neither of these are wanted by granny, but it's a total mistake to then conclude that important general issues of usability like consistency and layout clarity are of no interest to me. They are, and the tool programmer is the person best placed to understand that, and to deliver it.

      To simply say "Don't expect usability from a programmer" may sound cool, but it's incorrect. It's incorrect because usability is a multipart issue, comprising a large body of domain-independent elements that underpin access to one or more domain-specific object sets and relationships.

      Tool programmers are exceedingly well placed to develop high usability in the domain-independent parts (such as symmetry and clarity) since these require an analytic mind, as well as in the domain-specific parts that apply to the programming domain. The only area where they will often lack competence is in application domains outside of their personal sphere of knowledge. Well, nothing new there --- that's why additional input from domain experts is always required when writing a non-trivial app.

      Does this mean that a programmer can deliver excellent usability in an educational app for Joey, unaided? That's unlikely, unless his or her domain expertise includes toddler education. However, the programmer has oodles of the usability expertise needed to deliver elements of usability like clarity and symmetry and effective feedback, because they apply to all target audiences, including programmers.

      None of this excuses incompetent design from inexperienced coders of course, but that's a different subject altogether. Only a competent software engineer (both amateurs and professionals) will ever deliver a quality product, barring accidents.
    • Re:it is what IT is (Score:3, Interesting)

      by joeykiller ( 119489 )

      Separate program logic from design and let a designer do the interface. Much happier for everyone involved.

      Isn't this simpler said than done?

      In my experience, even with a good templating system you're unable to let the designer do the interface 100%. Of course designers can make fairly sophisticated sketches, but I'm always astonished by the amount of logic that's needed to create a user interface.

      In my experience web application interfaces in particular are dynamic, not static; they often change and a

  • No. (Score:4, Funny)

    by mfh ( 56 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @12:59PM (#10046473) Homepage Journal
    > Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)

    Uhm... No, not really.
    • Re:No. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by GigsVT ( 208848 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:10PM (#10046603) Journal
      That's not funny, it's correct.

      There's nothing wrong with an OS/application that only geeks can use. Just don't try to market it to non-geeks, and there's no problem whatsoever.

      I personally don't want my OS and applications dumbed down to the level of other OSs. The lack of control and options in metacity, for example, is shocking. It's almost getting to the point where you have to swallow default configs if you want the "user-friendly" distros to even work right at all.. For example, I can't turn off Nautilus unless I don't care that my background doesn't get properly set to my root window, something that should not depend on nautilus at all. (and doesn't, I can go manually reset each time I restart X, without starting nautilus).

      I won't even get into the hassles if, god forbid, you want to run a second X session on :2.

      If anything, the lame attempts of programmers to second guess what the end-users want, locking them into defaults, and not testing non-default configs, is a horrible trend in general.
      • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

        by lcsjk ( 143581 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:27PM (#10046785)
        "lame attempts of programmers to second guess what the end-users want" --

        (sig) "I think the [MS Word] paperclip is a great idea. - Miguel de Icaza"

        Your sig could not have said it any better!

      • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TedTschopp ( 244839 )
        Repeat after me:

        Usability /= dumbed down
        Usability /= lack of control

        Usability is the process of making something usable, not making it unusable. Usability is the process of giving control, not taking it away. Usability is elegance in interface. Your uninformed attitude is exactly the problem computer programmers and users have these days. There is a process of making something useable, and from what it sounds like you are confused as to the desired outcome.

        The sad thing about people with this attit
        • Re:No. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by pherthyl ( 445706 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:24PM (#10048276)
          Usability is the process of making something usable, not making it unusable. Usability is the process of giving control, not taking it away. Usability is elegance in interface.

          Not quite. Usability is the process of making something usable for one set group of people.
          You can try to make this group as large as possible, but you will NEVER have an interface that is usable to all groups. I find the MacOSX UI to be less usable than the KDE UI, just because the way I think does not coincide as well to the way the MacOSX UI works.

          What bothers me is that usability experts (along with a bunch of blowhards that think they are experts) seem to think that there is "one true interface" and that their concept of usability will work for everyone. The best you can do is say "this interface is optimized for the novice user" or "this interface is optimized for the long time unix guru". If someone says that an interface is ideal for all users they are lying.
        • Re:No. (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Brandybuck ( 704397 )
          Software is complex. Horribly complex. According to Fred Brooks, software is the most complex thing mankind has ever created.

          Yet people still demand that this complexity be simple. IT CAN'T BE DONE! Microwave ovens are easy to use because microwave ovens are simple. In comparison to software, automobiles are easy to use simplistic devices.

          Simplifying the interface only frustrates those users who want the power and complexity of the underlying software. It rewards the ignorance at the expense of experience
        • Re:No. (Score:5, Informative)

          by dasmegabyte ( 267018 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:55PM (#10048785) Homepage Journal
          I have a plaque on my desk with a series of 9 principles of Object Oriented design that I stole from Bruce Eckel's outstanding Thinking in Patterns with Java []. I made the plaque not because I'm a huge fan of OO (which I am), but because many of them are equally useful when designing human interfaces.

          Don't be astonishing. In other words, don't do something in a completely new way and don't spring new concepts onto users without educating them first. I've used many designs that were fantastic after a bit of training (Blender comes to mind) but WITHOUT that training you can't do a damned thing. That's astonishing. That's bad design. That's the reason why Apple mice have only one button and the HI guidelines BEG you not to require contextual menus. And for god's sake, don't use a menu called "Script-Fu" and expect people to know what the fuck it does!

          Make common things easy, and rare things possible. In other words, allow people to do what they have to do most often in a clear cut way with minimal interaction. If you have additional options, hide them. They don't have to go far away, but don't sour your main interface for an option 99% of users will never need.

          Consistancy The A1 most important thing. If you perform actions with the control key on one screen, and with the alt key on another, you've got a crappy interface. If your program uses drop downs for some things and autofill text boxes for others, you've got a crappy interface. Choose one method for managing each type of relationship, one hotkey for each type of function, lay things out in similar fashions, etc. Using visual inheritance helps.

          Law of Demeter (don't talk to strangers) A window should only have power over the information inside it, information passed to it and information it sends back. A Tools window that has a save button is useless.

          Subtraction A design is only finished when you can't take anything else away and have it be useful. Get rid of all those bullshit options and useless features, they're just making the app bloated and confusing.

          Simplicity before Generality A general purpose app that is not simple is not worth using. I point and laugh when I see interfaces like Novell's terrible management utility. Drilling through a tree where every node does something different with no explanation of what they something does is only good if you charge several grand for certifications on that interface. For everybody else, it sucks.

          Reflexivity Don't change more than one variable per control, and don't use more than one control per variable. If you've got a drop down that says "Change Name to Rob and Street to Youngstown," you need two controls.

          Independence / orthogonality "Express independent ideas independently," something we can argue about as it sort of breaks the simplicity/generality idea. But the concept is this: if you're editing user information on a screen/tab/etc, there shouldn't be anything about filenames on it. If you do have independent ideas that have to share space (say, addresses with names), separate them with different colours, spaceing, group boxes, whatever, so that users know they are different ideas grouped together.

          Once and Only Once I could argue this too...the idea that there should only be a single way of entering or editing data is a sound one, but there are many times where it is more convenient for duplicating data or editing multiple records to use two different interfaces. But the basic idea is sound...and if you do allow more than one entry point, it should only be to make things simpler for users -- and maybe the two interfaces should share code (in .NET, I use a lot of User Controls to create "panels" of functionality, thus preserving this principle of design while reproducing the functionality).
  • Maddog @LCA (Score:4, Informative)

    by laptop006 ( 37721 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:00PM (#10046486) Homepage Journal
    Was a great speaker (and signed a friends Tshirt), had the view of someone between a total geek and Bdale, with enough business experience not to make a fool out of himself, but still enough of a hacker to not be out of place.

    Any aussie's who havent been to an LCA before I highly recomend it, the next one is on in April 2005 in Canberra.
  • by grunt107 ( 739510 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#10046506)
    This is the core focus for applications. The End-User must always be factored in, regardless of who that is.

    For example, I may develop a quick little utility that let's me interface w/all the X10 in the house. I make it text-based commands, since I need no fancy interface.

    Now, change that to Ma and Pa Kettle. Try to sell them the text interface and they call it crap. Add a whiz-bang interface showing all the connections in the house as the appliances/rooms they reflect and M&P buy it.

    More IT apps fail from lack of interaction with the end-users.
    • by FictionPimp ( 712802 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:05PM (#10047288) Homepage
      And also remember, just because you have a gui to access the program doesn' mean you can't still have the command line access to the program.

      A lot of people seem to think that the more usable the UI the more control must be restricted. I belive there is no reason why anyone should ever need to access a config text file to change a setting. But I also think there is no reason why they shouldn't be able too.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#10046510)
    "Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)"

    Not only is this mentality wrong, it's also holding OSS usability back. Geeks are end-users too. If good UI design is targeted at computer novices, as is widely assumed, then why do so many technically talented people love OS X? Answer: Because usability gains for "our grandmothers" are also usability gains for we geeks.
    • by Epistax ( 544591 ) <epistax&gmail,com> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:20PM (#10046701) Journal
      I prefer a geek switch, or rather, a series of geek switches that turn the software from being a usable piece of software into a controllable piece of software. You must understand some people will NEVER want to switch into geek mode. I know my parents would never sacrifice usability for features. By the same token some geeks may know the author of the software well and be able to guess how to control the software and may never use an easier mode. Many games have this feature (RTS) so I'd really like to see it in programs.

      The one mistake many programmers make it requiring people to accept things they do not want. Perhaps I want control X but not control Y. Many programs would force you to take both or neither. This must always be circumvent-able without resorting to geekhood.
    • If good UI design is targeted at computer novices, as is widely assumed, then why do so many technically talented people love OS X? Answer: Because usability gains for "our grandmothers" are also usability gains for we geeks.

      The beautiful, mouth-watering interface isn't the only reason why geeks (like myself) love Mac OS X. Geeks also love OS X because it has a Unix core, meaning us geeks could work on the command line, use our Unix tools, and do our work. Not only that, but while we are doing those th

  • re (Score:4, Insightful)

    by computerme ( 655703 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:02PM (#10046515)
    And this is way I use OSX. Usability beyond compare, commercial and open source apps, java, and windows integration.

    The power of Unix, the ease of use of the Mac.

    OSX makes me money today with increased productivity and access to best of breed apps.

    Linux may get there one day...In the mean time i need to get work done TODAY.
    • Dunno about you (Score:4, Insightful)

      by Azureflare ( 645778 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:27PM (#10046789)
      But linux is already there for me (mandrake 10). The gui is very usable, and I have CXOffice for my windows app needs, as well as the OSS solutions as often as possible. I VPN into work with pptp-client, and I do work with photoshop/dreamweaver mx or bluefish/acrobat.

      I find this kind of article mystifying. I find mandrake 10 to be oriented towards the end-user, for I AM an enduser. And I get work done.

      I bet all the posts on this page could be found in the previous articles harping on the "linux needs to be friendly to end-users" meme; but people just haven't realized yet that there ARE distros out there which are friendly to the end-users.

      • Re:Dunno about you (Score:5, Interesting)

        by gnu-generation-one ( 717590 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @06:54PM (#10050915) Homepage
        "But linux is already there for me (mandrake 10)"

        In a default install of Mandrake 10, KMail now displays the images in spam (I prefer just the source-code so I can delete it quicker), it puts a big red header at the top of each HTML message filling the preview pane with something unrelated to the message, it's got a crap default font, it has icons next to each menu item making it more difficult to read, it might have slightly-transparent menus making it difficult to read, the default icons are so bland you can't see what's what (they're all bluish-white circles), I'm not sure it's possible to insist on always-non-HTML outgoing mail, XChat is now ugly, MandrakeUpdate doesn't work, rpmdrake does work, but displays error messages even when it succeeds, and it displays dialog-boxes when you start it "I'm about to run rpmdrake, okay?" - "yes, dammit, that's why I typed rpmdrake, duh!". 3-hour install time, advertising during the installer and an end-user license agreement. Didn't configure X properly, and X crashed with "no screens found" first time I ran it. Mouse-wheel doesn't work, extra buttons on the mouse don't seem to be setup to do anything, WindowMaker has a crap default configuration with useless mandrake menus and an ugly config. Text-mode terminals have a distracting white star in the corner of each screen, no matter what you're doing. Default X terminal seems to be Konsole, the slowest program ever, takes about 20 seconds to load on my machine for a console. Xterm doesn't seem to have been installed by default, neither was kppp (the internet dialler, would be nice), neither was kedit. No I didn't use "individual package selections", I've wasted too many hours in there before. New KDE theme is as horrible as the fonts, and good luck finding how to change it from if you're not in KDE at the time (it's 'kcontrol', I should note to myself, and 'gnome-control-center'). There doesn't seem to be any way of turning off the "send this picture" menu in mozilla which is so annoying to hit by accident, nor the "close other tabs" menu, cause of many a day's lost work. Oh, and KMail must have sprouted a new menu or something, because I always seem to have trouble finding anything in what used to be a nice clear layout.

        Did I mention that I use KMail so many hours per day that making it even slightly harder to use is a big kick in the teeth from the people working on default configuration at Mandrake? Or that I use rxvt frequently enough that disabling the WindowMaker icon to open a terminal after you've used it once is frustrating enough to make you want to install gentoo, even if it takes you a month of downloading?

        And that's just the stuff which has changed since the "quite nice but crashes with a USB key" Mandrake 9 (apart from the EULA which was always offensive). Seriously, I use Mandrake all the time, it's the best OS I've found so far, but after installing Mandrake 10, I've spent nearly every waking hour looking at pictures of Apple iMacs, and counting the cash required to buy one.

        Does this comment even get 10 minutes before disappearing beneath the waves of moderation?
    • Re:re (Score:3, Insightful)

      ... and windows integration.

      You love your Mac, fantastic, I think Apple makes some sexy hardware and OSX is a cherry OS. However, "windows integration"? How so? Using VirtualPC? That's emulation (PPC X86), hardly integration. Don't get me wrong, I dislike Windows but, for those uncomfortable situations when I'm forced to do some Win-specific work, I can launch a Win4Lin session on Linux that brings up a *native* Windows environment in about 5 seconds flat.
  • It's not just FOSS (Score:5, Interesting)

    by SpiffyMarc ( 590301 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:03PM (#10046525)
    The attitude of "It works, don't care if you don't like how it works or if you think it's ugly, I like it, if you don't like it than don't use it" is not just in FOSS, it's the attitude of many, if not most, programmers. Despite what it may look like, this isn't flamebait, I'm one of these guys myself. At the company I work for, this attitude is prevalent to a degree in most of the developers. It takes someone outside their heads (and usually, pressure from someone who makes the decisions) to put a friendly face on the application, and, dare I think it, reduce or refactor functionality to present a better interface to the user.

    It's not that developers aren't to blame, but rather, it's how you'd expect developers to be. What FOSS needs is a free, open-source equivalent of the QA/Validation/UI Design department.
    • by danheskett ( 178529 ) <danheskett&gmail,com> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:50PM (#10047097)
      It's not that developers aren't to blame, but rather, it's how you'd expect developers to be. What FOSS needs is a free, open-source equivalent of the QA/Validation/UI Design department.
      This is one of the things that I've always said FOSS isn't good at doing - QA/Validation/UI design.

      Most FOSS programmers work on projects for the love of coding. A break from boring work projects, home life, and to show thier geek pride. A mental workout.

      QA, UI design, etc are often the ultimate in repetitive drudgery. Designing and coding test frameworks for larger apps is often more challenging than coding the application to be tested. It's slow, tedious, detail orientated work. The payoff is small, measured, and non-glamorous.

      The big FOSS projects - I call them the "name brand" ones - get some of this just by sheer number of volunteers. The Linux kernel. Firefox. OpenOffice to a lesser degree.

      But the thousands of other projects - they get a programmer who just programs 100% of the time. A seperate volunteer to write up some minimal docs and a man page. That's it. Refactoring code to be more user-effective? Eliminating ambiguity from documentation? Producing high-quality production level software packages for many platforms? Nope. Rarely done. Why? It's the crap work that FOSS programmers are trying to avoid in the first place!

      Many of the Microsoft developer bloggers have reported that they spend less than 50% of their time coding. The rest is designing and documentating, refining, refactoring. After that, it's off to a team of testers and documentators.

      The point? Who wants to volunteer to work that you normally have to pay people very well to get done in the first place?
  • This cracks me up (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Infonaut ( 96956 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:04PM (#10046536) Homepage Journal
    is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)?

    Welllll.. considering that without end-users IT wouldn't have a job, it does seem fairly important to pay as much attention as possible to end-users.

    If you have to ask that question as an IT person, you are already a few steps behind.

    • maybe you missed the FOSS part - not very many jobs in that.

      just make it work and work well. that should be enough. so long as you aren't going out of your way to make things difficult, end-users have nothing to complain about.

      and even if you are going out of your way to make things difficult, they can only complain about you being a dick and not about your FOSS since you're not forcing them to use it.
  • Too true! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JohnGrahamCumming ( 684871 ) * <slashdot@jg[ ]rg ['c.o' in gap]> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:06PM (#10046553) Homepage Journal
    > The reason is, the motivation for open source is
    > not because the person gets paid but the person
    > gets prestige. The developers are designing for
    > each other and they are so feature rich--geeks
    > love features--and you get more prestige by adding
    > features. For the average person fewer features is
    > better and easier to understand.

    This has been a constant battle on POPFile []. People are forever asking me for this option, or that option, which are useful to a user community consisting of themselves and the two other people in the world who want the same thing. I've been argued with strenously for not adding various features and in general to innovating in the UI really slowly, but the lesson is clear: the average user should be guided by the software to the right behaviour. POPFile does have 100s of special options and they are available in a cfg file that a geek can get at.

    The other problem with open source and GUIs are all the people who want things in very specific places. e.g. I got constant "Put button X at the top, no, put button X at the bottom, no put it at the top and bottom" type conversations. Finally, we've boiled the UI down to the things that most people like and anyone else can hack the HTML templates and make the UI just as they want it.

    Overall, we've settled on:

    1. Lots of flexibility exposed at the geek level
    2. The every day functionality exposed in the UI.

    There's still a lot to do to make POPFile's UI really friendly, but the biggest lesson has been to resist the power users when it comes to adding UI widgets.

  • Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:06PM (#10046555) Homepage Journal
    Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)

    Most OSS is written by geeks as a personal hobby - just because they like writing code.

    IMHO and experience, designing and implementing a GUI is one of the more boring, cumbersome and uninteresting parts of programming, something like writing office or business applications (atleast for me).

    I don't see why a hobbyist would do something he didn't like.

    • Re:Depends... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by zangdesign ( 462534 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:14PM (#10046643) Journal
      There is no reason for a hobbyist to do go to the trouble of making a gui for end-users.

      However, many people do FOSS development as a means of creating software to supplant commercial software, or as a means of creating new ideas in software. Those are the ones that should be paying attention to non-geek end-user needs. Furthermore, those that wish to be taken seriously as developers for end-user solutions need to do so as well.

      A lot of it comes down to understanding who you're writing software for. If it's for yourself, who cares? If it's to attract other users, then you have to consider your target audience and if the audience includes the basic non-geek user, then you need to plan for their needs.
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:06PM (#10046561) Homepage Journal
    At times like these, it can be helpful to watch a little Nick Burns [] (Your Company's Computer Guy).

    He fixes your computer, and then he's gonna make fun of you.
  • Who? (Score:5, Funny)

    by MyShinyMetalAss ( 788814 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:06PM (#10046563)
    Who are these 'end users' you speak of?
  • "Poor OSS UIs" (Score:5, Interesting)

    by harmonica ( 29841 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:07PM (#10046577)
    I think the state of OSS GUIs is better than he claims. A lot of work with regard to usability has gone into the major (!) projects like Gnome or KDE. That still does leave us with quite a few crappy OSS GUIs, but it doesn't really make sense to try to come up with some average value in this case.

    A study on this could be interesting.
    • Re:"Poor OSS UIs" (Score:5, Insightful)

      by killjoe ( 766577 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:38PM (#10047735)
      The whole concept of Usability is a bit of a canard. For the 99% of the people on this planet in order for something to be usable it must act and look exactly like a MS product. If it does not then they can't use it. Of course making your product look and act like an MS product is sure to get you sued but that's another discussion altogether.

      People who measure usablity measure wrong things. They don't measure how easy a program is to use they measure how easy a program is to learn. There is a subtle but profound difference between the two. It may be easier to learn something if there is a tabbed interface with a dozen tabs on it and the user can waste 5 minutes looking for the option he wants but it is by no means easier to use.

      This is central dillema. Programs like vi, emacs, sed, awk, find etc are very hard to learn but once you have learned them they are easy to use. They make you more productive. When it comes to usablity nobody seems to care about the people who have taken the time learn something, they all want to concentrate on grandmas who can't tell the difference between turning off the monitor and turning off the computer.

      • Re:"Poor OSS UIs" (Score:4, Insightful)

        by utexaspunk ( 527541 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @04:24PM (#10049204)
        amen- and this is why the one button mouse on the mac is so friggin' retarded. they may have done a study way back when that showed people had an easier time with one button, but people who have learned how to use multiple buttons are way more productive. when i sit down at a mac, it's like having my hand chopped off and navigating with a nub. some things are worth learning. what's needed is effective methods for teaching them, not dumbing down things.
        • Re:"Poor OSS UIs" (Score:3, Insightful)

          by plover ( 150551 ) *
          Oh, that's not the only friggin' retarded thing about the design that goes into the Macs. For example, the first iMac I ever used had a circular mouse. I grabbed it and moved it up and down, and the cursor didn't track with my hand -- it headed off to the left somewhere. It took a few seconds to reorient the mouse.

          The worst part was that it ALWAYS took a few seconds to orient the mouse. No matter what, when you grabbed it you grabbed it in a slightly different orientation every single time. EVERY SIN

  • Usability (Score:3, Insightful)

    by iamdrscience ( 541136 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:10PM (#10046600) Homepage
    Really, I think end-user usability is an area for companies like redhat, mandrake, suse, etc. (even Lindows). Not that it wouldn't be great if more programmers were able to consider the non-geek users of their programs (or if they have trouble doing that, getting someone to help), but honestly, that's not the real way good usability with open source programs is going to develop. Companies like redhat are the ones that are really capable of pulling together hundreds of open source projects and making a product unified enough that a non-geek can manage it. Sure, there are non-commercial distros like Debian that do a good job at this, but it requires a lot of volunteer work and I would argue the end result of distros like Debian still isn't appropriate for many "regular users" (not that I'm putting down Debian, there are plenty of advantages to it and it's actually my distro of choice).
  • Cloners (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Donny Smith ( 567043 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:10PM (#10046601)
    From TFA:

    The second problem is that open source when they turn to the general tools they tend to be in the line of "let's implement what we already know" so they will take Microsoft Office and they will clone it. Since we've been criticising Microsoft for years for cloning Apple it is only fair to criticise open source for cloning Microsoft. The point being that you don't move ahead but you have to do something new.

    Very nicely said - he's not the first or the last to say this, but I am puzzled how many in the OSS community and on /. still dispute that view.

    Of course, that is not only obvious but potentially dangerous from the legal perspective.
    If/when OSS software gets close to endangering some big commercial software, I think this cloning thing will be the first the ISV will present to the court.

    BTW, the Pope said something against cloning yesterday - was he complaining about OSS?

    • Re:Cloners (Score:3, Insightful)

      by wings ( 27310 )
      I don't see an easy solution, because if you don't clone, then reviewers and users complain that the app is missing feature X, or that it works differently than in Microsoft Office, and therefore the app unuseable or unsuitable. If you do clone, then the critisism is about perpetuating the bad UI. If you offer the feature, but change the UI, then the complaints are that the learning curve is too high.

      Which is the better of the evils?
    • Ok, lets start writing some OSS software, so that things are free..

      For starters, well make it really usable, by making it nothing like anything anyone has ever seen, word processor.. puff... I'm going to have an fully heuristic based, hierarchical machine intenegance that is voice and gesture operated. And I'm going to run it on a 386 with 4mb of ram..

      Then I'm going to invent a whole new language to speek to my machine in, because I wouldn't want to clone any of the existing languages.
  • by SilentStrike ( 547628 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:10PM (#10046605) Homepage
    From the article...
    The developers are designing for each other and they are so feature rich--geeks love features--and you get more prestige by adding features.
    Could he be anymore wrong on this? I am totally the opposite. Give me minimal over bloated anyday. What am I running now? fluxbox, irssi, pine, gaim, firefox. I guess gaim and firefox are rather large programs, but firefox itself is a leaner mozilla... and gaim at least isn't distractingly bloated, where the interface gets in the way of wanting to just send some IMs.
  • by pixelgeek ( 676892 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:13PM (#10046632)
    Sorry but the fact that this question still needs to be asked is a damning criticism of FOSS development.

    Despite aiming to extend the reach of FOSS distros into the desktop developers still write software that most users can't use.

    This gets brought to the community's attention quite frequently and despite this the core point remains unexamined and unanswered:

    Geeks who write FOSS software aren't the ultimate market for those tools (or at least they aren't if you want to help spread FOSS) and until tools and software is written for a broader market then Linux will remain a server OS.

    And while we're at it can we all drop phrases like "Joe User" and its ilk? Perjorative terms describing what is your actual target market don't help you create better software for them.

    • And while we're at it can we all drop phrases like "Joe User" and its ilk? Perjorative terms describing what is your actual target market don't help you create better software for them.

      "Joe User" is not a pejorative term. "Joe Luser would be, as would "Joe RatB*st*rd", but there is nothing inherently negative in "Joe User". He represents the canonical end-user (go figure) who doesn't care about how the computer works so long as it does. Actually, when it doesn't work he still doesn't care about the i
  • Step 1 is easy. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Murmer ( 96505 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:13PM (#10046634) Homepage
    Step 1) For the love of God, stop making skinned applications. Use the UI-consistent widgets, they're dirt cheap, I promise. Skinned apps make me want to scrape my eyes out.
    • Re:Step 1 is easy. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by pestie ( 141370 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:45PM (#10048640) Homepage
      Another "amen!" from me! Jesus, I'm so sick of skinned applications. Skinning adds bloat for sure, and often causes instability and occasionally even security problems. And it reduces usability, forcing me to learn a new way of doing things for every new application. Other than the original WinAmp (which I blame for starting the whole skinning fad) I've rarely seen a program that's skinnable and intuitive. Users should be able to look at a program and tell immediately how to get it to do what they want. That's what standard GUI widgets get you. Use them!
    • Re:Step 1 is easy. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by TheRaven64 ( 641858 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @04:11PM (#10049010) Journal
      More importantly, stop regarding skinning (or any other form of user-customisation of the UI) as a substitute for good UI design in the first place.

      The second simple step is to realise that simple functionality should be easily accessible. It doesn't matter how complicated the application as a whole is - if simple things need complicated user interaction to perform then the UI is badly designed.

      The third simple step is consistency. If something else does something similar to your application, do it the same way. Don't re-invent functionality. If your application needs to be able to send email (for example), don't write yet another email client, simply invoke whatever one the user is already using.

      Good user interface design is really not that hard, but it does need some thought and care to do right.

  • by Otter ( 3800 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:15PM (#10046652) Journal
    ....asks Hemos as he blinds us with another blast of beige-on-white text...
  • by suso ( 153703 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:16PM (#10046658) Homepage Journal
    Just last night my wife and I where talking (read "arguing") about this.

    To give a little background, we're going to be expanding our web hosting business to start offering Linux Support and prebuilt Linux systems in Bloomington. We'll be opening our office early next month.

    She is worried that most people's expectations for functionality will be too high and will just end up throwing their machines away. However, we understand that Linux isn't for everybody yet and that we will have to turn somepeople away for the time being because they will have too high of expectations out of it. For instance, say that a family comes by and wants to by a new family PC so that the kids can play games and the parents can do their taxes, word processing and look at all those multimedia attachments that their family sends them. We'll we'll have to be up front with them and let them know that Linux probably isn't for them because those kids aren't going to be able to play off the shelf games yet (without fooling around with wine a lot or vmware) and they would get frustrated when some of those cute attachments don't work. Or TurboTax doesn't work.

    That all said, I feel that OSS has come far enough that it is ready for the first batch of non-technical adopters. You know, the ones that like to tinker around with the latest technology.
  • He's so predictable he's even got a drinking game [] I think that means he's got high levels of usability.

    His web site? []

    well, just take a look. /. games section [] has a better choice of colours.

    anyhow, enough of that.

    This guy could do to take a look at OSS for a change and stop contradicting himself (familiarity is good, oh, but don't clone)....

    kde look [] has got more usability hanging off of it than, well, Nielsen I suppose.

    OSS Firefox has create standards support (not excellent though), which is really handy if you trying to design a web site for dis/abled people.

    Maybe OpenOffice does have more features than Office, but can't you just turn them off, or ignore them. Maybe I can preview sounds in Konquror, but not in Explorer. Maybe were all pissed of with the likes of Microsoft and Nielsen trying to dumb the world down, to the point where people stop thinking all together.

    Most kids are coming through school with a high level of computer literacy, I'm sure even the ones who aren't geeks can get to grips with a Mandrake install.

    Jakob Nielsen, shut the fuck up and fix you web site, and try to practise what you preach, before telling other what to do.

    • I thought I'd take a better look at the "the king of usability" []

      Lets do a little search [] on his web site. (very important).

      Search: things I should do
      Categories: 7 categories
      Found: 475 pages
      Count: 126 pages contain all 4 search words

      Cool 7 chategories, can you tell me what they are so I don't have to scrole all the way through the page... cheers....

      (they could be put in the empty space to the right)

      The layout:

      A list with 4 vertical headings, .
      1: white space between headings and dat
    • Too many people are confusing being easy to use and being "pretty" and bitching at Nielsen's website because they don't like the colors or whatever (I don't like them either)--but face it, if you can't find anything on his website easily then you're just a dumbass. The two columns are clearly labelled and all the imformation is stacked in a logical manner.

      There are waaay too many pages out there where everything looks nice and smooth but finding information is just a pain in the ass. Maybe Nielsen sucks
      • Ok, read my followup post. The guys a monkey.

        Asthetics is an important part of usability, and can be worked out techinically with no need for 'graphics design'

        If something looks tactile then the user is going to try an use it.

        If something looks 'gareish' then the user is going to avoid looking at it.

        If something is large, then it's going to draw the users attention.

        If something flashes (like a TV) then the users brain is going to think that it is a possible danger (a panther just about to pounce) and t
  • by bigberk ( 547360 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:19PM (#10046691)
    Apache [] impressed people with its English-style configuration directives that have influenced other developers to switch to such logical formats. Another example: the Postfix MTA [] is becoming more popular and many users say they enjoy using it because of the straightforward configuration, compared to the m4 mess of sendmail []. "It has to be complicated to be powerful" is no longer an excuse.
  • The beauty of ... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Laser Lou ( 230648 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:20PM (#10046702)
    free/open source software is that the original developer does not have to focus on the user interface; Since the code is freely available for modification, someone else with better UI skills can improve it.
    • Not really. Good usability has to be planned from the start, otherwise, you'll end up with a situation where the usability guy needs a feature (or piece of data or something) that's impossible to get in the current code.
  • Let themk write their own damn software.
  • by hey ( 83763 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:24PM (#10046751) Journal
    This guy has a big UI name but this "genious" paint all open source with the same brush. Personally I think Apache has best GUI every - its easy to read flat file. Open Office, KDE, Gnome are very polisished but lots of stuff isn't.
  • Delicate balance (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Ars-Fartsica ( 166957 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:25PM (#10046765)
    If you churn out idiotware you will invariably lose the interest of developer types, and the end result might be less code.

    Also, the reality is that people need to think more like computers. You cannot be a blathering idiot and expect and optimal experience from any piece of electronics or software. Don't cite OSX or Windows, they also manifest deep system details at high levels.

    Yes we can hide, obscure and wrap in metaphors, but this implies a loss of control, which I am not sure most of the actual users of this code want.

  • Cloning Microsoft (Score:5, Insightful)

    by linguae ( 763922 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:28PM (#10046802)
    The second problem is that open source when they turn to the general tools they tend to be in the line of "let's implement what we already know" so they will take Microsoft Office and they will clone it. Since we've been criticising Microsoft for years for cloning Apple it is only fair to criticise open source for cloning Microsoft. The point being that you don't move ahead but you have to do something new.

    Good point taken. I hope I'm no troll or flamebait here, but have you seen KDE or GNOME lately, as well as their applications? They almost look like replications of the Windows interface. Isn't leaving Windows and learning something new part of the "benefits" of switching to Open Source? I think that the Open Source developers should build a brand new interface from the ground up, that is different from the other interfaces out there, but also useable enough so that way non-geeks would be able to use it with minimal trouble.

    What I mean is this. Say you're a hypothetical non-geek Windows user who is using KDE or GNOME. You notice that the interfaces look very, very similar; the minimize/maximize/close buttons are in the same spot, the bar where your applications go works quite similar, and everything has a bit of familiarity. But say you want to go further. Then you'll hit some rough spots, because KDE/GNOME doesn't work exactly like Windows does, even though it looks very similar to it.

    But what if I gave that same user a completely different user interface, one that the user has no experience in. Yes, the user would have to learn how to use the new interface, but if the interface is well designed enough for usability, the user will master most, if not, all of the aspects of the user interface in very little time. Plus, because the interface doesn't look like anything that he or she seen before, the user wouldn't expect "well, it worked here in this environment, so it should work the same way here."

    • While the point about not straight-cloning an interface may be a good one, what do you suggest?

      "OSS should stop cloning MS and do something completely different, only it should be more usable." That's great, do you have any visionary ideas? How many ways are there to make a word processor or e-mail client work?

      As for your window buttons example, you can put them wherever you want on the window. By default they're where they are on Windows presumably to take advantage of user familiarity. You can have as m
    • Well, you have two problems.

      The first you already mentioned: re-training. Let's face it: people don't want to spend the time, and businesses don't want to spend the money on re-training. It's a royal pain in the butt.

      The second problem is one that's a bit more difficult to change. The fact is, the current methods of interfacing with Windows have proven themselves effective technologies. Bad user interface pratices have gone by the wayside, while newer ones (start-bars, etc.) have taken precidence.

    • by tiger99 ( 725715 )
      Yes, you are right. I showed a SuSE/KDE desktop to a follower of the Monopolist a while back, and he dismissed it as "being just like Windows".

      There must be the potential to do the UI or GUI in a radically different way, and maybe make it adapt to the expertise of the user, so that there is not just a minimalist shell for experts or a full bloated GUI for beginners. There might be something to learn from Plan 9, at least it is different.

      But it seems to me that already the useability and the problems of Wind

    • Or, if they are going to clone something, at least make it something worth cloning like OS/2's workplace shell.
    • KDE and GNOME are not clones of Windows. While there are similarities, that's to be expected because form follows function, and all the destkops have similar functions. They all need a root menu of some kind, because that's easier than rooting around a folder full of several hundred app launcher icons. So Windows has "start", GNOME has a foot and KDE has a K. Windowmaker, XFCE and Enlightenment also have root menus!

      They all have a taskbar/panel of some kind, because they combine two commonly used features
  • 8-Ball Nielsen (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rokali ( 785706 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:30PM (#10046822) Journal
    This guy keeps saying the same things over and over again. Why anybody would pay him $10,000 (his starting price) to review their site is beyond me. Instead, someone should make an 8-ball with his 30 stock tips in it: "Don't have a link to the homepage on the homepage." "Don't have dark text on a dark background." "Have a search field in plain sight on the homepage." "Make your pages liquid." and so forth
    • Re:8-Ball Nielsen (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Moraelin ( 679338 )
      Well, his points are well known, and you can just buy a book where they're spelled out. So you don't _have_ to pay 10,000$ to get that good advice. You don't even need to make an 8-ball, you could just as well make a small bulleted list and put it next to your monitor.

      It just requires some minimal clue and an open mind.

      The problem is that a lot of web sites are just some PHB's ego trip site. The more clueless the PHB, the more he's convinced that the site:

      - _has_ to be in his favourite colours, the users
  • by McDutchie ( 151611 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:34PM (#10046864) Homepage
    from the editing-text-files-suck dept.

    Oh yeah?? Well, my editing text files rock! You had better believe it, or they might just edit you!

    (Guess that's one way to solve the end user problem...)

  • Nah (Score:3, Interesting)

    by The Bungi ( 221687 ) <> on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:36PM (#10046888) Homepage
    Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)

    No, just keep writing software like you always have, with astoundingly complicated UIs, impossibly obscure configuration options (when it's not just a damn text file buried under /etc or ~/) and completely non-standard behavior that throws people who've used other GUIs off to hell.

    Yeah, the software is "cool" because it has that neat bayesian algorithm that was harrrd to implement in Malbolge and it's "free", so that must make it better. Anyone who complains can either a) Go to hell b) Write their own version; c) Submit a patch; d) Ask for their money back; or b) STFU.

    Keep copying Apple and Microsoft and everyone else instead of coming up with your own UI designs (badly, too), while snickering at said companies on Slashdot and IRC.

    That's fine. Just don't yell at me when I question your claims that your app is "ready for the desktop" and is "better" than what the "evil proprietary" companies can come up with.

  • Make a difference (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Maljin Jolt ( 746064 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:41PM (#10046945) Journal
    Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?

    It depends on your target audience. For a specialized library maintainer, a user means another specialist in coding.

    But some people do not care about others in normal life, why shoud we expect from such to be different in software design? If you are a nerdish geek, you don't value a distorted reality of Clicky'n'Picky ordinal users much high. So there is a need to develop some spiritual qualities, empathy and compassion. Without these, there is no mastery of any craft, not only of software. Craftsmanship maybe, but no mastery.

    But certainly I never had compassion for corporations and corporate users. They understand only money. Let them pay for features they want.
  • God yes... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dracolytch ( 714699 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:41PM (#10046954) Homepage
    Yes, yes, yes. A thousand times yes.

    As a software engineer myself, I find the lack of attention to the user interface with end users (even other geeks) terrible.

    Let's face it: I don't have the time or energy to learn the ins and outs of all the possible software out there. 90% of the time, I want the base functionality, and don't want to have to learn how to set 10 things, just because I want to do 1.

    I'm sorry, but most of you programmers that think that an effective user interface isn't important are either ignorant, lazy, or both.

    Take a User Interfaces class. Not only will your end-products improve, but you will also get some insight as to how other users may be thinking, and what they're looking for.

    The most important thing you need to do before you begin the act of creating anything is to Understand Your Audience. I guaruntee, your audience will not follow the same thought processes you do.

  • by iabervon ( 1971 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:42PM (#10046962) Homepage Journal
    UI designers aren't any more likely than programmers to hate their work and never want to do anything similar in their spare time. The reason that OSS projects don't usually have UI designers as regular contributors is the amount of knowledge necessary to change a program's UI that isn't in the standard graphic design curriculum. In the commercial world, UI designers generally work by having the authority to tell programmers what to do; in the OSS world, they have no way to get this authority, because they don't have the skills for the entry-level gathering of respect.

    In order to have good UIs, we need to involve people who can design them. In order to involve them, we have to empower them to make patches on their own. And that means arranging for UI coding to be completely obvious, and separate from the inner workings of the program.
  • My goal is to have a system that works for what I need it to do. Therefore, for me as an individual, it will never be time to take up arms with a crowd of usability experts and make Linux more user friendly. I can do what I need on it. If your goal is to push Linux onto other people's desktops, then yes, it is time to do that.

    The only REAL benefit that I see to that is a restoration of competition in the desktop market, not the destruction of M$. The industry could benefit from a real 3 or more desktop
  • Chicken or Egg? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @01:51PM (#10047108)
    Being the old-fart that I am, (ok I'm just 30 but I feel like an old fart) I started with BBS's, a 300 baud modem and a C=64 around 1986.

    I eagerly upgraded to a 386DX/40 and started using DOS v5.

    From there I went to Win3.11 and then an addon called Dashboard (made by HP IIRC).

    All this time my computer and UI upgrades were fun, and something that I looked forward to.

    Then I tried Win95. Ack, I hated it. I couldn't uninstall it quick enough.

    I got used to Win95 (never really "liked" it), and followed to upgrade path like everyone else.

    Win98 was better, Win2k was good. I enjoyed how 'tight & clean' everything felt, and I still thinks it's the best looking OS that MS made (including XP in classic mode).

    XP (default) made me gag, and I couldn't change the settings quick enough.

    I have always 'tweaked' my OS (from DOS days of hacking the io.sys, msdos.sys, and, all the way through till now)

    I have tried using most of the linux distro's and it feels anymore like it's just more work to try to turn all crap off that Joe-Programmer "thinks" that Suzie-Soccermom will like.* I have tried using a Mac,and I don't like it. I have heard that it's the best UI for folks who have never used a PC before, and I must admit that this 'old-fart' won't ever touch it if he has the choice.

    Anyhow back to my point, I left it somewhere around here. I have recently tried using iTunes.

    Untill now I have been using WinAmp v1.8 and then I moved on to FooBar2000.

    Tight, small, simple, no fluff. I loved that program, but I thought i'd try something new.


    It's great for searching, (even better if you have good ID3 tags)

    I still need to learn/use it more, but I think I like it. (The secret is to forget that the DOS world ever existed, don't you dare use Windows Explorer to do anything usefull, and be a Suzie-Soccermom x For Dummies idiot.)

    But other then that, I think I like it.

    What I want to know: Am I just an old-fart who is stuck in his Carmudgenly ways, or are good UI options being dropped in favor of candy-coloured eye-goop, that serves no enhancement of the computing experience other then the "I wanna see if it can do this" mentality?

    *I have tried using XFCE but I couldn't figure out how do do much. The terminal with vi & links & mutt were more intuitive. =)

    What needs to come first: A geek writing for a geek. An artist who see the vision that the original geek wrote. Or a geek writing for his sister. (not mother, that is why we have all this eye-candy and Help-Wizards)

    My vote: leave the art for the artists
    the code for the programmers,
    and the easy to read files for the hackers to hack.

    Between those 3,a good combination will be met.
  • by f0rtytw0 ( 446153 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:35PM (#10047708) Journal
    One class I'm glad I took in college. It realy opened my eyes to usability and how to make something usable and a better understanding as to what other programs have done wrong. Elegant code should have an elegant interface and learning what goes into making an elegant interface is very important. True, not every program needs an interface at all but for the ones that do its not hard to follow some of the simple rules for making something usable. A lot of the material would only take someone 15 to 30 minutes to go over and understand, and not the 3 hours of class I had to sit through. If you are ever going to make an interface please please look into things like the ten usability heuristics.
  • by B5_geek ( 638928 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:35PM (#10047709)
    It just occured to me why I dislike the "spatial" nature of the new Gnome.

    #1) It is just like DOS. You can only be 'active' in one directory at a time. Deep dir's were hell, but shallow ones were kinda quick and easy to copy/move files around and open them.

    #2) The entire "browser" style has lasted only because Suzie Soccermom has never learned that by using a "Tree-view + detailed list" is easier, (damn Windows default settings).

    #3) IIRC Xtree, Norton Commander and Dosshell were all designed to quickly & easily allow of folder/file manipulation at the deep level. This is a huge improvment over the existing DOS CLI.

    Is this really just a case of: "What is old is new again"?

    Like a previous poster stated. Spatial systems would work very good for large numbers of files, if the OS did all the sorting for you. (Didn't MS try this with "My Documents, My Pictures, My P0rn..." and we all hated them dearly for it?)

    Here's a novel idea, let's make the choices EASILY switchable. Include 999999999 different choices and let the end-user decide.

    Damnit that's the mess that we have with any linux distro installer.

    Ok, how about the Model-T Ford method: "You can have any colour you want as long as it's black."

    Apple beat us to that one too.

    ok I give up. Maybe I just go "roll my own". And no I am not talking about linny.

    =) I love Mondays
  • by rudy_wayne ( 414635 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:42PM (#10047790)
    Over the past couple of years, lots of people have written about the subject of poor usablility in open source software. Lot's of people, some of them quite well known and well respected in the FOSS community keep saying it, but nobody seems to be listening.

    The fact that people keep writing about poor usability would seem to indicate that nothing is changing. It would appear that FOSS pgrammers aren't taking it seriously and not making much effort to change things.

    Why not?

  • by theantix ( 466036 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @02:48PM (#10047867) Journal
    Gee, [] it's [] too [] bad [] that [] there [] are [] no [] OSS [] projects [] that [] focus [] on [] usability. [] I [] wonder [] what [] such [] a [] product [] would [] look [] like [] if [] the [] OSS [] community [] ever [] tried [] to [] focus [] on [] that. []
    • The parent post should be modded Insightful, not funny.

      The fact is, many, many OSS projects spend lots of efford into usability. But sadly, Slashdotters keep nailing the same thing from 2 years ago over and over!

      Let's take a look:
      - The GNOME usability project. Anybody can discuss usability issues, or request a UI review of their app.
      - Ximian, Sun and RedHat have professional usability experts. Sun did professional usability researches. But ironically and sadly, Slashdotters keep bashing them for creating
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Monday August 23, 2004 @03:56PM (#10048801)
    >>"Is it time to pay more attention to end-users?(who aren't geeks)"

    The fact that such a question can even be asked tesitifies to the arrogant lameness of many (not all) F/OSS hangers-on and developers who whine about Microsoft's enduring popularity yet continue to produce or extol software that only a geek would use.

    If you make something people don't like using, why are you surprised when people don't use it?

    Of course, if they started writing software for real people, the tinfoil brigade would have to abandon its two favorite excuses for the failure of F/OSS to take over the world's desktops: 1) The great Microsoft corporate conspiracy; and, 2) Stupid Users.It is much easier to posture as a victim of both Microsoft and users who are too dumb to use your software than it is to start paying attention to other people.
  • by driptray ( 187357 ) on Tuesday August 24, 2004 @02:07AM (#10053554)

    OK all you developers, here's what you should think of when you hear the word "usability".

    1. Get a randomised group of your product's end-users. If your program is for sysadmins you'll want to get sysadmins, and if your program is for novices, get novices.

    2. Set them a series of tasks to perform with your application.

    3. Watch them try and perform these tasks.

    4. Stifle the urge to scream "No, you fool - it's over there" as they fumble around the design that you thought was so brilliant. Instead, take lots of notes.

    5. When it's finished, work out where the common problems are, and then fix them.

    6. Rinse and repeat with a new set of users, until they all get it.

    Note that this has nothing to do with arguments such as features vs. simplicity, or GUI vs. CLI, or newbie vs. experienced user. It's just a practical guide to smoothing out your application.

    After you've done this with a few apps you'll start to get a sense of how to incorporate good usability from the start, but remember, there's no substitute for testing with real live users.

    • That's not testing usability, that's testing learnability. While that's an important attribute, for an application people spend a lot of time using (e.g. Photoshop-like apps), speed of use for a more experienced user is more important. After all, if your app is any good, people are going to spend much more time as intermediate/experienced users than as beginners.

Adding features does not necessarily increase functionality -- it just makes the manuals thicker.