Usability

The little flamewar with Linus about usability do bring up a few good points. So usability was made a focus for the GNOME 2.x series and a lot of good have come of that, but it has had some unforseen side effects.

First of all, the vast majority of GNOME users and developers don’t know the details of why certain things are like they are in any given module, we only know the details of the select modules we develop/follow closely. The issue of printer options as discussed is one good example, I had no idea (before the Linus thread) why things where the way they where.

The problem is that we and the community in general have started to assume that UI design decisions are behind everything in GNOME being the way they are. So when people come complaining about missing printer options, the assumption is that that its a design decision and not simply something not implemented yet (as was the case in the printer options case) or Havoc simply not having had the time and interest to work on Linus’s mouse button mapping issue enough to bring it to completion. Yet, out there people assumed this things where caused by design decisions, even people relativly close to the development community, and often people would even give this assumption as the answer to anyone they talk with who brought up the issue.

The rate to which this belief has become embedded in peoples conception is actually amazing. I have had multiple discussions with people complaining about this or that in GNOME, and when looking into it finding that the reason something is the way it is has nothing to do with a ‘make it simple’ design decision, but simply that the developers haven’t gotten around to it yet, or in some cases not being aware of the usecase/need. And I have then found that when returning with this information I actually have to spend a lot of time convincing people that their wanted functionality XY is simply a lack of developertime/awareness and not a concious UI design decision.

This is a problem in many ways. It creates fertile grounds for silly misunderstandings like the issues brought up by Linus.It might also cause a lot of people to not create patches adding the functionality they want because they assume its omission is on purpose and thus hindering people from joining the project.

On the other hand I guess it do mean people have a lot of faith in the level of the UI design work going into GNOME, since they obviously assume nothing is in GNOME or ever happens in GNOME without a lot of UI thought having gone into it :)

5 thoughts on “Usability”

  1. Well, there is a simple reason for that belief. Gnome 1.x had some functionality, Gnome 2.x had no longer. People are not used to that – it had to be a design descision, especially since everybody was bragging about the simplicity of the new gnome at that time.

    *Of course* missing features are because of making things simpler. What else?

    (Yeah, I know that Gnome 2.x was a rewrite and reimplementing all that kind of stuff that was in 1.x takes time, but it was the Gnome PR that is responsible for that perception.)

    Simon

  2. My pick is that is simply old KDE versus GNOME philosophy. KDE has things which don’t work and GNOME has them too. For KDE, there is nothing else to blame as “it is not fixed yet”. However, when people blame GNOME, they blame usually it with style – “it is dumbed down”, “I can’t find where to turn on that and that”, “it is not usuablity” and goes down to flames. I don’t know why, thought.

    Yep, GNOME has unfixed things – which is bad sometimes. PPD options – well, it is _not_ primary target for me, as I usually DON’T mess with settings of printer (and i’m computer geek for 10 years) because I don’t want to waste my time. And my pick is that those options are not implemented yet because of gnome-print, which is quite broken yet (It got quite better with 2.6/2.8 releases) and it is possibly big burden to do that.

    About Linus – sorry, but such tone is not good and it is typical flamewar. But I forgive him for that because well, he got some points there (I don’t agree on usability, I LOVE GNOME usability, but I agree GNOME printing system has been broken for a while and print dialog only recently got some love) and he is not usual flameboy. And he just prefers KDE, which I respect.

  3. “So when people come complaining about missing printer options, the assumption is that that its a design decision and not simply something not implemented yet (as was the case in the printer options case)”
    from your post

    versus

    “Today I talked with Frederic Crozat, GNOME packager/maintainer and desktop developer here at Mandriva, and David Barth, vice president for engineering, about the development of the printing dialogs in GNOME, Firefox, and Thunderbird.

    Frederic told that the options from the PPD file are intentionally mot listed in the printing dialog, the usability team of GNOME was against listing these options. They clutter the dialog and can be more confusing than useful to the user.”
    from http://mail.gnome.org/archives/usability/2005-December/msg00019.html

    There appears to be a disconnect about whether or not this was intentional

  4. Alex: http://lists.osdl.org/pipermail/desktop_architects/2005-December/000509.html

    I’m just going to correct some things Till wrote that I would have said.
    It seems either I didn’t explained correctly, or Till misunderstood my
    explanations (or probably a little of both) on what was the current
    state of printing on GNOME and why full PPD options were not in GNOME
    yet and why they probably would not go in it by just a snap of a finger
    but only after careful interface reviewing. Thus the original message
    was sent by Till on GNOME usability mailing list, to try to discuss how
    to improve GNOME printing UI.

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