Linux usability (was Re: [Nottingham] Response on awareness day)

Michael Quaintance penfoldq at
Thu Nov 3 17:59:16 GMT 2005

Matthew Walster wrote:

>So, what we need to do is collar someone who uses Windows, has no interest in 
>computer (and especially Linux) and sit them down in front of (say,) an 
>Ubuntu box, and make a list of the questions they ask - like "how do I open 
>You wouldn't believe the startling information you get from that situation. 
>Relatives are prime opportunity for this.
Matthew Walster wrote:

>Yup, that's why I mentioned it - it's a great idea, it needs to be replicated 
>throughout the industry.

Be careful what you wish for... you might just get it!

Lotus (before IBM) were really into this. They spent ages and lots of 
money 'perfecting' the user experience for non-developer users. What 
they produced was horrible.

As with everything in life, you need to be careful about just how far 
you go with it. They went way overboard on the metaphors. Interfaces 
that actually looked like a filofax with most of the limitations and 
almost none of the improvements.

The resulting products were a nightmare for many geeks to use and I knew 
a number of secretarial types (non-geeks but heavy users) who abhorred 
the interface. But then they were people who loved Word Perfect. So did 
I for the glory that was "reveal codes".

Also, anyone weaned on Lotus products had incredibly limited 
transferable skills. The metaphors were so strong, these people hadn't 
learned how Windows(tm) worked at all.

I've read a fair bit on design in many forms (graphic design/layout, 
design for usability, man-machine interface, human-computer interaction, 
etc) and there are so many differing and conflicting ideas out there. 
But one of the main points the so-called experts seem to agree on is 
that when the metaphor is too weak, the medium overrides the message; 
when the metaphor is too strong, the metaphor overrides the message. If 
the message is not the most important thing, you've failed as a designer.

Obviously, accurate and geek-friendly definitions of message, metaphor 
and medium are almost impossible which is the source of so much of the 
communication problems between geeks and 'artists'.

Linux by its very nature as a geek hobbyist environment is going to 
appear confusing to a newbie. It confused the hell out of me when I 
first tried to install it and it asked me loads of questions where I 
didn't understand the question, let alone the answer. It has got better. 
It continues to get better. This is a *Good Thing* but please don't go 
too far. Mind you, open-source by its very nature has the option of 
backpedaling to the last good release and starting again from there. So 
such things are always optional.

Rant over... I feel better now.


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