GNOME usability futures

Didn’t blog about this at the time as I guessed anyone who was interested would be on the usability list anyway, but in retrospect that’s probably not true so I’ll summarise here as well.

Just prior to the Boston Summit, mostly in response to some prodding from Brian, a few of us started kicking around some ideas for dragging GNOME’s usability activities into the 21st century. General areas for discussion include:

  • improving the HIG (e.g. turning it more into a visual pattern library with code samples, with a wordier secondary document for issues that still required it)
  • novel ways to gather valid usability data for GNOME (e.g. instrumenting applications, online surveys, remote usability testing via webcam/voip)
  • possibility of a Foundation-funded mobile usability lab, similar to the one Máirín demonstrated at the Boston Summit
  • .

Anyway, if you want to join in the discussion, it’s mostly happening over here.

Planning for change

This sort of thing always worries me. I really wish we had a more formal way of alerting users that functionality was going to go away, rather than just pulling the rug from under their feet when they install a new release.

At Sun, and I’m sure at most other companies that support software products, we have to tell our customers in advance when (certain) features are going away. We can’t just drop them from one release to the next because we’ve gone off the idea.

Personally, I’d like to see GNOME manage this a lot better, perhaps (from the end user’s perspective) via a section in the GNOME release notes that said which features we intended to remove from the next release. The impact of such changes would then have to be thought through well in advance, and there’d be plenty of time to remove the feature, fix any related issues, and properly update the documentation prior to its actual disappearance. And users would have time to prepare for the change, and have the opportunity to raise any sensible objections before the fact, rather than after it.

(This thought isn’t especially new, nor directly aimed at the proposed Windows capplet removal… although I do know that’s a decision that would generate support calls for Sun users and customers, who always scream when anything related to their sloppy focus settings breaks, changes or goes away. Many of them have been using sloppy focus on UNIX desktops since before GNOME or even Linux were first thought of, so it’s not a feature we like to mess with…)

Control Center Refresh redux

Quick follow-up on my last post about some ideas for a GNOME control center refresh.

Kristin and Jenya are running a usability study on three control center designs in the Sun labs this week (current GNOME control center as a baseline, plus two of their alternative designs). There will be 10 participants over three days, a mixture of “developers, technical end users, and technical students”.

We will of course share the results as soon as we have any to share :)

Control center refresh

Some of you have probably heard that some folks at Sun have been working on a proposal for a tidied-up GNOME control center shell. Well, at long last, here are some details!

First of all, I should say that I actually have little personal involvement in this project—it’s being led by Kristin Travis and Jenya Gestrin of Sun’s xDesign team… I’m just abusing my position on Planet GNOME to plug what they’re doing :) And as yet, there’s no production code to speak of, just mockups and Flash prototypes, so there’s still plenty of scope for feedback.

You can download the latest protoypes, peruse numerous mockups, and read about the design process to date (including a usability study on the capplet categorisation) on the Usability Project’s Control Center Whiteboard pages.

Latest control center mockup
Latest control center mockup

Feedback welcome here, on the control center mailing list, or direct to Kristin and Jenya.

Compiz in a Box

In VirtualBox 2.2.0, which was released today, that is. The new OpenGL acceleration for Linux and Solaris guests allows compiz to run very nicely in a virtual machine. (Click the thumbnail for a Theora video of compiz running in an OpenSolaris guest in OS X.)

Compiz running in VirtualBox
Compiz running in VirtualBox

EDIT: I suppose I ought to add there’s some other cool stuff in 2.2.0 as well, particularly the ability to import/export appliances in OVF format.