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The Open Source Design Conundrum

Soulskill posted more than 5 years ago | from the too-many-chiefs dept.

Software 322

Matt Asay writes "Walk the halls of any open-source conference and you'll see a large percentage of attendees with ironically non-open-source Apple laptops and iPhones. One reason for this seeming contradiction can be found in reading Matthew Thomas' classic 'Why free software usability tends to suck.' Open-source advocates like good design as much as anyone, but the open-source development process is often not the best way to achieve it. Open-source projects have tended to be great commoditizers, but not necessarily the best innovators. Hence, Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst recently stated that Red Hat is "focused on commoditizing important layers in the stack." This is fine, but for those that want open source to push the envelope on innovation, it may be unavoidable to introduce a bit more cathedral into the bazaar. Without an IBM, Red Hat, or Mozilla bringing cash and discipline to an open-source project, including paying people to do the 'dirt work' that no one would otherwise do, can open source hope to thrive?"

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Apple makes good hardware (4, Insightful)

walshy007 (906710) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503731)

Thing is apple laptops are usually pretty good in design, so even OSS people will buy one and then put distro of choice on it, problem? not really. Good hardware is good hardware.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (2, Insightful)

Chabil Ha' (875116) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503813)

To that end, good software is good software no matter the development methodology, license, etc. I would hope that one of the hallmarks of open development includes an open mind.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (4, Informative)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504639)

Yep. I think some people just need to realize that there are lots of people that use OSS simply because it is good software and not because we are zealots that hate Microsoft or Apple or whatever.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (3, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504201)

Thing is apple laptops are usually pretty good in design, so even OSS people will buy one and then put distro of choice on it, problem? not really. Good hardware is good hardware.

The hardware's fine, but I'll agree with the original Thomas article [archive.org] , the user interface is the key. As Thomas said, "once you have more than one designer, you get inconsistency, both in vision and in detail." Not to mention his comment that OS developers, "because they are hackers, they are power users, so the interface design ends up too complicated for most people to use."

Re:Apple makes good hardware (0)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504767)

You already have more than one designer -- at the very least, that Mac is going to have Firefox on it, which isn't made by Apple.

Never mind that you've still got several different UIs from Apple itself -- the iTunes brushed metal look, the curvy Aqua look..

Re:Apple makes good hardware (1, Flamebait)

Mad Merlin (837387) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504505)

Thing is apple laptops are usually pretty good in design, so even OSS people will buy one and then put distro of choice on it, problem? not really. Good hardware is good hardware.

Except that Apple laptops are junk. None of them have nipples, they only have a single mouse button and they're all shortscreen. Mind you, most laptops are shortscreen now, but that doesn't make it any better.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (1)

snowwrestler (896305) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504777)

The new Apple trackpads are amazing. You just push down anywhere to click--feels like a touch interface. You can scroll in any direction with two fingers and "right click" by pushing down with two fingers simultaneously.

On laptops like HP or Thinkpad I've always used the nipple because their trackpads were so small and crappy. I don't miss it at all on my MacBook Pro. In fact I miss my Apple trackpad when I use my Dell laptop from work.

I thought so, too... (4, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504827)

I bought a Powerbook, for that reason. I figured, I'd never run Windows on it, so may as well put Linux on the best laptop ever, right?

Didn't work too well. I never quite got it working, and just ended up using OS X.

In fact, from personal experience, the reason people choose Macs seems to have less to do with the overall UI, and more to do with specific things Just Working that Just Don't on Linux. Example: Maybe it's gotten better, and there's a nice GUI for this somewhere, but when I plug in a second monitor to my laptop, I restart my X server -- I could never quite get Xinerama or the nvidia stuff to cooperate without a restart.

Contrast this to a Macbook -- just plug it in, and it works. Open System Settings if you want it to behave other than as a clone.

So, I still use Linux, and I really don't get the people who would be into open source and use an iPhone, but I can certainly see why people would choose a Mac. Everything just works, just about all the commercial software you want, and a decent (not great, but decent) Unix under the hood for development.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (3, Interesting)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504857)

Thing is apple laptops are usually pretty good in design

They are also built on a rock-solid UNIX foundation. Tell me why you need Linux for Open Source.

Re:Apple makes good hardware (1)

falconwolf (725481) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504975)

Thing is apple laptops are usually pretty good in design, so even OSS people will buy one and then put distro of choice on it, problem? not really. Good hardware is good hardware.

I agree that Apple makes good hardware, and software. However I've been researching on how to install Ubuntu on my MacBook Pro and it's not so simple. Some people have trouble with their keyboards, specific keys such as function keys, or backlighting. Others, with their WiFi, and still others with their net connection.

And the thing is is I wanted to install Ubuntu because I want to use, or try to use, CinePaint [cinepaint.org] . However it was dropped from Ubuntu. While there's a version for OS X I wasn't able to get it working and wasn't able to find out how to googling. Eventually I found out Ubuntu Studio [ubuntustudio.org] includes CinePaint.

Which brings up a problem many people have with some open source projects. While GIMP is good for average usage or web work. It lacks things pro photographers, which I hope to become, need for print. Such as at least 16 bit colour depths. GIMP has been promising that for more than 10 years. All those years ago the developer of CinePaint, which can work in 32 bits per colour channel, offered his 16 bit work to the GIMP project. But they turned him down so he started his FilmGIMP, now CinePaint, project.

Falcon

chiefs? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503753)

What does 'too many chiefs' have to do with anything? Soulskill, are you likening the F/OSS world to Native Americans of yore?

Already handled (5, Insightful)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503755)

This is already being done. Many of the most successful FOSS projects have corporate contributors, so this "design conundrum" doesn't really exist. As for the popularity of Apple devices among FOSS developers, well, a lot of Apple software is based upon FOSS. In fact Apple, like it or not, is a pretty good example of how to monetize FOSS. Can't say I'm thrilled with the methods they employ to achieve that, but it's still a fact that they do achieve it.

Re:Already handled (2, Interesting)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503815)

Apple, also, don't innovate much. The best things about OS X and the iPhone were published in academic journals years ago; some as much as two decades ago. Apple is good at spotting good ideas, implementing them well, and selling a polished final product. There is probably more innovation coming from the Free Software world than from Apple, the problem is that the big Free Software projects tend to pick poor examples to copy, while Apple is much better at finding good ideas to copy.

Re:Already handled (5, Insightful)

Old97 (1341297) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503973)

The best things about OS X and the iPhone were published in academic journals years ago; some as much as two decades ago.

Your statement is generally true for all software. Just about every important thing we do in software was thought of by 1980. There have been refinements, polish and some interesting synergies gained by combining things - innovations, but few if any important inventions. It's just a lot of these ideas were not economically viable to implement until hardware improvements, materials and costs made them so.

You should also credit Apple for excellent execution - since Jobs returned at least - in a number of key areas which left them well-positioned to implement the good ideas once they identified them. One thing neither FOSS or Microsoft can fix is difficulty in aligning hardware and software designs when both are moving targets and only one is in your control.

Re:Already handled (1, Interesting)

tixxit (1107127) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504825)

Just about every important thing we do in software was thought of by 1980.

As a grad student in CS, whose research is in algorithms, I cannot stress how wrong you are. CS research is very fast paced. You'd be amazed at some of the stuff that is published in the last year, let alone the last 10 or 20. Just because you don't see it on your desktop, doesn't mean it isn't there.

Re:Already handled (1)

ceoyoyo (59147) | more than 5 years ago | (#28505019)

If you assume "we do" means "we do on the desktop" then his statement is correct.

Personally I'd tend to read "we do" as "we do on the desktop" rather than "we have done somewhere, maybe only once or twice in a lab, but somewhere."

Re:Already handled (4, Insightful)

Geoffrey.landis (926948) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504257)

Apple, also, don't innovate much....

You say that almost as if you think it's a criticism.

There's nothing more annoying than innovation that's implemented solely for the sake of innovation. There are places where you might enjoy that, sure, but for a machine that you use every day to get work done, you only want innovation that makes your work easier.

...while Apple is much better at finding good ideas to copy.

A desirable trait.

Re:Already handled (0, Flamebait)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504537)

Agreed. Take note, KDE4 developers. When you're baffled at the negative feedback you're getting, keep this in mind.

Re:Already handled (3, Insightful)

PeterBrett (780946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504629)

Agreed. Take note, KDE4 developers. When you're baffled at the negative feedback you're getting, keep this in mind.

I've provided no feedback, positive or negative, to the KDE 4 developers. Nevertheless, you may attempt to prise my KDE 4 desktop from my cold, dead fingers.

Take note, KDE 4 developers, that the vast and silent majority of the KDE 4 userbase likes what you're doing and doesn't want you to kowtow to the whinging minority.

Re:Already handled (2, Interesting)

c0d3g33k (102699) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504839)

1. Your data (and I use the term very loosely, since you have none) is flawed. The vast and silent majority may as well not exist, since their silence provides no evidence that they do. (OMG - I just provided justification for "Works for me!" posts. I'm sorry) 2. I'm writing this from a KDE4 desktop, so I'm not a whinging anti-KDE4 hater. They need not kowtow to me. 3. Point 2 was not achieved without significant frustration and loss of time, due to misunderstanding of the parent's point on the part of KDE4 developers. I still experience "WTF?" moments often while using KDE4. Fortunately, my sense of adventure lets me enjoy the ride. 3. The problem with KDE4 was NOT the desire to move forward with respect to the design and level of innovation in the project, it was the extremely clumsy way in which it was handled. Understanding the parent's point may have helped prioritize which changes to focus on first, making the transition much less painful. 4. This is all very off-topic. We should stop now.

Re:Already handled (2, Interesting)

SanityInAnarchy (655584) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504871)

Citation needed.

And define "kowtow". I just want them to stop doing wild and crazy things, and bring it up to the level of KDE3.

Examples of stuff that still doesn't work on Kubuntu Jaunty: About half the wireless networks I try to connect to, the brightness keys on my laptop, transcoding in Amarok, switch compositing on and off more than once or twice and compositing slows to a crawl, with a high chance of krunner or plasma crashing.

Re:Already handled (3, Insightful)

TheRaven64 (641858) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504867)

You say that almost as if you think it's a criticism.

So far, everyone who has replied seems to have made this assumption, and I'm not really sure why. The original article made the point that Free Software doesn't innovate much as if Apple did. This is simply not true. My point is that the iPhone is not easy to use because it contains new and innovative ideas, but because it contains good executions of ideas that other people have had. Open source doesn't suffer from a lack of innovative ideas, it suffers from an excess of copies of bad ideas.

Re:Already handled (1)

teg (97890) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504341)

Is every single idea Apple has championed unique and their own? No. But the execution, the productization - and combination - has been very innovative. Look at the iPhone... it changed what many expect of a cell phone, and has revolutionized the space. Today, almost every high end phone is being positioned as an "iPhone killer" and has an interface looking quite a bit like them. The touch screen, the app store, the focus on usability over providing every feature under the sun... it changed the space.

The original MacOS was also a game changer in its time. Today, their innovations in this space is less about grand features than about user interfaces, usability and the small things that make the experience... E.g. look at Time Machine. Backup is hardly a new concept, but the "total package" that Apple introduced is a lot easier to use and transparent than most of the competition. I'd bet that more Mac users do their backups today than Windows users (probably Linux users too) - because it's so simple.

As for open source innovation, I think this was more prevalent earlier than today. The Internet was built on open source, and many services got their first start there. But the last years, I haven't seen any big things coming from that area - copying of concepts and ideas from elsewhere, and then refinement. With many stakeholders each being able to improve the software, the result often outshines the proprietary competition - and gives the end users freedom from onerous licensing agreements and to do changes themselves as well. But innovation? It looks like the combination of commercialization of universities, software patents, commercialization of the Internet and web services has lessened that considerably.

Re:Already handled (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503953)

So, essentially the corporate contributor has a short position on that particular kind of software.

Doesn't handle, it's Being handled, as a Weapon (3, Interesting)

StCredZero (169093) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504193)

This is already being done. Many of the most successful FOSS projects have corporate contributors, so this "design conundrum" doesn't really exist.

That's not how I read it. FOSS projects have corporate contributors as a weapon used to commoditize their rival's products. (IBM versus Sun, to make it impossible to monetize Java) FOSS projects are also funded in order to create commodity complements to company's products. Sell servers? Commoditize software that runs on servers!

http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/StrategyLetterV.html [joelonsoftware.com]

There's a problem with this. It reduces FOSS to ammunition. A tactical move. If FOSS can't produce really slick interfaces, then FOSS will always be a lackey of the corporations in order to achieve first-rate success. If the corporations don't like you or can't use you, then you're left out in the bush leagues, the farm teams. Just look at the software out there. Almost every piece of software that gets widespread corporate or consumer traction is being used as a weapon or market driver.

In fact Apple, like it or not, is a pretty good example of how to monetize FOSS. Can't say I'm thrilled with the methods they employ to achieve that, but it's still a fact that they do achieve it.

The problem is that it makes FOSS critically dependent on the corporate masters if a particular project wants to be "first-rate." It's as if FOSS is like indy music/film, and the corporations are the music industry, and everyone is trying to get signed. Maybe that's how things should be. But it would be better if we never had to admit, "can't say I'm thrilled," about how our funders are treating our ideals. FOSS needs its equivalent of bittorrent, Pirate Bay, and independent musicians who can give the finger to the big music distributors, yet still turn out first-rate product. Where's our Protools for interfaces? (Actually, the problem is likely cultural and not technological.)

Re:Doesn't handle, it's Being handled, as a Weapon (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504311)

I have to disagree with your premise that non-corporate sponsored FOSS lacks "first rate product". While admittedly I am not a typical consumer/end user, I do find that Gnome is just as professional and useful ("first rate") as OS X's Aqua -- and I do switch between the two regularly. When I'm using one there are features I miss from the other, and both definitely have their annoying little bugs and quirks.

Actually, the problem is likely cultural and not technological.

Bingo.

Re:Doesn't handle, it's Being handled, as a Weapon (2, Informative)

teg (97890) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504383)

I have to disagree with your premise that non-corporate sponsored FOSS lacks "first rate product". While admittedly I am not a typical consumer/end user, I do find that Gnome is just as professional and useful ("first rate") as OS X's Aqua -- and I do switch between the two regularly.

Gnome is corporately sponsored... Red Hat, Novell and I think even Canonical are contributing resources to GNOME. Read more on the GNOME Foundation pages [gnome.org]

Re:Doesn't handle, it's Being handled, as a Weapon (1)

clang_jangle (975789) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504979)

Woops. :)

Re:Already handled (1)

westlake (615356) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504901)

Many of the most successful FOSS projects have corporate contributors, so this "design conundrum" doesn't really exist.

For "many," I would be strongly tempted to substitute "all."

Especially for apps which must find anchorage in the needs and values of the non-technical end user.

Because, maybe... (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503779)

...most people don't *really* care about open-source, and it's just another trendy cause to latch on to?

Yeah, yeah, mark me down as flamebait. But think carefully about people and human nature instead of just automatically rushing to the defence of the "good guys".

Re:Because, maybe... (1)

OriginalSolver (552648) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503831)

Well the OP was talking about OSS conferences. While a few hangers-on will be around an OSS conference will tend to be filled by people involved with OSS.

Also this whole "most people don't care" argument isn't a very strong one. Most people don't care where their food comes from until it stops coming. See the problem?

ENOS, good/complete software costs money (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503787)

ENOS

UI Design and custonmer support are the dirt work (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503803)

That many developers feel it is beneath them and gets in the way of them developing. In the commercial space, developers rarely interact with customers in a support role or in UI design. Many would quit before performing this role, but developers in some cases are the only ones who can properly address this.

In one company I worked for, developers had to eat their own shit in that they were forced into part-time customer support of their code. When your interaction with code begins and ends with the source code control system, you have one view. When you actually are forced to see where the rubber meets the road in your customer, you think much more about the interfaces, the update processes, and the support code and scripts that get working code into working systems.

In the commercial space much effort and resources is applied in these critically important areas. With the journeyman programmers, this rarely if ever happens.

It isn't dirt work, it is conflicting work (4, Insightful)

coryking (104614) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504631)

UI design isn't dirt work; it is actually very fun and rewarding. The thing is it is hard to wear both a "UI Design Hat" and a developer hat at the same time. Why? The UI guy in you wants a usable UI and the programmer wants a usable codebase--those two goals are often highly conflicting. Good UI design often requires code that often needs to deal with crazy edge cases, or code that has to turn fuzzy human illogic into clean, elegant programming. If you try to wear both hats, the developer in you will fight the UI guy in you because the UI guy wants you to create a feature that the programmer in you knows will be a messy pain in the ass.

Once an organization gets large enough, you can have different people wearing the hats. This works great in an environment where there is a communication process for the two to talk to eachother. In the open source world, such communication channels typically donâ(TM)t exist--there is no process that has really been established. You might get UI guys dropping golden nuggets on the project mailing list from time to time, but you donâ(TM)t have the UI guy meeting up with the developers on a daily basis.

If you want the UI guys to be in on the party, the culture of open source development will have to shift to make use UI guys are not only included in the entire development cycle, but more important--they are seen as equals in the process. If the UI guys says "this design sucks", the developers don't implement it. I dunno if that is part of the culture nor am I sure how or if such a thing could ever be pulled off. UI guys get the props they deserve in paid jobs simply because there is a financial incentive to listen to them. Without that financial incentive, the only incentive to spend your time working on open source is the joy of programming. When you are doing programming for the joy of it, you donâ(TM)t want some UI guy (even if it you) raining on your pretty looking, well designed code :-)

Re:UI Design and custonmer support are the dirt wo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504903)

And it follow then that OSS generally only will thrive as long as there's a commercial flavor to commoditize. If OSS were to start killing off commercial software, that could prove to be the great stifler of innovation, not MS in the 90s.

Most of the Apple distribution is Free (5, Funny)

flyingfsck (986395) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503805)

It is only a small part of the Apple Mac software that is non-Free and you could even run Darwin which is Free. The bulk of the software on any Apple Mac is GPL.

Re:Most of the Apple distribution is Free (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503839)

The bulk of the software on any Apple Mac is GPL.

You might want to rethink that. The bulk of the underlying software of the OS is BSD and/or GPL. But for the most part it really doesn't extend much beyond that.

open source bits (2, Informative)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504165)

Many of the UNIX command line utilities are based on open source projects covered by a BSD (or similarly entirely free license), and some are covered by GPL licenses (which are more restrictive and by simple definition are thus less "free" or "open"). The most important GPL software in Mac OS X is arguably the GNU compiler, gcc. Apple is a major contributor to the LLVM project, which will at some point replace gcc as the primary compiler tool chain on the Mac OS X.

Apple has also sponsored a few other interesting open source projects such as Darwin Calendar Server [calendarserver.org] , WebKit [webkit.org] , and of course the Darwin [apple.com] UNIX kernel. Most of these projects are covered by a BSD or similar license.

Apple's implementation of the Cocoa Framework is not an open source framework, but it is based on an open specification, OpenStep specification [gnustep.org] , although it has evolved past the specification. There is an alternative, open source implementation, GnuStep [gnustep.org] .

There. Fixed it for you.

Re:Most of the Apple distribution is Free (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504051)

The funniest thing about the parent is that it's likely that the poster actually believes it, rather than going for laughs.

Re:Most of the Apple distribution is Free (1)

fast turtle (1118037) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504359)

The bulk of the software on any Apple Mac is GPL.

Wrong!! The bulk of the Software on OSX is either closed source or under the BSD license not the GPL, which Apple avoids as though it is infected with the Plague. Yes I do know that Apple has contributed to GPL projects, things like webkit but the only time I've seen any contributions to a GPL project is when it benefits Apple by improving Interoperability with Windows, otherwise they prefer the BSD license model as it means they can keep things close to their vest or even stay completely proprietary and not share it at all.

Re:Most of the Apple distribution is Free (2, Interesting)

PsychicX (866028) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504481)

Oh, cool! Where's the source to iTunes, Quicktime, iPhoto, any piece of iLife, XCode, Safari, iMovie, iDVD, Aperture, and iWork? I've always wanted to see that and I'm so thrilled that since most of the software on a Mac is GPL, most of that is surely available to me.

Re:Most of the Apple distribution is Free (1)

nxtw (866177) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504675)

It is only a small part of the Apple Mac software that is non-Free and you could even run Darwin which is Free. The bulk of the software on any Apple Mac is GPL.

Darwin without the closed soruce bits is just another Unixlike (or UNIX) operating system, and not a particularly good/useful one. Without the closed-source window server and applications, there's really no reason to use Darwin.

Window managers (4, Interesting)

buchner.johannes (1139593) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503817)

While this might be true for apps -- they change too much to settle on a thought-through UI concept, and new ones are constantly created for the same task by not so experienced UI designers -- I'd like to add that IMHO Linux has the best window managers out there. That is one of the reasons I don't use Windows and would put a Linux distribution on a Mac. Because I need to move and resize windows without finding the borders (e.g. Alt-click or Alt-doubleclick and drag). And I need sane virtual desktops for more screen space and for grouping my windows.
These are UI features lacking in non-open-source. Granted, it is not something the novice user will miss.

Re:Window managers (2, Informative)

RiotingPacifist (1228016) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504133)

You don't miss it until you've used it, when i was on (ms) windows i didn't really use windows at all they took too much space for boarders and most used so much space for menubars/toolbars that everything had to be run maximised, now between my moded firefox/kde i regularly have 3 or even 4 windows in use at once.

Re:Window managers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504227)

For Windows try Taekwindow - Alt moving/resizing ftw. :-) http://taekwindow.sourceforge.net/

Re:Window managers (4, Interesting)

Seth Kriticos (1227934) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504651)

Fully agree, and add to it:

And there is much more, like the middle button select pasting (you laugh once you realise how ineffective copy/pase is).

I also love the (non default) functions of compiz, like workspace and window overview zoom and application switcher (basically Alt-Tab) mapped to a click on one of the corners of the screen.

Workplace switcher mapped to a click on the edges of the screen.

And so on. Seriously, every time I have to sit in front of a Windows machine, my basic productivity drops 95% as everything is so cumbersome, slow and ineffective. Not to mention that it lacks a basic tool-set.

That's strange... (1, Offtopic)

MostAwesomeDude (980382) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503833)

I see some Apples, but more often I'm seeing netbooks. It depends on the venue and demographic of the conference; student-heavy get-togethers only have Apples if the students can afford it, and despite Apple's best attempts to offer student discounts, their little white books are still too fuckin' expensive for most of us.

Of course, I should disclose that I boycott Apple for other reasons. :3

Re:That's strange... (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503909)

I'm not insulting you, but not buying something you can't afford is not a boycott, even if their are other supposed reasons.

Free software sucks because. (0, Flamebait)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503847)

Their is no one overseeing the whole thing.
There is no common goal.
There are more useless that useful programs.
Stupid little things never get fixed.
There are too many distro's.
Someone needs to get paid for the work they do.
Someone need to get the praise and encouragement they deserve for working so hard.
Do something, go to your favorite distro's website buy something. No one wants to work and have to survive on cup-a-noodle its gets real gross after awhile.
Give the people who make your free software something so they don't feel neglected, an unhappy programmer will code what he needs for himself then give it away for free because of his principals. Make it worth his while and he might make something you need.

Re:Free software sucks because. (3, Informative)

AigariusDebian (721386) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504049)

It is very possible to make good and usable FLOSS software - you just need a project leader who knows about usability. I find that reading and understanding Gnome HIG is a great first step.

The 'problem' is that in most cases the main programmers in FLOSS have little knowledge about HIG, while a lot of commercial software is designed by sales people, who know HIG, but have very little knowledge of programming. So the situation is that FLOSS often has great code, but bad interfaces, while commercial software often has good interfaces, but crappy code. In both cases the situation can be improved by having people from the other side join in and contribute. In commercial software that means that the manager hires some good coders, while in FLOSS side it means that users file bugs and sometimes send patches or UI mockups.

It is not an unsolvable problem, it is just an existing problem that takes effort to solve.

Re:Free software sucks because. (1)

williamhb (758070) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504389)

It is very possible to make good and usable FLOSS software - you just need a project leader who knows about usability. I find that reading and understanding Gnome HIG is a great first step.

Anyone else find it ironic that in an article about how open source software usability sucks, the recommended reading is an open source software's usability guide?

There is at least one endemic incentive-based reason why open source software usability sucks. A great many open source software projects rely enormously on corporate contributions, often where the company wants to use the software internally. If the code doesn't work, the company needs it fixed. So it gets fixed. If the code works, but it looks a bit ugly, it's not like they're selling it for profit anyway. So those resources get allocated to areas that more directly affect revenue and expenses. It's the same reason there are few beautiful interfaces for time sheet applications. No doubt there are other reasons, but that's one.

Re:Free software sucks because. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504067)

--Their is no one overseeing the whole thing.
Yes, alot of the time, yes there is.

--There is no common goal.
Again, depending on the developer(s), most good free software does have a common goal set to work towards.

--There are more useless that useful programs.
So? Don't download those.

--Stupid little things never get fixed.
I used to believe this, contact the developer and actually tell him about it. All good FOSS developers listen to their userbase.

--There are too many distro's.
Again, depends on the app. For some, true.

--Someone needs to get paid for the work they do.
Why? If they wanted to get paid, they wouldn't work for free. Have you ever chatted with a FOSS developer? They almost always have another job and develop free apps for fun.

--Someone need to get the praise and encouragement they deserve for working so hard.
Your assuming they don't get it.

--Do something, go to your favorite distro's website buy something. No one wants to work and have to survive on cup-a-noodle its gets real gross after awhile.
What? No. There is such a thing as good free software. I use free software where I can, if there are no free alternatives I'll go buy an app, thank you very much.

--Give the people who make your free software something so they don't feel neglected, an unhappy programmer will code what he needs for himself then give it away for free because of his principals. Make it worth his while and he might make something you need.
People donate to the devs, people thank the devs, people even give credit where it wasn't needed. I don't understand why you assume that this is not so.

Re:Free software sucks because. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504209)

What? No. There is such a thing as good free software. I use free software where I can, if there are no free alternatives I'll go buy an app, thank you very much.

The problem is when you get some of these FOSS zealots who won't ever buy commercial software because it's not open source or because it's not free.

Re:Free software sucks because. (-1, Offtopic)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504211)

So the asshole who modded me down doesn't think programmers need to get paid. Your such an ass. You should try working for free for the next two weeks and then see if you want to make a carer of it. And for the car analogy if everyone making all the pieces for a car didn't have the same plans would the motor fit the transmission? Would the transmission fit in the car. Shing t is the car front of rear wheel drive? You are the asshole that has no problem paying MS for crappy software but figure linux programmers should work for free. You suck. Ever thought of replying to my post and saying why you disagree? No of course not because you have no argument your just a silly person with mod points.

free advice sucks when it's logically inconsistent (1)

Gary W. Longsine (124661) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504217)

"There are too many distro's.
...
Do something, go to your favorite distro's website buy something."

You flunked the Sesame Street test. You meant to say:

Everybody vote for a favorite distro, then everybody go download that distro and live on it, and contribute to it, and buy a t-shirt from the same web site, supporting the same project and for Kernighan and Ritchie's sakes do not fork it under any circumstances, make it better.

Re:free advice sucks when it's logically inconsist (2, Interesting)

yourassOA (1546173) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504303)

There are only, by my quick count, one hundred and forty one Linux distributions. Currently shipping. For the Intel platform. In English.

Re:free advice sucks when it's logically inconsist (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504841)

Cookie Monster? :)

KDE is very usable (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503877)

I disagree with the premise that FOSS usability is always bad. I'm not a developer, I can't write code, but I use *nix exclusively for my home computers, running KDE. And they are WAY more usable than my windows computers at work. Small things make such a huge difference--with windows, when you move the mouse wheel, the active window scrolls, even if you have 2 open side by side. You have to click on the one you want to scroll. With KDE, the window that your mouse cursor is hovering over scrolls. This is so intuitive it took me a month or so to even notice. I've found all kinds of other small usability tweaks.

My KDE desktop at home is so much more usable and intuitive than my windows xp box at work that I often work at home just for the pleasure of using KDE.

Re:KDE is very usable (3, Informative)

trybywrench (584843) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504055)

this is called "sloppy focus" it's available on windows but you have to download and install the feature. It's the one of the first things i put on new windows installations.

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504159)

Yeah, but here we like things that "just work". I'll keep my Ubuntu, thank you very much.

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

Locklin (1074657) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504321)

Actually it's a bit different (than sloppy-focus on X11 anyway). Raise a window (say text editor) then move the mouse over another (say web browser). You can continue to type in the text editor because it is active, while scrolling the web browser without stealing focus.

Re:KDE is very usable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504743)

If you have to download and install a separate application that isn't supplied by the vendor then it isn't available. Claiming that a feature is available because you can download and install means that every computer in the face of the world offers linux as a feature, which is patently false.

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

z4ckpete (1108053) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504115)

I hated that in Windows. There's an app called katmouse that fixes the problem. I install it with every new windows installation.

Re:KDE is very usable (2, Insightful)

Danny Rathjens (8471) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504117)

It's even worse than that due to inconsistency. In mac/windows, in a program such as a mail client like outlook, the list of mail subjects will scroll when the mouse cursor is in that subwindow and the body of the mail will scroll when the mouse cursor is in that subwindow. So they have click-to-focus between windows and sloppy focus between subwindows. I had a difficult time explaining this to my grandfather.

I'm also quite unclear on why mac has this reputation for good usability/interface because in the few times I have used it I have encountered interface inconsistencies even within the base applications such as network settings. (e.g. radio buttons for "on"/"off" in one interface(dhcp) and a drop down box for "enable"/"disable" for another(static)) And, of course, inconsistencies between applications, too. Mail settings have cancel/save/apply buttons, but to save network config changes you have to close the window(hit the red x) and then get presented with an option to apply changes. Hitting a red x to apply your changes is almost as silly as hitting the start button in windows to stop your pc. :)

Heh (1)

coryking (104614) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504877)

So they have click-to-focus between windows and sloppy focus between subwindows.

Like all engineering, it is a tradeoff. I'm sure there have been many of whiteboard meetings to discuss this behavior. If you had sloppy focus between windows, yes it might be consistent, but it could also cause confusion of its own. You've got people like me who will play with the mouse wheel or people who are click/scroll happy and would accidentally alter the state of applications that they are not using "aka out of focus".

If you really want to bitch about inconsistent behavior, btich about what I assume are third party widget sets that dont even get the "sloppy focus within subwinows" bit right and require you to click on the widget before the scroll wheel works. Or worse, poorly implemented combo boxes that hog the mouse input while the mouse is outside of the widget so when you fidget with the scroll wheel, the combo box/list box changes the selected item when you didn't want it to.

In other words, the devil is in the details, and there is a *lot* of details to get right on something "simple" like handling the scroll wheel. If you read my post carefully, you see I contradict my own statement about when to accept scroll wheel events. Most UI design is like that. *Lots* of details with lots of things that conflict.

Re:KDE is very usable (1, Flamebait)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504213)

So, i take it you haven't "upgraded" to KDE 4.x yet. :)

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504695)

I was an avid KDE 3.5.x user and cringed when I first saw KDE4. That was then and this is now. KDE4 has evolved and so have I. KDE4 rocks, and when used with compiz I have a GUI interface that makes Windows users drool and Mac OS X users do a double take. In other words, 2008 called and they want their KDE4 criticisms back ...

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

GreatBunzinni (642500) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504771)

I run KDE, both the 3.5.* version and the current 4.3.* version. The non-focus scrolling feature was always available on KDE, even in the far gone years of 4.1.*. The KDE migration from 3.5 to 4.0 may have had left a lot of features behind but scrolling focus was never one of them.

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

PeterBrett (780946) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504875)

So, i take it you haven't "upgraded" to KDE 4.x yet. :)

I take it that you haven't upgraded to KDE 4 either, or you'd know that the functionality described by the GP works just fine in KDE 4.

Oh, wait, that would mean that you couldn't make a snarky comment about KDE 4. Never mind, then.

Re:KDE is very usable (1)

dna_(c)(tm)(r) (618003) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504409)

I agree, either it's carefully crafted FUD or a Windows weeny that just loves every proprietary UI he's accustomed to like TOAD [softpedia.com] and some [buigallery.com] others [mac.com] .

On the other hand I've known quite a few persons that went for the "OMG Ponies" kind of "usability": Look my iPhone's screen tilts when I turn it! and Wohow, MS Surface rocks...

OMG Ponies (1)

coryking (104614) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504955)

Look my iPhone's screen tilts when I turn it!

Give me one good reason a device shouldn't automatically flip from portrait to landscape based on how it is oriented in your hand. I'd say if the device doesn't know how it is oriented in your hand, the said device is pretty... well.. stupid.

M O N E Y !!! (3, Insightful)

redelm (54142) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503879)

The reason proprietary projects can be "more innovative" (really more risky) is there is greater [monetary] reward to compensate the risk. Most new products fail, and FOSS doesn't have much margin (compensation is sponsored and time-based).

That said, the entire Internet was built by FOSS and FOSS-like processes. From ftp and telnet through WWW/mosaic, it was all someone who had an idea and wanted to see if others liked it too.

For hardware, Apple's can be of higher quality because it is higher priced. It can be higher priced because it is perceived good value -- mostly the interfaces are less botched than their competition.

Re:M O N E Y !!! (1)

SomeKDEUser (1243392) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504391)

This explains why we just had a raft of news about how KDE innovates too much... In fact, FOSS can innovate much more than proprietary software because there is no incentive other than to provide a functionality the dev desires.

Because there is no real cost associated to changing things (except getting insulted by change-adverse users) it does happen, and can be dramatic. If, in the proprietary world, you depend on having users to stay financially aloft, you better be sure that your changes will get you more users than what you lost by alienating your existing user base!

Of course, if you are microsoft, you don't care, you can force your users to by your crap anyway :). And I suppose that if you are Apple, the SJDF will save you.

Innovation is not lacking in OSS (1)

OriginalSolver (552648) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503887)

While I might agree about the UI & usability problems in OSS I can't agree about innovation. OSS licencing is being used by a very large number of IT research projects. Look at the work being done in areas like "single system image" (SSI). The serious work is all being done on Open source OSes.

Freedom with or without the control (1)

zhilla2 (1586095) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503899)

It is the basic philosophical dilemma - freedom with or without the control? Imho, both have valid arguments, but Linux ecosystem is modular enough to allow both. But standards and common sense above all! For the specific topic of UI design, things got MUCH better over the last couple of years in OSS world ("Why Free Software usability tends to suck" document was published in 2002!). That being said, open source community should probably publish a document / wiki with reference basic, simple guidelines for designing user interface for OSS programs. And improve document gradually over time, so that it becomes bible / manifesto of making a consistent user interface. Also, make simple tests for programs - if program conforms to it, it can get certificate such as "This program has a sane user interface as determined by OSF".

Re:Freedom with or without the control (1)

AigariusDebian (721386) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504065)

Gnome HIG

Re:Freedom with or without the control (1)

zhilla2 (1586095) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504331)

Hey, that's great - ( http://live.gnome.org/UsabilityProject [gnome.org] ) But probably, some non-Gnome specific document should be used, as "common denominator" document for Gnome, KDE and all.

You can run anything on a Mac (2, Informative)

kanweg (771128) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503925)

Macs can run Windows, Linux and Mac OS X (duh). The machines themselves are crafted with attention to detail. Versatility in a neat package. What is not to like?

Bert

Re:You can run anything on a Mac (2, Insightful)

dave420 (699308) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504225)

The price?

Re:You can run anything on a Mac (1)

Duradin (1261418) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504299)

Well, apparently, Apple is just "bad" and "evil". Otherwise we should have seen Microsoft mentioned in the blurb as well as other cell phone makers that don't allow people to run whatever the hell they want to.

Soon we'll be replacing Redmond with Cupertino in all the old Mordor jokes.

Application specific expertise (4, Insightful)

mevets (322601) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503947)

Commercial applications have long separated the appearance and behavior of the application from the implementation for good reason. The obligatory strained car analogy, I like cars that are quick and responsive, but I don't want one made by an engine designer. No matter how talented the engine designer is, s/he will most likely make a car suitable for engine designers.

Balancing the viewpoints of "real world users", experts, and various designers is required to do it properly. Are all these sets well represented in the FOSS contributors?

Some good points in there (4, Insightful)

mjeffers (61490) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503951)

First corollary: Every contributor to the project tries to take part in the interface design, regardless of how little they know about the subject. And once you have more than one designer, you get inconsistency, both in vision and in detail. The quality of an interface design is inversely proportional to the number of designers.

This isn't necessarily true. It's true that great design is typically the result of a unified vision but design focused companies solve this problem by having a lead designer establish guidelines and standards that are then used by the team to create all the bits and pieces. You don't need one person, but you need one person in charge. For an Ubuntu, RedHat or OpenOffice where you have a corporate structure behind you, this level of design quality is achievable and I think they have it now. For a project of volunteers or a team that's widely distributed this has to be much more difficult.

Second corollary: Even when dedicated interface designers are present, they are not heeded as much as they would be in professional projects, precisely because they're dedicated designers and don't have patches to implement their suggestions.

Without the ability to write code, designers depend on an organizational structure that recognizes and values good design and will work to make sure that the end result meets the design goals you initially set out. This can fail in a non-OSS project and could succeed in an OSS project but a hobbyist project will probably never have a structure that allows a designer to do great work.

Another issue that I think isn't addressed here is that OSS projects are typically (necessarily?) started by people who can code. Once you have something running it takes a huge amount of effort to redesign away some of those early design decisions. You'll also forever be in a mindset that views design as window-dressing that gets applied to APIs. I'm not familiar enough with the history of OSS projects but are there examples of projects that started with a design process?

Re:Some good points in there (4, Insightful)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504599)

There's a little more to it than that.

It's not just that the projects are started and nursed along by people who can code, but they're started and nursed along by people who can code and also:
1) Don't know the purpose of a GUI
2) Don't understand the value of a GUI

There are tons of techniques that can be used, even by a programmer, to ensure that their program is more usable than the competition.

At the most basic level, they can follow all the UI standards of the OS/DE in which they're planning to run-- that one's simple, but it's completely missed by a lot of projects. If your program is running in Windows, and your font isn't rendered with ClearType-- it's a usability bug! Fix it! If you're running in OS X and pressing the down arrow on the bottommost line of text results in a beep instead of moving the insertion point to the end of the line-- it's a usability bug! Fix it! (And a very frequent one, since a lot of OS X programmers come from the Windows world now.) If you're not following all the standards of the OS you're running in, there's your starting point.

Secondly, every time you code something with a GUI, do a hallway usability test. This consists of grabbing someone walking by in the hall, and asking them to perform whatever task your application is designed to do using the new GUI you just wrote. The less that person knows about programming, the better-- you want normal users, not power users. The point isn't to assign a simple "pass/fail" to the UI, but to get their comments and feedback. Do one of those a day, and you'll hammer out 80% of the usability flaws before the product is even released. (Of course, this involves talking to other human beings, sometimes even *gasp* girls!, so I guess that's why it doesn't get done.)

Thirdly, understand the GUI. Discoverability, most importantly. Emphasizing the use of spatial memory, which the vast majority of non-geeks are better at than rote memorization. Understand how the basic widgets work, and why they work that way. (When you understand why widgets work the way they do, you'll hopefully have talked yourself out of "just write your own!" Writing a menu or listbox is *hard*. Writing an open dialog is *incredibly hard*.) Be able to answer the counter-intuitive question: "what five places on the screen can the user put the cursor on the quickest?" and learn why Macintosh menus are stuck to the top of the screen. Understand Mac Classic, which got closer than any other GUI to perfection. (IMO, of course. ;)

There's no reason any programmer can't do these things. They just don't want to. That's a whole different article, though, going way back to the woefully-obsolete "high priesthood of technology" attitude.

Random examples:

Just recently Slashdot covered a new open source FPS game. It's main window looks like this: http://schend.net/images/screenshots/alien_arena.png [schend.net] I can't even enumerate the hundreds of things wrong with just that one window. That the developers thought that UI was "good enough" to craft a *release* around... I don't even know how to reply to that.

Awhile back, I filed a bug against Notepad++ (a highly recommended-to-me text editor for Windows) because their menus didn't work. Their DROP DOWN MENUS. The ones attached to the top of the window. One of the most basic elements of a GUI, one that's been perfected for 20 years, and they don't work!! Again, I have absolutely no words for that.

Re:Some good points in there (3, Informative)

Blakey Rat (99501) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504623)

Damn, one more thing I forgot:

Know the capabilities of the OS/DE you're running in. I don't use GTK+ apps on Windows, because they don't work with Microsoft's voice recognition or handwriting recognition features. Which is really a shame, because those features work automatically if you use the native widgets. (Heck, they work in Firefox and I'm pretty sure they aren't using native widgets.) It's a huge pain on my tablet.

Open source projects almost never support drag&drop, but drag&drop has been around long enough that it should just be expected to work. (Kudos to the open source projects that get this right, BTW.)

Hmmm... (1)

coryking (104614) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504737)

I'm not familiar enough with the history of OSS projects but are there examples of projects that started with a design process?

If you broaden the scope beyond "end-user software" and dive into things like protocols you might find some things. Usability doesn't just apply to the GUI--it helps when you have a well designed protocol or file format. Is EXT3 well designed? What about the FreeBSD ports tree--did that start with code or with design?

Not easy to copy hardware (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28503975)

It's fairly trivial for someone to reverse engineer and copy the way software works, but the proverbial "kid in a basement" can't just reverse engineer and fab their own chips. Hardware designs are also afforded more intellectual property protection than software designs.

Netbooks also on the rise. (2, Informative)

delire (809063) | more than 5 years ago | (#28503997)

While I haven't seen Apple laptops comprise a great proportion of machines at the FOSS conferences I've been to here in Europe, those I have seen are often running something other than OSX (if stickers and/or a peek at their WM is anything to go by). It's not so unimaginable that someone might choose to run something other than OSX on a Macbook especially if they have little need for proprietary software and prefer an OS tailored to their needs (or just don't like the design and feel of OSX altogether - some don't).

Regardless, in the last couple of years I've seen a lot of X and T series Thinkpads but moreso netbooks at hacker and FLOSS meetings in the EU. I hear from friends that the build quality of their MacBooks is a bit disappointing. Perhaps this is a reason, among others.

FLOSS (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 5 years ago | (#28504079)

In business, you invest. That means you have a strategic goal you want to achieve with the input. That's what is missing most of the time in open source projects: goals. Most of these so called developers are actually just maintainers with no vision whatsoever. The business side also requires to build vision (or perish), yet another thing 9 out of 10 open source projects lack completely.

There is something extremely toxic to innovation in open source. One could solve the Ubuntu's #1 bug in 3 years flat if the way people worked and thought could be made to change. It's really not about resources or technology, just the fact that the progress is not being LEAD.

companies could fund polishing teams (1)

drDugan (219551) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504089)

many companies, large and small benefit directly from open source.

Those companies making significant profits could be asked to contribute to a central pool, a non profit or mutual benefit co. - that hires small teams to make useful open source tools more polished, secure, and user friendly.

everyone wins.

Re:companies could fund polishing teams (1)

williamhb (758070) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504291)

Those companies making significant profits could be asked to contribute to a central pool, a non profit or mutual benefit co. - that hires small teams to make useful open source tools more polished, secure, and user friendly.

I suspect most open source foundations already are politely asking those companies. And in the open source world, since we can do little more than politely ask, I suspect we've got all we're getting.

At least use the updated version of MPT's article (5, Informative)

YokoZar (1232202) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504119)

Why link to the outdated version of Mathew Paul Thomas' article when he wrote a much newer one here: http://mpt.net.nz/archive/2008/08/01/free-software-usability [mpt.net.nz] Appropriately, it's titled: Why Free Software has poor usability, and how to improve it

That's strange. (1)

TCM (130219) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504295)

Most attempts to make software easier to use fail because the developers try to wrap their minds around the "stupid" users instead of concentrating on the damn code and doing things properly.

If a system is so well designed that I can jump right into the middle of a startup script and instantly understand it without tracing obscure dependencies, then it's user-friendly for me. And I speculate that the cleaner the basis is, the easier it is to put a GUI on top of it without obscuring things.

See sig.

Thoughts on useablilty (1, Flamebait)

Eravnrekaree (467752) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504297)

The useability problems with Linux comes from several areas. One is the lack of hardware support which results from the lack of a stable binary driver ABI between versions. This is basically a great disincentive for hardware manufacturers to not support linux and providing a driver. The open source drivers are often late, becoming avialable months of years after the hardware was released, buggy and does not support many hardware features. Vendors tend to carry out a lot of testing on the drivers which they produce and are better able to write driver to fully exploit the features. All hardware vendors will never release driver source, thats not realistic and a pipe dream, and shows the arrogance and niave nature of some Linux developers. The only people that refusing to provide a stable ABI ends up hurting is users who cant use their hardware. Users dont want to wait months for the release of some crappy open source driver, they just want the hardware to work.

This support for backwards compatability does not necessarily need to go into the main kernel but could be provided by a compatability layer or module.

For any platform, backwards compatability is essential for useability and to get support for software and hardware companies. These companies are not going to want to support 15 different versions of software for each od the kernel/distro combinations that exist.

On linux, the package systems and program installation is also a mess. Linux developers make an arrogant and naive assumption that all programs that a user wants to run will be open source, and that they will be installed with the native package system. An effective OS realises that the program installers will vary and will not always be in the form of a native package, and makes sure that these can work, and also protects itself.

One solution to these problems is to utilise a filesystem overlay. If an installation program attempts to overwrite an existing library, for instance, instead of being overwritten, the old version of the library will remain visible to other programs that use it but from the perspective of new program, it will see the new version of the library. This prevents the DLL hell nightmare. Each version of a file and program would be tagged to environment overlays. This would also allow, every file in the system to be traced back to the program which installed it and all files the installer put in the system to be completely removed without even affecting other programs.
  This would be secondary and used mainly with foreign installers, programs of the native package system instead linking to a shared version of the library that they need and with different versions of the library being stored with the version number in the file name.

Linux can and should be both user and expert friendly. There does have to be a focus on both providing a high level user interface and as well transparency of the underlying systems so that they can be better understood and services. Everything should be able to be done both at the command line, programming and GUI level.

THe key to designing useable software is not making software dumbed down or removing features. Doing this makes the software so inflexible that only an idiot can use it. Instead, the software needs to be configurable and flexible as possible, but useability is in the layout, more commonly used features are placed up front and less commonly ones placed in expert screens and so on .

Sometimes, people who know little or nothing about Linux or software development make badly informed opinions on software development. I have heard people both advocate actions that would cripple linux software by damaging backwards compatability or remove essential features and functionality making the software too rigid and inflexible. These badly informed decisions cause a significant degree of the useability headaches with Linux. One example of people who dont know what they are talking about is people who think X needs a built in widget set, or who complain about their not being a standard "desktop environment", as if they dont understand you can use a gnome program on kde and vice versa, and that one can install both KDE and GNOME libraries and run programs for both simultaneously.

Similar with the sound systems. All that is necessary is for these systems to be able to co-exist. The ALSA system also provides an OSS API so programs written for both can be used simultaneously. Network transparency systems should also be able to co-exist.

Re:Thoughts on useablilty (3, Insightful)

serviscope_minor (664417) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504729)

stable kernel ABI

Oh, this old, tired and debunked canard again. Now your blaming poor quality drivers on it? Are you trying to claim that Windows for instance has nothing but excellently written, high quality drivers? Pure OSS drivers have many advantages, such as working for ages, supporting all features of the hardware and so on. If yu purchase with care you will have no trouble under Linux. If you fail to do so you will have trouble on any system.

Proprietary progeams needing 15 versions

If the proprietary application comes with all the .so's it needs, or statically linked, then it will work on any distro. I have several proprietary applications and they all run just fine on Arch, with no effort. If you are not able to successfully ship such programs, then I suggest you employ someone who knows how to do it. See, for example Matlab, Skype, World of Goo and so on.

Package managers are bad

So, if package managers don't support proprietary code, then what are proprietary thing doing in the repositories of Ubuntu, SuSE, Arch and etc...? The Linux package managers are the best out there. Nothing even comes close in reliability and ease of use.

As for the arrogance, have you ever paid anyone to maintain packages for you? If not it seems somewhat arrogant to think they should care what you want.

DLLs
WTF? That's why DLLs are versioned on unix. If you're overwriting DLLs, then someone has fouled up.

The self protecting idea is nice, though. You can probably do it with chroot.

Mac No - iPhone Yes (2, Interesting)

calc (1463) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504553)

I would never buy a Mac especially not with all the reliability problems they have and mis-features like locking the SATA port to SATA 1 speed, disabling 802.11n on the older ones and requiring people pay to get the feature, etc. On top of that I would never run MacOS X, as I am a Linux developer, so why pay more (the Apple tax) for less hardware. I personally own a ThinkPad X200 which is much better and cheaper than anything I have seen from Apple.

As far as open phones go, there is really not much choice on that front. There is Openmoko which doesn't even have Edge/3G support or the T-Mobile G1 Android phone. It also looks like openmoko is dying off and they have canceled their phones planned to have Edge/3G support. Android looks promising but the phone still needs a lot more work and/or there needs to be more than one of them available. More Android phones should be available later this summer so perhaps it will gain more marketshare. So I am not surprised at all that currently people at open-source conferences are using iPhones. I recently bought one for myself after sitting on the fence about whether to continue to wait until a nicer Android phone became available. Hopefully in 2 years once my at&t contract finally runs out there will be much better Android phones available. With respect to at&t they are planning on releasing an Android phone as well but with crippled resolution only 320x240.

textual reasoning vs. diagrammatic reasoning (2, Insightful)

gtall (79522) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504573)

One axis I've not seen discussed is that most developers are using textual languages. Most mathematics is essentially text based, not diagram based. One uses diagrams for intuition, but when the formal derivation or program must be done, it is done in text.

The problem then becomes that the concepts expressed in the software are most easily explained in terms of text, not diagrams. Guis are diagrams. Consider, just for a mental exercise, any of the unix shells and their languages. Most developers have no problems. Most users would rather gnaw off their right arm than go through learning a shell language and then relearn in it 6 months when they must use it again.

So, let's see what it takes to produce a gui for it. Apple used to have a system called MPW. You could hilite a command and call up its Commando interface. The commands themselves were rather textual and unixy, but the interface allowed you to click radio buttons, use pulldown menus, etc. to construct a command. The command constructed as text and shown in an editable window at the bottom of the dialog box for the Commando interface of the command. You could run the command right there or copy the text and run it in another window. That sounds about the right level.

Now we must think about piping. There was a language called Prograph, but now called Marten. It is an object orientied data flow language. It is a diagrammatic language and one draws lines to 'pipe' objects from one command to another, with some special lines for control ordering. There are mechanisms for recursion and the usual range of program construction artifacts.

One could combine the two, Marten and Command and successfully guitate unix shell languages (I'm sure there are other concepts that would need to gui equivalents for those languages). Now think about the amount of work necessary to do this. The point is that guis take an extraordinary amount of time and effort, and most of the skills are not the headless (non-gui) development most developers are familiar with and it is a paradigm directly at odds with their programming languages.

I see no entity within the FOSS community that could do such kinds of design and get it stick so that it becomes the faces of the OS or the applications for casual users who might wear an occasional python boot (think Frank Zappa). OpenOffice isn't an example, it is the usual retarded word processor editor that Microsoft pushes with the usual result that people would rather use Office since OpenOffice isn't buying them anything in which they are interested.

Way too much effort is put into ... (1)

Skapare (16644) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504691)

... making open source software work on closed hardware from non-cooperating manufacturers. If the manufacturers would open their hardware interface documentation, and avoid making all those little changes every month just for the sake of change, and deliver a stable platform (new major versions every couple years, with all documentation ahead of time) ... then all software can focus more on usability instead of battling with the hardware. And this includes YOU ... Broadcom.

Flawed logic (1)

br33d (233918) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504715)

first off, the fact that an IBMer was involved in the discussion does a lot to discredit the whole article. they have really bad UIs! they, IBM, also fall into the traps he is talking about: designers are frequently not listened to, UIs are designed by the core engineers and influenced by marketing, they need to rush out the next release, the engineer needs some checkbox in place so that he can claim an accomplishment to justify his paycheck.

to be honest, my employer only issues Mac or Windows laptops. i started with a Mac and really tried hard a whole summer to use it, but in the end i dumped it for a Windows laptop over which i installed kubuntu. the help system in Mac OS is super crappy. the package management system is non existent. (the assertion that you just add and remove stuff from applications directory is naive. there is other stuff happening that leaves things broken if you ever update or remove packages.) as a developer it's just too hard to get a good development evironment setup (not just the IDE, but all the tools as well). getting network printers and storage setup on Mac OSX is a crap shoot: sometimes it is easy, but other times it is impossible!

to be honest KDE 4.0 was pretty lame, but i'm loving 4.2!

author is a victim of marketing (2, Insightful)

speedtux (1307149) | more than 5 years ago | (#28504759)

Walk the halls of any open-source conference and you'll see a large percentage of attendees with ironically non-open-source Apple laptops and iPhones

There are many "open source" developers. It wouldn't surprise me if Java or PHP developers use a lot of Macs. But what does that actually show? Just because people use or develop open source in one niche doesn't mean that they need to use open source for everything. And their reasons are probably the usual ones: Microsoft compatibility, appeal of Mac hardware, what they are used to, ... It does not show that Macs are easier to use than modern Linux desktops.

Open-source projects have tended to be great commoditizers, but not necessarily the best innovators

Really? Many innovations have first become available in open source form before companies like Microsoft and Apple finally managed to ship them as part of their commercial software. And what actual innovations have Microsoft or Apple actually created? I mean, much of Apple's platform is based on open source software.

I think the real reason it seems like Apple and Microsoft innovate so much is... because they spend billions of dollars to create that illusion.

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