[Gllug] Debian Matching Machines

John Winters john at sinodun.org.uk
Thu Apr 7 08:57:47 UTC 2005

On Thu, 2005-04-07 at 09:37 +0100, Chris Bell wrote:
[snip exposition of dselect]
> just press return when you are happy with
> your selection, why do you have a problem?

Exactly why I find it impossible to drive is hard to pin down, but major
factors are:

1) The lack of a general explanation of how the damn thing works.  Some
worked examples in the documentation would be good.  As with so many
programs, the documentation makes the mistake of documenting all the
detail but leaving out the general briefing about what's going on.

2) The need to remember about 14 keypresses - none of which is
particularly intuitive or prompted on screen - before you can drive it
at all.

3) The lack of indication of the structure of the screens.  It seems to
have thousands of different displays and no indication of how they all
hang together.  I'm sure we're all familiar with the "twisty little
passages, all alike".  Once you've mapped those you find that what
seemed like an infinite space is actually quite small.  It may be that
the corresponding space in dselect is also quite small, but it's bigger
than the "twisty little passages" space and apparently completely
unmapped.  There's also no clear on-screen indication of where you are
in the maze.

4) The fact that "obvious" key presses don't do anything.  I'd expect
"q" or Escape to get me out of things but they don't.  Nor does the
program provide any clues about what I should be pressing instead.

5) The fact that the help is an either/or thing.  Either you can be
driving the program, or you can be looking at the help but not both at
the same time.  That means you have to memorise a lot of information
from the help screen (see "14 key presses" above), exit help and try to
use them from memory.

6) The fact that it has features like, "just press return when you are
happy with your selection".   Again, it's an extremely bad choice of key
to cause the program to go on and do something.  Yes, return is often
used to mean, "Take the default option", but *only* when there are some
options being displayed and you're being asked to choose between them.
This is true for both GUI and text mode programs.

No doubt it is possible to learn to drive it, and once you've learned it
may be quick to use, but I suppose the major problem is that the initial
learning curve is not just steep but vertical (possibly overhanging),
the height of that initial step is large, and until you've got over the
step you can't make the program do anything useful at all.

If it were possible to get by with just 2 or 3 key presses, and it was
documented what those key presses were, then it might be possible to get
started and learn the other features as you go along.


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