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)
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…)
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
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.
Kudos to Brian for getting gnome-shell up and running on OpenSolaris—since I’ve barely touched a Linux distro in the past year or so, this has really been the main thing that’s been stopping me from taking a proper look at it, and getting involved in what’s clearly going to be an important part of GNOME’s future. I guess I don’t have any excuses now
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.)
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.
Last week I had cause to revisit the issue (for much the same reason as before—updating the OpenSolaris UI spec), hoping that things would have improved and I wouldn’t have to suggest too many tweaks to the OpenSolaris layout to keep things nice and consistent.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like much has changed though, really, which is kind of disappointing. (Especially as seeing this bug marked as resolved had built up my hopes a little…)
Caveat: as in my original post, the latest release of Ubuntu (8.10, GNOME 2.24.1) was the closest I had to a community build when I was doing the comparison. So things may really be a little better or worse than they appear here, or may have been fixed in 2.25/2.26.
So I hacked up a quick diagram showing all the menus and sidebars where bookmarks and places appear, and aligned them on the “Home Folder” entry since that was about the only one that was consistently placed. Here’s what I came up with:
The two Places menus on the panel (one in the menubar applet, one in the main menu applet) are now identical, at least in Ubuntu. This is good to see, although most users won’t see both at the same time anyway.
The Go and Places menus in Nautilus (browser mode and spatial mode respectively) are pretty consistent with each other too.
Inconsistent appearance/placement of mounted media, Computer, Desktop, Templates, File System, and CD/DVD Creator between sidebars and menus.
Of course, it would be wrong to complain without offering any proposals, and I’ll get to that—just haven’t got time today. The current draft of the OpenSolaris 2009.04 UI spec does include my first quick attempt, but that’s currently based more on “least amount of work to fix” rather than “what might be most useful”… and we all know that’s not really the way to do it, right kids?
Of course, 2008.11 still has all the usual Solaris goodness like ZFS, Zones and Dtrace built-in, with the Solaris Trusted Extensions now just a click away too, giving you access to one of the most secure desktops on the planet*.