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GNOME Usability Study Report

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the press-ctrl-alt-shift-k-q-z-to-continue dept.


pdiaz writes: "Here is a report made by Sun Microsystems people about GNOME usability. They collected a bunch of professionals (lawyers, engineers, Graphic Designers, etc..) and put them in front of a Gnome desktop. They were asked to perform some tasks and tell what some icons, menus, etc., do. Some quotes are really funny, like when they asked what does the terminal emulator icon launch." Very interesting stuff, and this approach is necessary because once you've gotten accustomed to the system it's no longer possible for you to evaluate how it appears to an inexperienced user.

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This is cool... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71933)

I tried KDE, liked it at first, started disliking it, then decided to go with Gnome. I think this study would have been much more interesting if they'd compared usability between KDE and Gnome.

Come on though.... (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71934)

I don't think that statement reveals a negative attitude.
The question puts light on what I see as a major problem in computing, which is 80% of users are, forever, going to remain almost totally clueless.

My concerns (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71935)

Sun should dump Gnome and work with the *BSD people to develop a truly open desktop which would be based on a BSD or public domain type license.

I know Sun doesn't see a danger in the GPL because they think of themselves of a hardware vendor and software isn't as important to them and is not a money-maker for them. Still, I think it is unwise for them to back a desktop environment on which it is impossible to make money (because of the GPL). After all, Sun is a business and not a charity!

To be honest, I wish they'd work on developing CDE instead. I like CDE much better than Gnome or KDE (for technical and usability reasons, not licensing) and hope they continue to work on it.

Confusion (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71941)

Instead of being irate about people who can't understand everything as fast as you (or did you understand it all that quickly?), think about what they said. One complaint often made about Microsoft Windows was how confusing it was to find the settings you wanted, and how many places you could make the same change. Microsoft has listened to people and improved their interface. Windows 2000 is much easier to configure than Windows 95, because related settings are grouped together. I am not a Windows fan, but I think we can learn a lesson here. We do need a unified architecture for overall settings on both KDE and Gnome. Icons can be confusing, and tailoring them to make it easier for people to understand is not a BAD thing to do. If we want non Unix/Linux types to use our system, we have to at least try talking to them in terms they understand, instead of calling them stupid.

Re:Kind of sad, (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71943)

> I think you'd have to agree that a button labeled "start" or "run" makes a lot more sense than a foot

I suppose that makes sense pressing that "START" button to shut the machine down? Brilliant.

yep (5)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#71944)

Some quotes are really funny, like when they asked what does the terminal emulator icon launch."

It is exactly that attitude that makes Gnome unusable to the average PC user. Until that changes, Linux won't make inroads. Taco has already addressed this though. MS spends lots of money doing this kind of thing. The best we have done so far is a cheap rip off of that. We constantly rip on MS for bad software, yet when push comes to shove, we're just trying to give away free versions that look like theirs. It isn't working. This is an important first step in usability testing for Gnome. KDE would be wise to do the same, though they are probably about a decade (maybe a little less) ahead of Gnome in usability. Gnome could/can catch up by doing things like this. KDE can't remain idle, and MS won't remain idle.

What were they used to? (1)

Zack (44) | more than 13 years ago | (#71945)

If these participants were used to using Windows, then of course everything is going to be a bit confusing for them. So some people were confused by the icons. So what exactly does this "e" with the line around it do? What's this big "W" for? (Those would be Internet Explorer and Word)

Wouldn't it make more sense to take people who weren't used to ANY interface? Of course, I suppose it would be hard to find these people. I guess we could enlist the help of some Quakers.

The way I see it, learning a new UI isn't much different from learning to drive a new car. Sure, it's not exactly the same. The gear shift might be on the steering wheel or inbetween the seats. The headlights might be next to the windshield wipers levers or on the console. The point is that people can figure that out if given a few minutes.

I use many different UIs, from Macs to Windows to KDE and Gnome with different window managers, etc. Each one took a bit of time to learn.

And why do people refuse to take time to learn, anyway? You have to learn how to drive a car, but people refuse to learn how to use their computers. Seriously, take 30 minutes and figure out the basics, and the rest will come in time.

-- Zack

Re:What were they used to? (1)

Zack (44) | more than 13 years ago | (#71946)

Well, okay then! Let's go grab the Amish then.

If they're not too busy "Living in an Amish paradise."
-- Zack

Re:What were they used to? (1)

Zack (44) | more than 13 years ago | (#71947)

The point is that they had to learn the Windows UI in order to use Windows, so why is it horrible that they would have to take 30 minutes to learn a new UI?

They can migrate if they take a little bit of time to learn the UI. If they're familiar with one, 30 minutes should be all it takes to get them to basic functionality on a given UI.

Then again, I have seen rats smarter than many users, but that might just be from that green glowing stuff in the sewer.

-- Zack

Re:Context is everything (1)

Alan (347) | more than 13 years ago | (#71955)

Everything has context yes, but that doesn't mean that it can't be made to make more sense. "Terminal emulator program" means NOTHING to the "average" user, but "Shell" "Console" or "GNOME Prompt" would. They wouldn't make sense to someone who is completely clueless, but I know people who are clued as far as computers go, but are not advanced power users. If these people are the ones that GNOME is going after, they're going to have to start actually implementing some of these suggested changes.

Linux will probably NEVER get the drooling idiots, but do we want them? I think the goal would be the people who know enough to be pissed when Word crashes for the 80th time, or that know enough to know that MS Sucks, but not enough to leave it.

Dammit! I was reading that! (1)

DCMonkey (615) | more than 13 years ago | (#71956)

Damn /. effect!


It shouldn't! (2)

bluGill (862) | more than 13 years ago | (#71960)

To use your example of a friends car: I once drove a friends car, and while there were places where that was an issue, one statnds out that wasn't: The turn signal wasn't a lever on the stearing column, it was a switch on the dash. Yet I used that switch 10 times before I realised that it wasn't a lever! Whoever designed that interface made a major change, yet it was completely transparent to the user.

Interfaces should be natural. It should be no problem to go from unix to windows to mac to cpm to OS/390 to... It is, and that is a problem

Re:The business of agronomic design (1)

Christopher Craig (1394) | more than 13 years ago | (#71964)

you mispelled it. Soil and plant studies would be agronomics.

Re:OpenLook anyone? (1)

Paul Jakma (2677) | more than 13 years ago | (#71968)

go look for olvwm

Usability for experienced users (1)

Virtex (2914) | more than 13 years ago | (#71969)

I have nothing against making a UI intuitive for new users, but I'm also interested in making it useful for experienced users. Afterall, we are only beginners at something for a short amount of time. Once I become familiar with how something works, I'm more interested in being able to do what I want without too much pain. Drop down menus (or popup menus, like the "start" button) are easy to use, but tedious for the more experienced user when you have to search through 3 or 4 levels of submenus. Ditto for filemanagers. If I know the name of the program I want to run, Having to search through hundreds of icons for it is a lot slower that just typing it in at a command line (which I often do under *nix), especially when I can use tab completion.

So, while I often see studies like this where they test newbies, people don't actually become productive until they familiarize themselves with the environment. For that reason, I'd like to see a comparison / study of how productive more experienced users are with various UIs. I think that would be a more meaningful test.


Re:Kind of sad, (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 13 years ago | (#71970)

Are you kidding? The Apple Menu has been a thorn in their sides for ages. There are tons of people who have no idea that it's a menu at all, and why should they? It doesn't look like one, and there are other non-menu things that have been known to appear in that area. (e.g. clocks)

It could really use a word - and not just 'Apple Menu' neither, dammit.

Re:I can't wait... (1)

cpt kangarooski (3773) | more than 13 years ago | (#71971)

Don't kid yourself. There's plenty of places where Windows has been improved over the years. But it's still pretty damn nasty.

Storing file type descriptions in the filename? Having menus that hide functions variably? Having scrollbar thumbs that barely stand out over the shafts? I could probably go on for ages about things MS needs to work on.

(OTOH, one of my favorite things they did were dragging items in the Start menu to customize it. It's not as good as it ought to be, but it's a great idea at the core.)

Blue screen? (2)

_14k4 (5085) | more than 13 years ago | (#71998)

Where's that blue-screen with that unreadable data I keep seeing when I use Photoshop in Windows all the time.... Hrm. GNOME must be broken.

Paricipant 183: (4)

grub (11606) | more than 13 years ago | (#72015)

"Where's Clippy?" (P183)

Anything new takes getting used to... (5)

geojaz (11691) | more than 13 years ago | (#72016)

All interfaces take, well, getting used to in the beginning, this isn't exclusive to computer interfaces. I know that every time I get into one of my friend's vehicles I have to ask, "Hey, how do I turn on the lights? Where is x y or z?".
That being said interfaces which are reasonable can be adjusted to within a reasonable amount of time. Gnome is certainly something that those of average intelligence with the right amount of time should be able to get down... If they are interested in it and there is some reason to adjust to it.
So find a reason for people to use Gnome, and they will. (I am not saying Gnome doesn't have a use...)

Re:Context is everything (2)

James Ojaste (12446) | more than 13 years ago | (#72018)

"I want to access my email, but when I open up the Access icon my messages aren't there!"
"Excel? I'd think a serious software package wouldn't be named after chewing gum."

No, not real quotes, but they could be. *Everything* has context. These Microsoftisms are only in place because that's what these people have been taught (yes, taught) to recognize. Just because something is different doesn't make it "wrong" or "less intuitive" - you have to look past the first impressions and see how the GUI works once the user gets some basic familiarity with it.

At my place of work, courses on Word and Outlook are de rigeur. Do we really want to base a user-friendly GUI on a system that requires training to use? That's what most of the comments provided seem to indicate ("where's the start button?", "why settings and not control panel?", etc).

Re:Sun and GNOME (1)

Erik Hensema (12898) | more than 13 years ago | (#72021)

I hope so. Most CDE users already did. To put it bluntly: CDE is crap. I worked with it for five minutes and got over it. I installed fvwm :-)

Usability studies from Sun? (3)

image (13487) | more than 13 years ago | (#72022)

...this coming from the people who brought you the Sun WorkShop? :)

Re:This is great (1)

Quikah (14419) | more than 13 years ago | (#72023)

I think it is great that this study was performed. I would, however like to see the same study performed for KDE. I see no reason for one desktop to have an advantage over the other. Choice is good.

Interfaces (2)

chuckw (15728) | more than 13 years ago | (#72025)

The only 100% intuitive interface is the nipple...
*Condense fact from the vapor of nuance*
25: ten.knilrevlis@wkcuhc

Re:OpenLook anyone? (3)

SoftwareJanitor (15983) | more than 13 years ago | (#72026)

OpenLook has been effectively dead for a long time. Sun switched to CDE when they ditched OpenLook in favor of Motif, which had basically won the battle at that point.

As for open sourcing it, Sun did that before they gave up on it... it was kind of their last ditch attempt to outmaneuver Motif. Unfortunately it was too late. Had they done it about a year sooner it might have made a difference.

I used to use olvwm on Linux back in the 1993 to 1995 time period... I imagine the source code is still out there for it, but I don't think it ships standard with many distros these days, let alone is part of the normal installations.

Re:The business of agronomic design (1)

rangek (16645) | more than 13 years ago | (#72028)

What exactly does GNOME have to do with argonomics?

I don't know? What is argonomics?

The last time I checked, a desktop environment has no bearing whatsoever on soil or plnat sciences.

Yeah, most desktop environments don't work so well if you soil them, and there was soil before desktop environments, but what the hell is plnat sciences?

Usability vs. Transparency (5)

leei (26366) | more than 13 years ago | (#72044)

In designing systems and user interfaces, it is
fundamentally important to not confuse two distinct concepts: usability and transparency.

Usability is directly related to the efficiency of
performing tasks and the ability to anticipate the
user interface for new tasks.

Transparency is the "intuitiveness" of the interface or system. It is primarily a measure of
how easy it is for a naive user to come into the
system and get a something done.

Transparency is intimately related to the experience of the users being examined. In a certain respect, it is a measure of familiarity.
Unfortunately, you will get high transparency
scores nowadays if you simply look and act like
MS Windows.

Usability is a whole other bag of onions. Some of
the features of a transparent interface are relevant in assessing usability, but only to a point. While transparency is something critical for new or casual users, it can be almost completely irrelevant to an experienced user. Once a certain level of familiarity is acheived, usable systems are those that make the most common tasks the most efficient to access and provide easy means of aggregating and controlling common
sequences of tasks. Emacs is an immensely usable
system that has a very low transparency score.

It is interesting to note that the Usability Principles in this study seem to be correctly labelled: they *are* related to interface usability. However, the assessment methodology seems to be primarily measuring *transparency*.
I'd say that this is a basic flaw in the study and
colors the recommendations highly.

It would be nice to see someone do a similar study
but concentrate on the power users and address the
issues around high performance usability.

don't talk unless you've walked the walk (5)

count0 (28810) | more than 13 years ago | (#72045)

There's a lot of folks saying "but this isn't how people really use Gnome" or "the comments are insipid"

Unless you've sat down and observed your interface getting tested with a usability professional or two who work with regular folks to see how the application works *in the real folks non-geek world* then you don't know what you're talking about.

Really, how can you argue with behavior-based experimental data that "this isn't how people behave"? Oh right - with unfounded 3l337 opinion.

Sure, there are other things we could do to better test usability - like have them spend a week or two with Gnome after this test, then test again to see how much they picked up.

but until you're doing testing with your own projects, until you appreciate that these are real people in the real world (that same world you think should use Linux as a desktop OS) then you're really missing the point.


see []

IBM Ease of Use []

The perennial Jakob Nielsen []

Usability Professionals Association []

Webword Usability Blog []

Re:Context is everything (1)

Tower (37395) | more than 13 years ago | (#72049)

Excel is a chewing gum? Never heard of it. I've seen Mangosteen gum, though... (now with 25% more Steen!)


Re:I can't wait... (1)

Tower (37395) | more than 13 years ago | (#72050)

Hehe - and here I am hating that, thinking there should be a separate app for that... too many years of lax click and release where I start moving (just before the release) to where I know my mouse needs to be... Moves the freecell link every time ;-)

Listen to the users! (5)

Mr. McGibby (41471) | more than 13 years ago | (#72058)

There are going to be a lot of posts like, "What lusers! They need to RTFM so that they know that 'terminal emulator' actually means command line prompt!"

This is not what you should take away from a user interface study. This *is* what the users see when first presented with the program. It really doesn't matter what the programmers/designers of GNOME think. If the user doesn't like it, then he doesn't like it! If he can't understand, then he can't understand.

A long time tenet of communication is that if there is miscommunication, then it is usually the fault of the communicator who hasn't adequately taken into account the audience. If we as programmers/designers aren't using the interface to *communicate* then it is *we* who are failing to communucate, not the audience who is failing to understand.

Why do you think that MS has slowly moved to simpler and simpler language? People don't need techo-speak to understand what is going on with the computer. Understanding phrases like "illegal operation" requires a bit of underlying knowledge about why such an analogy is being used. So why use it. Just say, "your computer just crashed, but it's okay. Just press that little button on the front of the computer so it can restart. Have a nice day!".

You think that is scary... (1)

cr0sh (43134) | more than 13 years ago | (#72060)

Just wait until you have to recompile your kernel, not once, but twice! This happened to me some time ago - I first recompiled it because my ZIP drive wasn't working properly (had to migrate from 2.2.13 to 2.2.14) - after I did that, my sound card died (because the OSS driver was for the old kernel). So, I had to go through the process again to set up ALSA (as a loadable module). Recently I had to do it again for my joystick.

The first time I did it - I forgot to run LILO (very important) - system refused to go past the load stage - break out a boot disk, go to root - vi lilo.conf, run lilo this time, reboot - everything fine.

This happened to me again recently (not scary this time - immediately recognized my mistake) - I upgraded my system from SuSE 6.3 to SuSE 7.2 - and when I rebooted, while I had KDE2 (well, I had to create a symlink because X kept choking on loading the accelerated X driver), I was still running the old kernel. Seems that SuSE 7.2 put it in /boot, but I had been running the vmlinuz in /, not /boot (probably due to the instructions I had used to make the patch previously) - so I moved it, but forgot to run lilo - blammo! - once I got over that, I just left it in /boot, cleaned up /, and reset lilo.conf to look at the right spot, ran lilo (important!!!) and went from there.

Then, of course, I found I was only running the old X - and not X 4.0 as I thought - finding out that the base upgrade only installed portions of X4 - so I had to add that, and run the config to move to X4 (can't remember the name) - then YAST2 wasn't setup, and I needed to get the drivers for 3D acceleration - ARGHHHHHHH!

Let's just say it has been an interesting few days (and I am still fighting to get the Samba server set up - will probably have to recompile the kernel to get my joystick set up - it "went away" after I did the update, so since the kernel was the only big thing that changed, it must be the issue - I think. I am also unsure whether Java, Perl, or my other custom compiled apps all work properly - fun, fun, fun!) - but I sure do like the new KDE2...

BTW - damn - that NVidia driver for 3D acceleration is much faster than what I had before - I don't like the splash screen every time I log off/log on to the system through KDM (anyone know if there is a way to turn this off - or know of a recompiled version of the driver - it comes with source, I am thinking about stripping that code out and recompiling?)...

Worldcom [] - Generation Duh!

Re:Reminds me of my users (3)

weave (48069) | more than 13 years ago | (#72065)

Where's my C drive?

That's pretty silly when you think about it. A C: drive, the syntax (C:) etc... It's as weird as anything under Linux. It's just that users have learned this one since the beginning of time, er, MS/DOS epoch, so now they expect the same kind of sillyness.

We need to corrupt our youth at an early age so when they are exposed to the Windows world, they'll be like "Drive letters? How fucking primitive!" :-)

People who never seen something else... (4)

chrysalis (50680) | more than 13 years ago | (#72070)

People familiar with Windows or MacOS will be lost with Gnome, or any new user interface. Because they already know icons, locations, shortcuts, etc. Working on something different needs time.
My girlfriend never used computers before we met together. And on my computer, there's only OpenBSD, FreeBSD and Linux. I showed her how to log in, browse internet, paint, play music, print photos, etc. Her desktop has icons for main applications.
And she's not lost. She can use the computer without any help. With Linux, FreeBSD or OpenBSD.
The last week, she had to work on Word 2000 at her daily job. She was totally lost, found Windows slow and ugly, didn't understand why the word processor had so many complicated buttons and menus, etc.
So no interface is more intuitive than another. It's just a question of what you are more familiar with.

-- Pure FTP server [] - Upgrade your FTP server to something simple and secure.

I can't wait... (5)

stienman (51024) | more than 13 years ago | (#72071)

I can't wait for all the idiots to start posting, "But they're going to make it just like Windows!!!"

While the reality is is that not only are 'regular' users familiar with windows, but MS has spent significant resources studying exactly these issues and they are common even to those who are not familiar with windows. Many of these concepts (which the Linux community has shunned for years trying to avoid being like Windows) are going to have to be embraced (and extended) by the Linux community if they are going to gain any mindshare in the population.


This sig 80% recycled bits, 20% post user.

Throbber? (1)

Palshife (60519) | more than 13 years ago | (#72074)

As users explored Nautilus further, they discovered that it was a browser:

"It has a desktop file system feel and a web feel, from the icons and the throbber." (P4)

Anyone mind telling me what the hell P4 is speaking of? I wasn't aware Nautilis had a "throbber".

Reminds me of my users (2)

quartz (64169) | more than 13 years ago | (#72077)

Back when I was administering a Linux network, the most common questions from users were "Where's my C drive?" and "How do I make all those weird directories dissapear?" (referring to the stuff in /, *after* unsuccessfully trying to delete them). Good thing they didn't have root access...

Great Work (2)

bwt (68845) | more than 13 years ago | (#72078)

This is really great work. Bravo.

It's sometimes painful to watch the average user struggle with things that seem obvious, but this is exactly the kind of feedback that is difficult for a programmer to get.

For linux to succeed on the desktop, Gnome (or KDE or something equivalent) must do well at meeting the needs and expectations of this kind of user.

I hope people will see this report as a very valuable insight into what goes throught the minds of ordinary users. I did. Hell, I've even thought the same thing as in some of the comments (I shouldn't have to click on the login box to type my username!)

This is great (1)

eAndroid (71215) | more than 13 years ago | (#72085)

If this can influence development gnome would get a significant advantage over KDE (or anything else). Sun is particularly good on making sure UIs are usable. They used to have a page documenting the UI revisions to their web site. It was very well thought out and lead to a very usable web site.

Re:Usability vs. Transparency (2)

Amokscience (86909) | more than 13 years ago | (#72092)

So what you've said is that they've stayed true to the intent of the test whilst straying from the letter of the test.

Seems to me that they've managed what was intended which is far mroe important than nitpicking on what they should have called it.

Just reading about the login procedure makes me shudder and cringe.

Interface speed (2)

Brighten (93641) | more than 13 years ago | (#72096)

I think speed is an area that would improve the useability of the Gnome GUI significantly. This comment refers to the Gnome file manager specifically, but applies to interfaces more generally.

I have Gnome installed on my Linux box, but more often than not, I use the command line to naviagte through my directories. Why? Because it's faster. The Gnome file manager takes about 3-4 seconds to open a directory on my 350 MHz box. If I'm trying to find a directory 4 layers deep, this adds up to annoyance.

Does that mean the command line is better? Definitely not! I'm a Mac user and I love Apple's interface. But in Mac OS, opening a folder is instantaneous. I can find a file in Mac OS at least as fast as I can using a command line.

What it comes down to is this: In designing a user interface, there are tradeoffs in speed vs. functionality. I would like to see more speed, specifically in the Gnome file manager. I'm quite willing to trade some features for more speed, because without the speed, the features aren't useful to me.

Does anyone know if there is a lightweight, fast file browser out there?

Google cache (2)

Brighten (93641) | more than 13 years ago | (#72097)

GNOME seems to have been slashdotted, and Google doesn't have a cached copy of the article, but they do have a cached copy of The GNOME Usability Project page [] , so at least you can read a little about the goals of the project. (After it starts loading, you may have to press "stop" so it doesn't load the images, which will come from GNOME's server.)

Is there a mirror anywhere else?

morognome (1)

Roadmaster (96317) | more than 13 years ago | (#72098)

Great. Now, just because these people are more used to Windows, gnome is going to get turned into an idiot-proof lame gui that's going to get in my way at every step.

I just hope the gnome people live up to their initial design principles and provide a way to tune the system's behavior; something like "i'm not mentally retarded" checkbox that would inhibit all this annoying and useless behavior.

I'm sure these people don't complain that their car doesn't freeze time and pops up a dialog saying "you're about to have an accident, do you want to stop?". There's a brain inside your skull, so use it!

Re:Paricipant 183: (1)

carleton (97218) | more than 13 years ago | (#72099)

I was pretty sure that last time I used GNOME, there was an option to turn on a clippy-like thing that sat on top of your windows and was supposed to spout advice to you. Might have been KDE... I forget whether I was using Redhat (in which case GNOME) or Mandrake (in which case KDE)... either way, I didn't work and at any case, I quickly switched back to blackbox.

(Too bad setting my background using xfishtank -c instead of something like xv defeats the low profile aspect; it's certainly more fun to look at.)

What's This? (1)

Strick-9 (105679) | more than 13 years ago | (#72104)

I read as much of it as I could before succumbed, and I got as far as where they suggested that we put a label to the hostname. That might help some people but I'm imagining that applying this idea of labels everywhere will quickly clutter things up. How difficult would it be to put a "What's this?" button in the corner/help menu, so that anyone who wanted to know what "localhost" is could use the question-mark cursor to find out, rather than wasting real estate?

Re:Should Gnome default to Mac-like top global men (1)

Strick-9 (105679) | more than 13 years ago | (#72105)

Hmmm, might be feasible with BonoboUI?

Re:funny? (2)

jgerman (106518) | more than 13 years ago | (#72108)

I think he was trying to make the point that the average user doesn't understand the concept of a terminal any more.

Even if it wasn't that humor has a full right to a place in the community. 90% of humor is about the failabilities of others, the other 10% is about ourselves. The submitter isn't hurting anyone by finding that concept amusing, especially not in an environment that is primarily *nix users in the first place.

Re:That's what I was saying... (2)

JesseL (107722) | more than 13 years ago | (#72110)

but if anyone hasn't yet simply turned their computer off accidently while running Linux....I dare you..

Dare me huh? You got it, but then I run XFS [] . I can't reccomend running a journaling file system highly enough.

OpenLook anyone? (1)

garoush (111257) | more than 13 years ago | (#72111)

What happened to SUN's OpenLook (sec.)? I used it years ago when I was in collage and I must say I LOVED it. Why isn't SUN promoting it? Why not open-source it?


Thank you Sun! (5)

SpookComix (113948) | more than 13 years ago | (#72113)

This is *exactly* what has been lacking in Linux development for a long time. Now, with this data discovered, will developers make changes, or will they bitch about the user pool and continue to develop confusing, over-complex, bloated, non-intuitive interfaces?

Take this ball and run with it, someone! Don't just bitch about how "Microsoft has conditioned everyone to look for a Control Panel!" Who gives a shit? If your intent is to write software for use by the masses, you'd better be damn sure and write it so that the masses will like it and want to use it!


Do we even want this? (1)

Zenithal (115213) | more than 13 years ago | (#72116)

More and more as these kinds of studies are made and linux as a whole, either KDE, GNOME, or any other user interface becomes more and more scrutinized by the masses, I wonder if this is good or bad for our community as a whole.

The steady adoption of linux has developers more and more conserned about what joe-average would like on their desktop. And often (as this report shows) joe-average wants fewer options, less customizability, fewer utilities, fewer programs. Really what they want is more herding. Clippy.

Linux (GNOME, KDE, whatever) is great because those things aren't present. I'm terrified that one day I'll be writing a linux app and my boss'll walk in and say: "Those advanced search tools you've been writing... too many buttons, cut out 10 features... I don't care which". And I'll say, "But it's stable, ready to ship". And the response'll be, "We know, I've allocated two more weeks so you can remove the buttons."

Usability issues are one thing,
"It seems like there's more than normal, that it's giving me a whole bunch of choices." (P1)
Is just scary. I don't know if it's just me, but I pray that we don't see a steady decline of value to suit the Lowest Common Denominator.

some good points are made (1)

kuiken (115647) | more than 13 years ago | (#72117)

First of all it might be good to have a bad passwd

Re:some good points are made (1)

kuiken (115647) | more than 13 years ago | (#72118)

oops i made an uh-oh
What was going to say that I as an expirianced user find it also anoying that the user name and password are not on the same "screen"
the bad passwd message is a good idee but they should make it a configurable option (or atleast no pop up just a message in the login box)
As for some of the other points made like the home icon on nautilus (and no i did not read the complete article the site seems to be ./ ed ) the sounded verry normal for ppl new to a gui or OS, remember windows users think home is there home page and "my documents" is their home
So in conclusion i think we should be carefull not to read to much in to this data, i for one dont like the idee of /my documents/username :)

Re:Anything new takes getting used to... (2)

mz001b (122709) | more than 13 years ago | (#72127)

That being said interfaces which are reasonable can be adjusted to within a reasonable amount of time. Gnome is certainly something that those of average intelligence with the right amount of time should be able to get down...

One problem with this study, is that these people have had previous exposure to other platforms (MS Windows for example), so they have preconceived notions of how the interface should work. When something is not in the `right' place, they will be confused. This can explain a lot of the odd comments. Unfortunately, a test with participants evaluating several different OS/interfaces without any pre-exposure to computing is probably not possible.

It is also difficult to say that anyone with average intelligence should be able to figure this out. For people who have no exposure to computers, a lot of things are not obvious. Exposure to computes != intelligence.

Re:What were they used to? (2)

demaria (122790) | more than 13 years ago | (#72128)

There are advantages to testing usability with Windows users. If you want to convert people from Windows to X, you need to make sure that the Windows people will not be entering a hostile environment.

For linux to work on the desktop (which I personally think won't happen but that's not the point), you need to make sure Windows people can migrate over.

Re:Kind of sad, (2)

pi_rules (123171) | more than 13 years ago | (#72131)

Agreed... if they wanted to use a word 'Start' was not the right one. I've been using computers in some, way, shape or form, for 10 years now. When Win95 came out and I tried using it it took me a while to figure out what 'Start' was really for. I would click on a desktop icon to select it, then hit 'Start' thinking that would launch it. Took a good half an hour for me to figure out how to use and customize the menu. Very frustrating really.

Something like "Main Menu" would have been more logical, or, heck, just "Stuff".

I'm running Ximian on my desktops now, and I like the ability to break Programs, System, and Help off onto their own little menus on the pager. Takes away that extra layering of menus w/out cluttering the pager all up.

Hyper-Usability Study (1)

waltal (128183) | more than 13 years ago | (#72142)

Executive Summary The usability study is unusable by a non-Gnome developer. There is some question whether it will make an impression on a Gnome developer. The authors are searching for a Gnome developer that can communicate with regular humans or usability testers in order to test this hypothesis.

Re:Kind of sad, (1)

null_session (137073) | more than 13 years ago | (#72145)

In the future, will all UIs have to have start buttons, control panels and taskbars to be considered usable?

Really, I'm not sure if it matters. With GNOME (and KDE, I'm not going to start THAT war) you can pretty much customize to your heart's content. It would be a simple thing to make the expected buttons say "Start" or what have you, but still leave it customizeable. For instance, most GUI's (even in LinuxLand) default to "Click to raise" (of course on MS this is the only option unless you install the resource kit - or is it tweakUI? - doesn't matter) so that they emulate MS's windowing style. Fine, whatever, I accept that something else would be confusing to certain people. Personally, though, if the window manager won't support "Focus strictly follows mouse" I'm not going to use it, because that's the only way I like to work. When it comes down to it I could care less what the defaults are, just as long as it remains configurable enough that I can use it the way I want to. All that said I'm still using WindowMaker without GNOME.

One last thought: this discussion has highlighted how many people have yet to understand that GNOME can use any of several window managers- including AfterStep, WindowMaker, Sawfish, Enlightenment, FVWM, FVWM2, Ice, and a bunch of others I haven't mentioned. Don't get the WM confused with the environment.

Re:Kind of sad, (1)

null_session (137073) | more than 13 years ago | (#72146)

default to "Click to raise"
Sorry, that should have been "click to focus with autoraise".

Re:I can't wait... (1)

plone (140417) | more than 13 years ago | (#72150)

And exactly what spyware does windows install? Do you still believe that ol BillyG has a backdoor to all your personal info? Microsoft already spreads enough FUD around, there is no need to add to it?

funny? (2)

dizee (143832) | more than 13 years ago | (#72155)

how is asking a question about what a certain unfamiliar icon does "funny?" i should hope you aren't ridiculing the user (haha, laugh at the user, he doesn't know what that button does, what a moron) such "humor" has no place in the community -mike

"I would kill everyone in this room for a drop of sweet beer."

Re:Kind of sad, (1)

swinginSwingler (161566) | more than 13 years ago | (#72162)

To a certain extent, yes. While your average programmer prob. won't have too much trouble adjusting to a new env. an average user will. It's a bit like asking "Why can't folks just adjust to a base 8 number system. It's no less difficult to use than base 10." The fact of the matter is that the windows interface are what people are used to. Deviate too much from it and people will become confused. But yes, it is still sad.

An Idea for a user interface rfc (1)

iplayfast (166447) | more than 13 years ago | (#72165)

The whole user interface (at the gui level anyway) should be in a dialog format (not a gui dialog, but a speaking one). The session would go something like:

Welcome to hostname,, what is your username? _________
Hello username what is your password? _________
The username or password was not found on the system, push enter to continue. (back to top)
OK, username, you are logged in, what would you like to do? (show menu)...

and on it goes. This could even be implemented in text format, and it would leave no confusion to the newbies. The experts would see it as patronizing, but it wouldn't slow them down at all, so they wouldn't mind too much (?)

What do you think of the general idea?

Re:An Idea for a user interface rfc (1)

iplayfast (166447) | more than 13 years ago | (#72166)

I see you saw the sarcasim in my post. (I was afraid it wasn't obvious).

Funny??? (1)

grendelkhan (168481) | more than 13 years ago | (#72167)

I don't know how many times I've had to talk folks over the phone through opening a command prompt to get something done under Windows, this isn't funny, it's just that people have been weaned off CLI's in favor of GUI's. It's part of what has gotten computers so far into homes and buisnesses in the past ten years.

Ignorance isn't funny unless it's something that should be common sense, and in this case it's not. Performing and then implementing these types of studies is a good thing for all concerned.

Re:The business of agronomic design (3)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 13 years ago | (#72172)

What exactly does GNOME have to do with argonomics? The last time I checked, a desktop environment has no bearing whatsoever on soil or plnat sciences.

Re:funny? (1)

Nos. (179609) | more than 13 years ago | (#72173)

Exactly. Laughing at others, while maybe not morally correct, is something everyone does. I've done a lot of tech support and had some of those calls you've read on various tech-support laugh it up sites (including a mouse as a foot-pedal... I'm not kidding, I actually had that call).

For those that have done end user support, we know these people call in with a lot of very simple problems. As long as you don't laugh at them there's no harm, no foul.

Remember, these questions come from people who are new to a world that we work with everyday. Its okay to laugh as long as you keep the user happy and working. I don't do much tech support any more, but when I do, I often hear the line, "this might be stupid, but...". First of all its not stupidity, its simply lack of experience.

Re:An Idea for a user interface rfc (1)

hyperstation (185147) | more than 13 years ago | (#72179)

oh i read about that, anyone know what it's called or where i can get it? (the kernel config game)


Large-Scale Investment (1)

1alpha7 (192745) | more than 13 years ago | (#72180)

I really like this level of professional analysis. It's in-depth in a way I could never do. Having groups the size of Sun on board makes this possible. I think that is going to have a major impact on the advance of non-MS GUIs over the next few years.

Of course, the obvious question is why MS, with their size, hasn't produced the perfect GUI.


Re:I can't wait... (1)

1alpha7 (192745) | more than 13 years ago | (#72181)

But wouldn't that make GNOME just like windows?

Let's see . . .

  • Doesn't crash daily.
  • Doesn't install spyware on my system.
  • Doesn't break all standards so I can only travel in their domain.
  • Doesn't cost a fortune for an office-full of licenses.
No, I don't think it will.


Re:Kind of sad, (2)

ichimunki (194887) | more than 13 years ago | (#72183)

Hmmm. Yet Apple, who are known for actually giving a rat's ass about the Real Usability of their interface have had an Apple menu for the last 16 years and no one was so confused that they stopped using it. The all-purpose, one great menu really doesn't have a good name (although I agree that start makes at least as much sense as any alternatives) and the logo of the desktop maker is as good as any. Personally I prefer they not put a word on such a menu, since it's meaningless.

A bit too "ad hoc" in terms of testing (2)

MtViewGuy (197597) | more than 13 years ago | (#72186)

Sun's new studies on how the GNOME interface works in my opinion is a bit too ad hoc if they want to improve its look and feel.

They're several years behind what Microsoft has done with their famous Usability Lab. Look at the way Microsoft has designed Windows 95 interface that went into Windows 95/NT4/98/ME/2000; this is due to lots of hours of extensive scientific research into how people use their computers. It's also the reason why the interface of Internet Explorer 4.0 to 6.0 is way, way more polished than the interface of Netscape 6.0x (Netscape blew it big time by abandoning the interface used in Netscape Communicator 4.x versions, which was actually quite good).

What all the Linux supporters need to do is to fund the equivalent of the Microsoft Usability Lab for both KDE and GNOME. I'll guarantee that both KDE and GNOME will be much easier to use once some decent research is done on making the interface easier to use by end users.

Re:Kind of sad, (2)

BluedemonX (198949) | more than 13 years ago | (#72188)

Of course it makes sense! You're "kick starting" the system to turn on!

That makes more sense than a big assed "K" any day.

Sun and GNOME (1)

teknopurge (199509) | more than 13 years ago | (#72190)

Is sun still going to drop CDE for GNOME?

Gnome or KDE interface (4)

Rosco P. Coltrane (209368) | more than 13 years ago | (#72192)

I've used Gnome a little, and KDE a lot, so I'm probably biased, but despite the fact that <UNDERSTATEMENT> some KDE components are not as well implemented as in Gnome</UNDERSTATEMENT>, I still prefer KDE over Gnome by far. So do most of my colleagues (computer literate or not), so does my mum.

Why ? because the strength of the KDE look-and-feel is that it's a close copy of Microsoft Windows, and this is good for 2 reasons :

People who can use Windows are not disoriented by KDE (rah rah, old argument, I know ...)

Microsoft being all about "first user experience" (read glass and chrome on a desktop anybody can use more or less intuitively), they probably spent a ton of money on the design of the Win95 interface, so why not reuse it ? It's far from perfect, but you can be pretty sure it'll be accessible to the mass thanks to M$ money, and KDE reuses all that R&D for free.

M$ is not stupid, and they've been reusing the same old clunky Win95 interface for years now. IMO, that's because they know for sure it's what flies with the users. So, I like Gnome, it seems solid and well built, but I'm sorry to say, it'll probably lose the GUI battle because its single biggest flaw is its non-M$ look-and-feel.

Kind of sad, (3)

Gannoc (210256) | more than 13 years ago | (#72193)

Reading it, the comments seemed to be a lot of things like:

"This is ridiculous! The start button is a foot? What does a foot have to do with a start button?"


"Whoa? How come the settings are under something called "Settings"?? Where is the control panel?"

Microsoft has succeeded in making their own screwed up naming conventions the "standard" of computers everywhere.

In the future, will all UIs have to have start buttons, control panels and taskbars to be considered usable?

Sigh... (1)

cbwsdot (212913) | more than 13 years ago | (#72194)

Quite frankly, I hope Linux never gets on the desktop. Instead of creating a Free implementation of the OpenStep specification, a proven system, people go off and create things like GNOME and KDE.
Yes, I'm fully aware of GNUstep, but that should've been done *before* GNOME and KDE.


/.'ed (1)

agrounds (227704) | more than 13 years ago | (#72198)

Can anyone mirror this thing, or at least copy/paste it here?

The business of agronomic design (3)

hillct (230132) | more than 13 years ago | (#72199)

None of the comments are all that suprising...

GUI enviroments simply aren't all that intuitive, period. There may be ways to make them more intuitive however this study, while interesting, appears to be more a measure of how similar to MS Windows, Gnome is.

This is not to say the study is without value. Certainly it is valuable, but agronomic design just isn't at a level where a user can sit down and intuit the functions in such a complex devide as a computer operating system. It just isn't possible. This is not a reflection on Gnome so much as a reflection on the study of agronomics.

That said, the study was a good read and did make valid points in it's recommendations. It's just important to keep in mind what was actually being analized.


Re:My concerns (1)

diamondc (241058) | more than 13 years ago | (#72204)

First of all GNOME runs on BSD.
why would they spend even MORE money reinventing the wheel making another desktop/gui? they like C (gtk+), since C is standard everywhere. plus they dont have to depend on a company that 'owns' the other most popular gui widget set for unix.
yes, they are a hardware maker. they make money off of hundred-thousand dollar sparc boxes. CDE is total crap and I used it for about 2 minutes on the Sun box we have here.

In my experience, (3)

Jhon (241832) | more than 13 years ago | (#72205)

I often come in contact with users who are moving from old unix based terminals to windows based software. Many of these users have absolutely no GUI experience whatsoever.

There are similar "stumbling" blocks that various users hit when switching platforms -- either from a text-based unix terminal to GUI or from a MAC to WIN32, or whatever.

For most "work" environments, if the user knows how to "click" an icon to run his software, thats about all they NEED to know -- outside of how to operate their software package. It's silly to expect a 50+ y/o client services secretary from company X with no GUI experience to "master" any windows/mac-ish interface. Their "job" is to be able to navagate their software, launch it and shut it down. Beyond that is really expecting too much.


Re:I can't wait... (1)

wackysootroom (243310) | more than 13 years ago | (#72207)

Many of these concepts (which the Linux community has shunned for years trying to avoid being like Windows) are going to have to be embraced (and extended) by the Linux community if they are going to gain any mindshare in the population. But wouldn't that make GNOME just like windows?

I think it would be interesting.... (1)

At000miC (261392) | more than 13 years ago | (#72216)

if the same study was performed on a win32 desktop.

Should Gnome default to Mac-like top global menu? (1)

PRR (261928) | more than 13 years ago | (#72217)

I've always liked the context-sensitive global menu at the top of the Mac screen instead of having them be a part of the individual windows like MS does.

Apple UI studies found that it's easier to just throw the mouse to the top instead of aiming for the menu in a window. Apparently (rumor) MS would have also done one global menu at the top like Mac were it not for Apple patent issues? Does anyone know if that's true?

Otherwise, KDE does allow a Mac-like global menu in it's theme preferences, but it's more of an afterthought. If Apple patent issues can be avoided, perhaps Gnome should default to a singular Mac-like global menu at the top? (menus in windows would still be available as an option)

Thoughts anyone?

Re:yep (1)

pdiaz (262591) | more than 13 years ago | (#72218)

wop!. I'm who submitted the news, and who said that the quotes were funny. Well, my submision was slightly modified by the slashdot trained squirrels, and all of you missinterpreted me. The quotes that I found funny (no sarcasm or negative thinking here) was...wop!, well the site is slashdoted but the quotes said something like:

quote #1: "What is this icon for?"
quote #2: "I don't know what terminal emulation means"
quote #3: "What the hell emulation means?"


Re:Funny??? (1)

pdiaz (262591) | more than 13 years ago | (#72219)

Please, Please, Please. Read my post about the funny thing before commenting. I didn't enccounter funny other's ignorance.I'm not such kind of person. The site Is now slashdoted but in a few hours I will have access to it and copy-paste the exact parts of the users that make me think it was funny: Was the situation, the clueless the users seem to be in the gnome environment, not the ignorance itself

Re:Kind of sad, (1)

NerdSlayer (300907) | more than 13 years ago | (#72220)

"This is ridiculous! The start button is a foot? What does a foot have to do with a start button?"

Microsoft has succeeded in making their own screwed up naming conventions the "standard" of computers everywhere.

As much as I hate microsoft, I'm gonna have to disagree with you here.

Take a step back from the situation for a minute. I think you'd have to agree that a button labeled "start" or "run" makes a lot more sense than a foot (a foot that doesn't even involve any discernable "motion" (the arrow isn't much help)).

Microsoft might be bastards, but maybe this is something that became "standard" simply because it's downright intuitive.

Usability study for Windows. (2)

AX.25 (310140) | more than 13 years ago | (#72224)

"Why do I need to press start to shutdown."

"What is the any key?"

"What does Fatal Exception in ... mean?"

"Press yes if you want to reboot."

"No, I didn't send you that email."

"Die clipply die."

"Click on this, right click on that, double click there, oops sorry press back."

"Why am I out of memory, I'm not running anything."

Users are dumb no matter what the OS.

An excellent UI design site (3)

Eryq (313869) | more than 13 years ago | (#72226) [] has a lot of great tips on GUI design, completely cross-platform.

A lot of it is common sense, but many X developers would do well to go through the site. Fortunately the GTK pushes developers in the right direction (build the tools, and you can implicitly enforce the standards), but we still have a ways to go for GNOME to be as consistent as, say, Macs were in the late '90s.

Oh, and M$ bashers will have many opportunities for chuckles here. :-)

Re:An Idea for a user interface rfc (4)

Eryq (313869) | more than 13 years ago | (#72227)

I think there was a linux kernel configuration interface that worked much like this, except moreso.... it was reported to be like a text adventure game.

- Look.
You see files here. Also, a Trashcan and the Internet

- Take Internet.
You can't do that!

- Drop files.

- Drop files in Trashcan.
rm -rf /
Done. 261792K deleted.

- Ah! Undo! Undo!
I don't understand that.

- Get files from backup!
I see no backup here

- Get backup from Internet
It is getting dark. You are eaten by a grue.

Re:Kind of sad, (1)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 13 years ago | (#72232)

MacOS coined the term "control panel."

GNOME is pretty nice (2)

sketerpot (454020) | more than 13 years ago | (#72234)

But in my opinion, KDE is a bit more usable for two reasons: the file manager is great, and there is a nice usable feel to it. GNOME is cool too, though.

Could someone please... (1)

Webmstr FreaK (455810) | more than 13 years ago | (#72236)

... give us a working link to the article? It times out anytime I click it. Thanks

Re:What were they used to? (1)

moncyb (456490) | more than 13 years ago | (#72237)

And why do people refuse to take time to learn, anyway? You have to learn how to drive a car, but people refuse to learn how to use their computers. Seriously, take 30 minutes and figure out the basics, and the rest will come in time.

They act this way because of years of marketing from Microsoft and Apple saying "Any idiot who doesn't even know how to read should be able to sit in front of a computer and know how to use it right away." It is completely absurd, but it's the way things are now.

Then these systems designed that way are really non-intuitive and cumbersome in the long run because so many features are taken away and so many menus are hidden (as to not confuse new users or allow them to do anything harmful). Yes, software should be made as easy as possible for new users, however the users that already know the system should be considered as well.

Re:Anything new takes getting used to... (2)

jrp2 (458093) | more than 13 years ago | (#72239)

All interfaces take, well, getting used to in the beginning, this isn't exclusive to computer interfaces

Yes, but you still need to do this kind of research to make it even better and more intuitive. It isn't even close to Mac (or Windows for that matter) in its' intuitiveness.

Taking your car controls as an example, most manufacturers put the basics in roughly the same place for a reason. When you deviate, you frustrate, and better have a good reason for it. I know I have rented some cars in my time where it took me a couple minutes to figure out how to open the gas cap and that generally leaves a bad taste.

Bottom line, I think this kind of research is exactly the right approach.

Re:Sun and GNOME (1)

pmz (462998) | more than 13 years ago | (#72240)

Sun probably won't be dropping CDE. It is more likely that they will drop OpenLook (three interfaces is probably too much) when GNOME is fully adopted.

Also, CDE still has a place. On my old SPARCStation, CDE runs well, but GNOME is just too much. With GNOME, I can watch the window frame come up, then watch the text getting drawn, then watch the button outlines get drawn, then watch the button text get drawn, then I can finally click on a button, then another window appears, and the whole thing repeats.

As long as Sun continues OS support for its old 32-bit workstations and even the older 64-bit workstations, they will need to ship an alternative to GNOME.

That's what I was saying... (2)

h. simpson (464174) | more than 13 years ago | (#72241)

I was actually talking to my friend a few minutes ago about this very idea.

For people coming from a life of windows, linux can be a very scary world. I had problems from day one, (day one being not so long ago), just getting around to things. I wanted to set up my NIC and I was trying to figure out where i could go to Network Neighborhood, finally realizing there is no network neighborhood. Then there was changing the resolution...I rightclicked expecting to see Properties and go through that easy Windows process. NOTHING! That took some time too.

Granted I am not the smartest person in the world, but I am a CS major and computers are my life! I was so used to the Windows way of doing things that shifting over for just the easiest things took some time.

The worst part is that apparently unclean stoppage of Linux is a much worse prospect than Windows...I suppose it really isn't an issue because of Linux's supposed reliability...but if anyone hasn't yet simply turned their computer off accidently while running Linux....I dare you..

thats nice to hear... (1)

robiewp (468153) | more than 13 years ago | (#72243)

thats nice to hear... does it mean i can claim to have merrit in what i say? i wish they would do the same thing for windows (find some people who have never touched it) and see what GUI comes out ahead.

Re:Sun and GNOME (1)

kentrox_06 (469575) | more than 13 years ago | (#72245)

They are supposed to start supporting it after the 2.0 release. I got Gnome 1.4 for Solaris 8 right after I installed it. Looks the same as any linux Gnome. Brian
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