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Software Usability As A Technical Problem

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the problem-is-that-people-like-different-things dept.

GUI 551

An anonymous reader writes "Let's face it. Poor user interface design is a big problem in software today, particularly in the Open Source world. A recent article on NewsForge addresses this problem from the perspective that software usability is a technical issue that Open Source developers can and should face and conquer, just as we have conquered other technical problems that have stood in our way." (Slashdot and NewsForge are both part of OSDN.)

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not really (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732618)

Windows has a rather counter intuitive interface, and I'm sure it is rather well funded. The menu is very slow to navigate, and can't really be customized. The desktop is clutter waiting to happen.

Re:not really (3, Insightful)

hostyle (773991) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732654)

I've always wondered about that "desktop is clutter waiting to happen" metaphor. I personally never use it in any OS. The desktop is always covered by applications I am currently using. I've never actually got the whole desktop background / image thing either for the same reason. Am I alone here?

Re:not really (2, Interesting)

noname3 (580108) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732715)

Nope, not alone at all. I've always got windows tiled over my desktop on my windows machine. Eventually, I replaced Explorer with Litestep and shut off the desktop.

However, on my freebsd machine, ion [cs.tut.fi] is very nifty. It lets me keep the windows tiled but makes it much easier to swap between windows too. Plus, it's designed to be used entirely with a keyboard, as opposed to most window managers where mousing with the odd keyboard shortcut is expected.

Re:not really (-1, Redundant)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732934)

You're not exactly alone, but it depends a lot on real estate. With twin 21's I usually see a big window, maybe a full monitor size, and half a dozen small applets in the other monitor. Right now, it's Mozilla on the right screen, and lots of tchotkeys like beatnik clock and winamp windows on the left. About the only program I ever need to scale to cover both at once is x-news. So yes, I pick a nice wallpaper and customize the desktop a lot.

Re:not really (-1, Troll)

Quasar1999 (520073) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732667)

Oh don't worry, with Longhorn everything will be less cluttered, and more useless, as everything is now being treated as 3D... you think it's a pain to find the window with the info you need now? Wait till you have to navigate through a bunch of stacked windows viewed on a 45 degree angle from the z-plane... And I thought the fischer price interface of XP was bad...

Re:not really (4, Insightful)

StateOfTheUnion (762194) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732714)

But the windows interface is familiar . . . and that makes it useful to stay with the same conventions.

Open Source stuff could leverage that familiarity by create exactly the same sort of interface with all the advantages and disadvantages it provides because that would at least be familiar to the Joe Average user.

Re:not really (1)

damm0 (14229) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732806)

Well, "Open Source stuff" is doing exactly that. Witness xpde [xpde.com] , a group dedicated to re-creating the XP desktop. And of course the gnome [gnome.org] and KDE [kde.org] groups are hard at work replicating a great deal of Windows.

Re:not really (5, Insightful)

E-Lad (1262) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732718)

So what you're saying is that because the Windows UI sucks, it is O.K. for anything else to suck as much, too?

Why is it that the first reaction of some people here is to make an excuse?

A UI that is intuitive to navigate is getting more and more important. The reason why Windows is and has been the way it has been since its conception is tha commercial companies don't like to rock the boat. I'm sure MS has come up with tons of ways to improve the Windows UI, but implementing these changes may in their eyes, upset too many customers who are used to it. I still remember certain people getting upitty when the taskbar and Start button were added in Windows 95.

Free software, OTOH, has quite a bit more maneuvering room in this area.

For GUI applications, the UI layout is can no-longer be considered by programmers as the sole kindom of the {Photoshop|GIMP} guy sitting over there and pass all worry of it on to him or her. Just as programmers want good APIs in their code, the Human -> Computer "API" is just as critical to good and satisfactory program and user function. /dale

Re:not really (5, Interesting)

mastergoon (648848) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732839)

No sir, I am not making an excuse. I am just pointing out, UI design is difficult for everyone, not just for OSS.

Finding an interface that will make all your users happy, is next to impossible. I would guess that SOMEONE likes the way each app looks, but not everyone. Linux actually is a step ahead of Microsoft in this regard, due to the fact that a lot of window managers (Kahakai is nice, and we are hard at work on Aegis) are now scriptable, not to mention the basic customizations that have been around forever. While average joe doesn't know how to script up a sweet desktop, distrobution makers can whip out several different setups, and let the user switch between them, rather than the windows way of forcing their interface down your throat.

A lot of times when I first lead people to Linux, I figure I might as well give them Gnome or KDE figuring it will be more intuitive for them. From what I've found though, people are actually much more excited about interfaces like *boxes, once I lead them in the direction of how they can edit the settings and etc. While the big windows-like interfaces may make the transition easier for some, I think a lot of people are very happy with the ability to set up their own, "new and different," UIs.

Re:not really (3, Interesting)

SpectralOne (798062) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732875)

I love slashdot. The first response to anything on this site is "Microsoft is to blame for everything". Has anyone considered that the reason OSS interfaces suck is because there is no incentive to do better? This stuff is free, stop complaining. If you want quality, then pay someone for a better version where the financial gain is an incentive to meet your requirements. Capitalism is evolution; the consumer plays mother nature and chooses the best product. I believe this is true, even if monopolies form (there are monopolies in nature too, they all end eventually) People didn't start using Windows 3.0 just because; it was the best choice for a consumer at the time. The reasons for "best" have now changed (ie. interoperatibility).

Re:not really (1)

mrchaotica (681592) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732904)

I still remember certain people getting upitty when the taskbar and Start button were added in Windows 95.
That's relatively understandable, since it was a big change... but what's really sad is how people got upset about the new two-column Start menu and task-based Control Panel in XP!

Re:not really (5, Insightful)

Prof. Pi (199260) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732993)

So what you're saying is that because the Windows UI sucks, it is O.K. for anything else to suck as much, too?

No, I assume what he means is that if MS, with all its resources, has a hard time in the only area where they seem to make a serious effort, then it must be a difficult task.

Another issue I think needs to be discussed is the way people's biases influence UI design. Some people, especially younger users, seem to think GUI==good automatically, and thus, the more eye candy a UI has, the better it must be. Conversely, they think that a less graphical interface is automatically primitive, and that anyone who criticizes excessively flashy interfaces must be an old fart pining for the days of punch cards. Such people will see lots of eye candy and get a warm fuzzy feeling, and will think that UI is "easier to use." Even though all the stuff just gets in the way, and he has to go down through 4 or 5 levels of menus and/or screens to do the simplest thing.

Unfortunately, such people seem to dominate UI surveys, and UI designers get the message. The result, for me, is endless frustration as the UI keeps trying to "do things for me" and I keep having to hunt some setting down in the dungeons of the preferences editor somewhere to turn off yet another annoying feature.

Speaking of which, does anyone know how to tell XP to stop rearranging menus and/or hiding half of the options? That's such a PITA -- who the hell thought of such a moronic thing?

Re:not really (5, Insightful)

ZZeta (743322) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732843)

No matter how shity Windows is, one thing you can't argue is it's ease of use.

Anyone from a five-year-old to a WWI veteran can sit behing a Windows PC and be browsing the Internet and checking mails in no-time. (mind you, i'm not arguing the risks of this)

That is what OSS should try to learn: simplicity. Average users like it simple and straight-forward, and IMHO that's *one* of the reasons for windows success.

--Just as important, the average user is by now used to the Windows interface, and it wouldn't be that bad of an idea to give them the power and strength of OSS with a windows-like interface which they are more comfortable with.

Re:not really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732855)

What?? I thin the programs menu is the best thing MS has done for Windows...it's organized in folders so you dont need a kludge like kmenuedit. And you can right clcikc on the actualy items to edit them...I can't believe you're dissing that :/

Re:not really (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732939)

Actually, I can't speak for all distros, but I know at least Gentoo automatically takes care of adding all new programs to the Gnome and KDE menus if you have the correct flags in your USE variable.

ILL GIVE YOU SOME USABILITY (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732888)

if the user doesn't like the interface, just beat them!

Re:not really (5, Insightful)

Walt Dismal (534799) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732957)

The problem basically is a failure of vision by management.

Most companies I work for as a contractor consider the UI design as an afterthought, an unwanted burden, or a mere exercise for the programmer who was assigned the interface screen. The development managers have been hardnosed pragmatic guys who see no sense in spending their budget on any 'needless' items like psychology and design of a proper UI. These clowns also see no sense in developing state diagrams for the control flow on interfaces. The result is often interfaces that have unlearnably convoluted navigation. This is just unforgivably bad design practice. Sometimes I have to state chart the UI to prove that the interface is broken and bad. I often see interfaces that dynamically change their functionality - same screen, but buttons and selectors come and go depending on the state, new navigational connectivities invisibly appear and disappear - all of which confuses the hell out of users.

See, a user first encountering an interface has to build a mental model of meanings of objects, control flow/states, and navigation. Your goal as a designer or programmer is make the UI design easily learnable and usable. That's both a science and an art.

I've also seen far too many UIs employing flashy objects that interfere with the readability. I don't care if a button looks like a 3D gem, if I can't read the friggin text label quickly and easily under the gloss, it's a failure. Yet I've seen $6 million corporate software with unreadable browser-based interfaces apparently designed by a 16 year old Web designer with attention-deficit disorder.

Visual readability, learnability, ease of understanding navigation, three major rules.

Expanding market? (5, Insightful)

LeahofRivendell (797671) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732626)

Isn't this synonymous for saying that the market for computer software has grown so much that all sorts of people are using it?

Re:Expanding market? (4, Insightful)

MasterVidBoi (267096) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732891)

No. This was a problem even when only geeks used linux. Just because you are a 1337 h4x0r doesn't mean the interface doesn't matter.

My most recent example? I decided on the advice of a friend to try Fluxbox a few days ago. In fluxbox, pretty much all configuration of happens inside a context menu. Fluxbox was definitly designed for technical users, but that doesn't change the fact that this is *terrible* UI design. Why? let me count the ways:

- Error prone: if you move the mouse the wrong way, you have to drill through several levels of submenu to get back to where you want to be. Similarly, when you activate a menu item with a submenu, you have to drag the mouse straight across the current menu horizontally until it enters the submenu, then drag up or down to the item you want. If you do the natural motion (drag diagonally directly to the desired item), the mouse will almost invariably cross another submenu first, forcing you to go back and re-activate the menu you wanted.

- Bad choice of widget for the type of action necessary: Incrementing or derementing transparency levels as a menu item!? It takes ~20 clicks to go all the way from opaque to fully transparent.

- Slow: In keeping with the previous comments, actually making this menu system work takes time and concentration. Fluxbox devs and users may think they're cool for having 'every option at your fingertips', but actually getting to those fingertips takes longer than if they had brought up a conventional window with sliders and buttons.

There are a set of utilities that provide conventional GUIs for configuring these things, but they are quite incomplete feature-wise, and suffer from their own ugly interface problems. In addition, you have to restart fluxbox to see the changes. Things done in a preferences panel should take effect instantly, which gives the user the ability to experement easily, giving them, in effect, more control.

There's been a lot of research done on how menus should work, and submenus really slow users down. A lot. For this reason, Apple's UI guides recommend that under no circumstances should you ever have a submenu inside another submenu, to eliminate this nasty nesting.

Just because you or I are technical users doesn't change the fact that there are other interfaces for this functionality that are faster and more forgiving.

Newbury Comics (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732634)

Why is Newbury Comics so sucky? It's almost as bad as Hot Topic. Your Subculture, Pre-packaged!

FC2 (2, Interesting)

matgorb (562145) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732637)

Well i think it is true but companies like red hat did some pretty good stuff like their blue curve theme for Gnome, I mean I love Gnome, I love the spatial nautilus (in term of usability it is just a dream for me) but the default theme for Gnome that i got in Slackware was a drawback in comparaison.. I love bluecurve

Re:FC2 (1)

petabyte (238821) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732825)

Dropline Gnome comes with both "redhat-artwork" and "ximian-artwork". You can install that version (or just install the redhat artwork package) and you'll have Bluecurve. I'm typing this from my slackware laptop running the bluecuve theme.

Duplicate? (2, Informative)

stevenvi (779021) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732640)

How is this much different from this article [slashdot.org] posted just four days ago?

Arthur Dent: Have you got a solution? (3, Funny)

Threni (635302) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732641)

Ford Prefect: No, but I've got a different name for the problem.

- The Hitck-Hikers Guide To The Galaxy.

Evolve (1, Interesting)

telstar (236404) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732642)

The OSS community needs to attract artists to the OSS movement. Attract artists. Hand over your tools to their creativity and allow them to go wild. Write your software so that it can be expanded with skins, and visually re-configured ad-nauseum by the user. Throw out the existing menu/window paradigm and think beyond what you've grown accustomed to. Write your own GUI widgets instead of dragging and dropping something from your existing library. A technical solution doesn't need to guide the application to a solution of usability ... but it should provide enough flexibility so that the users can evolve the application to a usable form that fits precisely their personalized needs.

Clarify (1)

LeahofRivendell (797671) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732710)

I'm assuming by "attract artists" you mean hire artists to create the user interface, not leave the interface up to the user.

Re:Clarify (1)

Artifakt (700173) | more than 10 years ago | (#9733000)

I'm not sure what he means, but supporting artists is often different than hiring them. Take Newsplorer. It's a skinable news/headline ticker for Windows 95-XP, currently in alpha stage (v 0.51 a). The creator is already including a tutorial about skinning the program on his site, and finding space to keep submitted skins eather on his site or others, even though the project is still a long way from v 1.0. Knowing that they have been included early in the design process is often all it takes to attract artists.

http://www.newsplorer.com/

Artists aren't necessarily usability experts... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732724)

See KJofol/Winamp3, and Trillian among others. You've got dozens of very beautiful skins for your apps that are a bitch to actually use. Visual beauty while nice does not a usable app make.

What is needed is a consistent, predictable interface across all of a desktop's apps. In practice, this is a lot harder than just making it look pretty.

Complexity options (1)

DigiShaman (671371) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732989)

What software needs over anything else is complexity levels. For example, may the software out-of-the-box easy to use with no more then 10 features to get the basic job done. Then, once the user gets comfortable, they can get more granular options buy toggling to more advance settings.

The idea is to prevent "Feature shock" when using a new program. Yet, have it flexible enough for a user that is comfortable with a progrma and would like to explore into more option that are availabe but yet not enabled by default.

Note: ICQ takes the philosphy into account rather well with it's GUI.

Re:Evolve (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732732)

one of the first things they teach you in usability classes: complete customization and skinning does not equal good usability and can confuse normal users. It's best to stay with the default look-and-feel of other common programs. "normal" users want a clear interface that works and looks as expected. (Note: you and your friends are not "normal" users).

Re:Evolve (1)

hostyle (773991) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732746)

I agree. One big drawback with creating themes for KDE (for example) is that being merely a graphic artist is no real help. I've seen many posts on kde-look.org with concepts that have never been implemented - simply because any themes you create require a programming knowledge for no reason I can fathom. What are APIs for?

Re:Evolve (2, Interesting)

ZZeta (743322) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732761)

I think the problem isn't about the appearence of the interface, but rather the intuitivity of it.

I mean: right now most OSS has lots of skins and different possible interfaces, but most newbies don't even know how to switch them on. And that's because the software isn't intuitive.

Say you want to add a new remote printer: it's no use that the menus were designed by an artist, have several combining colors and so on, if you don't even know were to start from.

What the community needs to start paying more attention to, is the non-geek user who would rather have it simple and straight-forward than full of options he/she doesn't even know what they mean, and how to set them.

OSS is counter-intuitive, and even though it is making great progress, it still has a long way to go.

Re:Evolve (4, Insightful)

dracvl (541254) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732784)

Bollocks.

Skinning has done more to ruin usability of applications than anything else the last 10 years. Skinning has absolutely nothing to do with usability, it's purely visual customization.

Throwing out the menu/window paradigm is a very bad idea, as you get rid of the only thing the user will be able to re-use from other applications in yours.

I haven't read the article yet (on my way there now), but the parent poster has no idea what constitutes good UI, and shouldn't be modded up. I assume the article has more sane advice.

And yes, IAAID (I am an interaction designer).

Re:Evolve (1)

CaptnMArk (9003) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732910)

>it's purely visual customization

Things are even worse if it isn't.

Re:Evolve (5, Insightful)

Cid Highwind (9258) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732804)

No no no!

Artists give us interfaces like ATI's TV recording software. All flash and no function. The more artistic freedom an app gives to skin designers, the more time I have to spend squinting at the cryptic emblems and trying to click on the 3-pixel-wide "play" button. Look at an old version of Windows media player (before v6), and marvel at how much easier it is to use than WMP 9 or Winamp 5. It uses the same widgets as the rest of the desktop, so you don't have to spend any time at all trying to decide where to click to activate each button. Artists understand what looks good, but very few of them have a grasp of what's easy to use.

It's better to write everything for a standard set of GUI widgets, and provide a mechanism for theming those standard widgets to look cool. That way, all your apps look consistent, and you can change the look-and-feel without having to re-learn all the interfaces.

in other words ... (1)

wobblie (191824) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732852)

give up completely and retreat utterly into total nerdery. :-)

Re:Evolve (2, Insightful)

FosterKanig (645454) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732877)

Sort of responding to all the responses, not necessarily this post.
Usability is having the majority of features that normal (not programmers) use easily accessible. And then a layer below, have all of the power/complexity you want. Think of what the majority or normal users use the majority of the time. It's not that hard to do if you can just step back from yourself. Adding cool geek functions on the top level does not make the program better. It makes it more confusing.

Re:Evolve (3, Insightful)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732882)

Do you really mean you'd like to see and use a GUI designed by Picasso?

When contemplating a paint or sculpture from Picasso, you may be there and think for minutes trying to understand what Picasso was thinking while doing this paint/sculpture.

So, I don't really think you really mean artists, but rather than designers. That's not quite the same.

Re:Evolve (5, Insightful)

stickb0y (260670) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732909)

Attract artists.

Usable doesn't mean pretty. Pretty doesn't mean usable. Artists can add aesthetic polish, but if they don't know anything about usability, they'll just make the problem worse. Look at Kai's Power Tools or the various other applications that try to look happy or fun but end up being totally non-standard and difficult to use.

Write your software so that it can be expanded with skins

Skins are not a solution to usability. Skins are a punt. To me, skins represent everything that's wrong: the software developers doesn't feel like spending the effort to time on design and doing usability testing, so they throw on a skin system and let the user deal with it.

How many users actually go create their own customized skins? And most skins out there usually cater more to aesthetics than utility.

Plus, there's the perpetual problem where every application has its own skin, and nothing is consistent with anything else. If necessary, global themes should be used for personalization; per-application skins are a mess.

Write your own GUI widgets instead of dragging and dropping something from your existing library.

Good lord, no. Please, please don't reinvent GUI widgets. Lack of consistency is one of the problems, especially in the OSS world where there are a zillion and one widget toolkits. Do you want a dozen different textboxes where some of them allow copy/paste and some of them inexplicably don't? Or maybe some of them can't handle Unicode, or maybe some of them don't have keyboard shortcuts to select text, or who knows what else.

Standardize. Stop bickering, stop wasting time reinventing things, and then everyone can focus on real usability issues.

RTFM (-1, Offtopic)

adisakp (705706) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732644)

Read The FINE Manual ??? Yeah, right. Fine FUCKING right that is.

/. 101, Lesson 42: AvoidingThe Dreaded Offtopic (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732811)

Hmmm, RTFM eh ... reminds me of RTFA. You must be new here. Otherwise you should know that people don't RTFA. Hence, your comment gets modded as Offtopic. Remember, moderators are very, very quick to use Offtopic the second they don't understand something.

Next time, remember to quote the section of the article you are refering to. Like this:

Discussions on our usability email lists are noisy, full of anecdotes and not so humble opinions. We cannot tell each other to RTFM (read the fine manual) because there isn't one.

Saying that this block is 'from the article' or something doesn't hurt, either.

Peace out.

yeah, look at xcdroast... (2)

Chuck Bucket (142633) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732653)

I had to walk a newbie through it's UI the other day to burn an ISO - damn, talk about a UI that needs an overhaul. don't get me wrong, it's all I use when I need a GUI burner, and I'm responsible for burning all of our code and apps for distribution, so I like it, bu tit could use some...useability.

But don't get me started on the apps we produce...blech!

BFCB@$

Re:yeah, look at xcdroast... (4, Funny)

Junta (36770) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732735)

.... tit could use some useability...

If there is one thing in this world that doesn't need useability improvements, that would be it...

As the quote goes:
"The only intuitive interface is the nipple, after that, it's all learned."

Re:yeah, look at xcdroast... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732786)

You need to try k3b my friend.

It is the best cd burning front end for any OS, period.

Easy to use, great looking art, complete feature set yet to be seen on any one windows program, etc.

Re:yeah, look at xcdroast... (1)

Chuck Bucket (142633) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732840)

hmmm...I've been meaning to, now I will. thanks!

CBD

Re:yeah, look at xcdroast... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732874)

I also found the xcdroast UI to be absolutely horrific.

Moo (5, Insightful)

Chacham (981) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732655)

Software should be designed, not just coded. And interface must be part of the design.

Personally, i like to ask the users what they want to see. Let *them* draw the screens, then merely implement it. A three-tiered approach is best, where called for. The backend should be design and implemented according toi a decent set of guidelines and rules, and the frontend should be completely designed by the user. The middle teir is where the magic should happen, even using a nasty hack here and there.

Ultimately the disparity between those who code software, and those who use software is a big problem. Perhaps a recognition of the separate group will go a long way.

Re:Moo (1)

m05 (690031) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732863)

you see the result of asking users in the windows xp and os x userinterface. it has to be fun and colorfull. usablity is not that important. it is not the main selling aspect... if you let the user define his interface it gets unusable. it is the duty of the designers to design it together with the developers. hand in hand from the beginning of the development. not just at the end to make the ui fancy.

The Simpsons (4, Funny)

BiggerIsBetter (682164) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732919)

Remember Homer's car?

Re:Moo (1)

kniLnamiJ-neB (754894) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732963)

Where's mod points when you need them? Right on. I have a retail sales job; our first duty is to give the customer what he/she wants. It doesn't matter how "intuitive" you are if you don't provide what they already know they want. Get them more involved in it.

Re:Moo (2, Insightful)

skraps (650379) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732970)

Let *them* draw the screens, then merely implement it.
Bzzzt. Wrong. Users have no idea what they want.
The average developer knows zero about good ui design. The average user knows less than that.

Not just "technical" (2, Insightful)

Alex711 (585263) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732656)

All of the technical skills in the world are useless if the programmer doesn't understand what people want (or at least would like).
However, it is very expensive and difficult to really understand how people use things. The solution, I think, starts with taking user-friendly interfaces from other products (and not just software ... machines that people use everyday, such as TV remotes and their "Recall" button (kinda like alt-tab), can teach us things).

A good book (5, Informative)

Chairboy (88841) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732660)

A great book on the subject of the importance of software usability is Set Phasers on Stun: And Other True Tales of Design, Technology, and Human Error [amazon.com] . The title sounds funny until you read that it comes from a story about the infamous Therac-25 where a victim (who was killed by the device) was quoted as saying 'Captain Kirk forgot to set his phaser to stun'.

It's a collection of 20 or so stories about where human factors problems caused injuries and, in many cases, death. Poor documentation, unclear designs, and poor handling of expected user situations (for instance, the reactor technician being pinned to the ceiling by a control rod because there wasn't a safety stop to prevent supercriticallity) is serious business.

There's more to usabillity and human factors then just 'that guy is too stupid to use linux', it can literally be the difference between life and death.

Re:A good book (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732867)

a victim (who was killed by the device) was quoted as saying

He came back from the dead? Cool.

Common User Access (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732679)

I subscribe to the tenant, "Your application should look like the standard applications in your environment." If you are in windows, make your application menus like Microsoft Word as much as possible. I seem to remember IBM came out with a standard called Common User Access which essentially boils down to this.

Yes a technical problem, but of different nature (4, Interesting)

StateOfTheUnion (762194) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732691)

I'm not an active open source community person (just a user) . . . but I have to wonder if the open source community attracts the kind of people typically needed to create excellent interfaces. I'm talking about people that are into ergonomics, spatial perceptions and relationships for desingning interfaces e.g. psychologists, product designers and the like. These are the kind of folks that come up with familiar and intuitive interfaces and design button layouts for consumer products.

Re:Yes a technical problem, but of different natur (1)

dbc (135354) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732755)

The issue is not that those people don't exist -- it's figuring out how to attract them to projects. This goes two ways: a) code monkeys need to figure out how to incorporate their input, and b) they need to figure out how to join up with a project and contribute in a meaningful sense with something other than patches.

OTTOMH (off the top of my head) perhaps one way is to create "team of two" submitters. Pair a UI coder closely with a UI "critical thinker".

Re:Yes a technical problem, but of different natur (5, Informative)

Cerebus (10185) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732895)

Apple's Human Interface Guidelines [apple.com] is a good place to start, and is online for free.

It represents many years' worth of HID research. It's not the end-all, be all of HID, but it's one helluvalot better than nothing.

Re:Yes a technical problem, but of different natur (1)

Tony Hoyle (11698) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732964)

Actually most users have an idea of what they like/dislike in a UI... I like to encourage users to criticise things like the layout of buttons, how to do stuff, etc. If someone does the wrong thing because a step is ambiguous, or worse can't work out what to do next, that's a UI bug, and should be fixed (and remember even the command line has a UI... used by different people perhaps but their input is just as valuable).

Over time the complaints/suggestions drop off as most people are happy with the way things work (take careful note of the experience of new users as they can often bring up things that you've missed).

OSS helps here as you can release development/prerelease code every couple of weeks an tweak until it's right. Commercial projects are often tied to release schedules so can't do this.. but then they have the money to hire profesisonals.

Re:Yes a technical problem, but of different natur (2, Insightful)

Speare (84249) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732954)

The OSS community is fragmented, and values "do it yourself" too highly. Developers don't ASK for designs (other than skins and icons), and they ignore any interaction designs you offer them. I'd like to see that change, but honestly, I see little hope. There are very few people who can both design for the user AND implement the design.

OSS has no user interface problems (for me) (1, Troll)

damm0 (14229) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732697)

I am a user of software, and the interface I've come to use more than any other for my professional work is vi.

From my perspective, OSS has no user interface problems. The interfaces I use are first rate - mostly that's why I use open source software. A good UI is something that can only be judged from the needs of the people that use it.

Re:OSS has no user interface problems (for me) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732760)

You are not a normal user. Neither are your friends and neither am I for that matter. When they are talking about improving usability they are referring to casual users.

Re:OSS has no user interface problems (for me) (2, Interesting)

damm0 (14229) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732917)

I am sick of hearing "I'm not a normal user." It is true that most users are not software developers, however there is a very wide range of users, with a very diverse range of needs.

What this means is that people who call for "similar applications" and "uniform experience" are just kidding themselves. The software I use and write works *very* well for me. Is pandering to a specific audience a problem? Or am I obliged to write software that I can't use?

Re:OSS has no user interface problems (for me) (1)

Fortun L'Escrot (750434) | more than 10 years ago | (#9733005)

that's exactly right. and what it takes to learn a new UI is to map one's own conceptual experiences on to the object that is represented by the UI.

problems arise with the language. the UI is like an agent representing the programmer/mechanic/etc that designed the software or the car. what this means is that the user communicates with this agent, and if both have languages that are too dissimilar you get the same kinds of language problems that you find when you are in a foreign country with alien customs.

while everyone has a different level of conceptual knowledge, UI designers should pay close attention to universal symbols as well as cultural symbols and their effective uses in the media. after all advertisers must do this if they want people to buy a product. a commercial is a form of education. the most successful advertisers are those able to present the symbols in a way that any viewer can relate to the presentation. software UIs should follow this lead.

linked article is an generalised rant (1)

hostyle (773991) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732719)

Linked article seems more like a rant to me. There are usable applications under KDE (and it seems the whole rant is about KDE, rather than other WMs). In my experience there are perfectly usable and - dare I say - simplistically beautiful UIs for many applications, such as k3b, firefox and thunderbird. In fact, I've yet to see a more user friendly application than k3b. Kudos to its developers.

usability problems aren't just technical problems (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732728)

The author alludes to the real problem with usability and open source when he comment about egotistical mailings on the newsgroups.

Too many open source developpers think of themselves as GUI experts. Until developpers are prepared to give up their egos and admit that while they may be shit-hot kernel coders, they know jack-shit about GUI development, open source will be stuck with poor usability. Unfortunately everyone seems to have their opinion on GUI development, and somehow believe that their opinion is right, despite having no training whatsoever in usuability engineering (does this remind you of how everyone is a 'pop psychologist', and a 'pop computer language expert'? -- it should).

Until developpers understand that GUI development is hard, and that it's also a science with reputable metrics, and until GUI developpers are put on the same footing as other developpers in projects, open source will continue to have poor usability.

Apologies for being so harsh on the open source world, but that's the reality of it, and we need to face that fact.

I keep hearing this ... (1)

wobblie (191824) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732729)

but I think that far and away custom commercial RAD built apps have the worst interfaces I've ever seen in my life - and this is most of the software people are using at work. COTS closed source software generally has a pretty polished UI, but everything i've ever seen built with RAD tools sucks so bad they couldn't ever sell it on the shelves. I'm not talking about nit picks like interface clutter or where the "File" menu is, but about shit like "make sure you put a trailing "@" sign on all time sheet queries run not on the current month" type crap or queries that fla because there was a "rogue whitespace" in the input (yeah you all know what I'm talking about). I'm talking about horrible kludges in the back end that seeped into the UI because people are just plain fucking lazy. How come no one ever complains about this stuff? From where I sit, this sort of shit makes the UI problems of OSS look like a non-issue.

Most Free Software actually has a very well designed and thought out UI, it's just designed with people who are willing to read in mind.

Usability (5, Interesting)

Jim_Hawkins (649847) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732730)

I like this quote from the article:

Here's an example: Konqueror, KDE's file and web browser, has a menu entry called "smbUmount." I don't need a laboratory with video gear to figure out that this is nearly impossible for non-hacker users to understand.

Exactly. Submit it as a bug. This is the first thing. Many of the people who work on OSS projects realize that there is a usability problem. However, nobody wants to do anything about it. It seems that many developers do not consider usability issues to be a defect in the software. As a person who is *very* interested in usability of software (part of my degree), I have to disagree -- issues with usability is a MAJOR defect. It's the reason that many people will not turn to Linux/OSS options. They are scared by the command line. They don't like it when menus in one program do not match up with menus in others. I can't say I blame 'em! (Well, I like the command line, but that's a byproduct of me being a nerd.)

As a backup to my previous statement, I am constantly submitting usability bugs to projects when I find them. However, I am constantly ignored. WHY? There are so many things that could be improved upon and made easier so it's more appealing to the users. Why do you think Microsoft products do so well? People recognize them. They know where stuff is. There's no guesswork needed.

And, yes, some OSS projects do this very well. Mozilla products (Firefox, etc.) are very well designed. There are minor usability flaws, but nothing that isn't easy to figure out.

Personally, I would love to sit down with a team and work through usability issues. I would love to have someone actually show some interest in fixing these problems. However, it seems that, too many times, these issues are discarded for ones that are more technical. And, of course, the usability issues will come up again later. It's a pretty vicious cycle that needs to be stopped. If only someone were willing to do it.

(BTW - I realize I could code these changes myself, but I do not have the necessary skills to do this. Otherwise, I would.)

Re:Usability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732916)

Many of the people who work on OSS projects realize that there is a usability problem. However, nobody wants to do anything about it.

That's not true. It's just that given the choice between making something easier to use, and adding features, the developers are usually going to add features. After all, it's already easy enough for them to use, and they develop it to scratch their own itches, right?

Why do you think Microsoft products do so well?

Because they've been rammed down our throats for the past couple of decades. Seriously, Microsoft makes loads of big mistakes when it comes to usability. It's just that you are so used to them, you have grown accustomed to getting by.

Re:Usability (1)

Jim_Hawkins (649847) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732932)

Seriously, Microsoft makes loads of big mistakes when it comes to usability. It's just that you are so used to them, you have grown accustomed to getting by.

;-) No I haven't. MS does not exist on my computer. I've been using Linux for a long time now.

But, yes, I guess MS has been shoved down people's throats. But, even in that case, most everything (at least their main features) are very consistent across all products. That's the point I was attempting to make. Sorry if it got mistranslated.

Re:Usability (4, Insightful)

Quasar1999 (520073) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732996)

I'm a software developer, I work on commerical software. What you propose is great, lets fix the usability problems, and then worry about the technical 'behind the scenes' problems.

The problem is, that there are many cases where a seemingly minor UI change to the program would downright destroy the backend. For example (and it's a crappy one, I know, trying not to overcomplicate it...) Take a look at how the clipboard works. You can copy one item of infromation on it at once, and take one item off at once. As an end user, I don't understand why I can't copy text from notepad on it, then copy an image from paint, and then paste the text I had into Word, and paste the image I have back into paint. Obviously all the changes needed would be to know what I want to paste. Problem comes when as a programmer I now have to figure out what to paste where. Text into notepad, that's easy... but what about Word... now what, image or text? Okay, lets ask the user... oh wait, I can't, because I'm not able to do any UI in another program (hypothetically here...)

Yes it can be solved, but from a user point of view, it's minor, and from a programmers point of view it is damned complex and not worth the trouble. Let the user do two copy operations, instead of me having to write and debug thousands of lines of code that is trying to assume what the user wants (and the user will bitch about if I get it wrong anyways). Add to that most OSS developers are doing this for free, and are not going to want to rewrite their backend just for a seemingly minor UI change, which isn't going to make everyone happy, just a few people who complained.

What some people find intuitive is complex for others... there is no happy median... there will always be UI's that are not liked by some... there is no perfect UI design out there... and very few people willing to try and find it, especially for free.

who gives a shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732739)

No really. I have an itch. I write some code to scratch it, however the hell I see fit. If you want to use it, go ahead, if not, don't, I don't care.

Now where the hell do you get off telling me how to scratch MY itch?

Re:who gives a shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732864)

That's great.

I just better now hear any whining out of you about how open source is so great but no one uses it and all the ISP and hardware vendors refuse to support becuase barely %1 of end users use it...

Want to be billy badass developer who Doesn't Give a Shit...fine, just don't bitch about how some vendor won't support the OS or how everyone uses windows instead.

Not exactly a techincal problem (1)

Codebender (614333) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732742)

My day job is writing windows software, and I can tell you that usability is not something that can be unilaterally called a technical issue. Some usability issues like response time and the ability to access various features through more than one interface (e.g. menu, keyboard and context menu) can be stated as an issue and specifically checked off as completed. Engineers like this kind of thing. Other usability requirements like "good menu layout" and "clear feature separation" can't realy be quantified like that, which makes them difficult to manage.

The desktop is not the problem.... (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732751)

Let's talk about applications. One glamourous example is GIMP.
In my job I do a lot of technical documentation and I like when my work is pretty and easy understood.
I know I can get almost any task done with Gimp, but I also know that if I use Gimp I dont get my work done - simply because the interface is too difficult.
There's nothing wrong with advanced interfaces but rocket scientists should not have to have the skills and experience of Technical witers in order to document their project.

Re:The desktop is not the problem.... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732838)

That's a good point. I only need occasional use of Gimp. I never use it for extended periods and consequently I never really learn the interface well. It is very complicated. Gimp really is not for the casual user.

O'Reilly has a book about Gimp and a also a pocket reference. I think the pocket reference is about $10. The pocket reference might be the way to go.

Along the same lines (1)

cloudkj (685320) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732756)

Another important issue in revolutionizing usability awareness and improving the design of applications is to stress the importance of learning about such concepts in post secondary educational institutions.

I'm not sure how many of the top universities around the world include topics such as user interface design in their computer science curriculum, but it really needs to be on the to-do list if it isn't currently included. As devices get smaller and the user bases of different technologies increase, the demand for intuitive, simple, and elegant user interface designs is ever more present.

A Mix of everything is best (1)

agraupe (769778) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732765)

A nice, usable, set of GUI guidelines for OSS would be positive for the adoption of linux by the wider community. But that doesn't mean it's necessary. Sometimes I think OSS developers/users/zealots forget that it doesn't matter how many people turn away from closed-source software, it is the fact that some people get a benefit from it. I think that the best solution, at least from my point of view, would be to create a standard framework for coding applications, that would then allow all users to use a drag-and-drop interface to connect to the various features of the application. Sure a default layout would be provided, but all elements could be easily moved around and connected/disconnected from the backend without ever seeing the code. This might be too much to ask for at the moment, but I think it would be a step in the right direction.

Yes, yes, and no. (1)

toxic666 (529648) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732772)

I agree with the overall objectives outlined in the article -- a respoitory of usability recommendations, teaching tools and manuals, etc -- one thing that open source development offers is the ability to get user input early in the process. Open source development tends to be more incremental and open to review at early stages, and this offers the ability to get early user involvement.

I'm responsible for the IT department at my company and have had ideas for certain tools in mind. The developers are excellent and can put together something usable. However, by involving end-users early in the process, we've been able to develop applications that are tailored specific to the industry's needs. Not only the direct end-users, but potentially offering the applications as services to customers.

Open source has a better potential to evolve more usable applications IF (and that's a big IF) developers can target communities of end users early in the process and seek their "non-technical" input. Some of the larger projects out there (and I won't name names) suffer usability issues precisely because they do not have that kind of end-user interaction; they tend to be fiefdoms of a select group of developers who know how to code, but lack experience with diverse groups of end-users. Even those users with little coding and systems knowledge can be quite beneficial to making software usable by the masses, precisely because they lack technical expertise.

The biggest problems that i tend to see (1)

Clever Pun (729719) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732777)

are when software has multiple, seemingly redundant menu options, and when software behaves in an unexpected and (relatively) unexplained manner. I base these observations on my mother, who has difficulty programming a microwave. She's not by any means an unintelligent person, she's just not technologically inclined, and some of the things that we Geeks absorb and automatically 'get' give her more trouble than my teenage siblings.

I wholeheartedly subscribe to the theory that if my (mother|grandmother) can use it without any more assistance than usual (troubleshooting and the like), it's a generally well-designed product.

Okay... (2, Insightful)

CosmeticLobotamy (155360) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732779)

Maybe I missed the point, but this seems to be an article that says, "This is the problem we all know about. The solution is to fix the problem."

Until people start taking human factors seriously (4, Insightful)

Anton Anatopopov (529711) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732781)

We will never get usable software. Very few CS courses make their students study cognitive psychology, or design, or anything else in the 'creative' area of science.

Your average linux-using developer thinks that everyone else is as smart as he is, and that command line interfaces are a good thing. The GUI is seen as a fisher-price interface for retards.

We need to get rid of this way of thinking. Software should be like a vending machine. You press a button, and it does exactly what its supposed to.

Linix and Windoze have set back the cause of usable software about 20 years!

Re:Until people start taking human factors serious (1)

g0hare (565322) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732930)

I feel that part of this problem is that the colleges (and the students and most everybody) do not feel that any of that stuff is necessary - a "roundedness" in education is no longer what people want. They want a degree that gets them a job making money. Of course perhaps that's the way it's always been and I'm just getting old.............

Re:Until people start taking human factors serious (2, Insightful)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 10 years ago | (#9733010)

Open source is full of people that are completely out of touch with reality.

The people who are involved in OSS have outright contempt for those who 'merely' use the software and think that everyone should want to type things like
ls -la |grep foo > foo.txt
to do their job - and that if they don't they're mindless idiots that aren't worth considering the opinion of.

good graphic designers (2, Insightful)

stonebeat.org (562495) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732785)

i speak this from experience: there are 2 kinds of good graphics designers: 1) those who have a real job; and 2) those who work a starbuck (or other coffee shops) Those who have a real job, make way too much money to care about OpenSource stuff. And those who work at coffee shops don't have enough time/money to spend on OpenSource stuff. Both of these types don't have time to write HOWTOs on good User Interface design.

Voice (1)

toetagger1 (795806) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732797)

Does anyone know of any applications that are nativly voice activated (other than games)? It would be kind of cool to have "voice activaited dialing" in a browser to go to your bookmarks, or lets say a voice activated calculater. Once those apps become more standard, we can think of doing more complex tasks.

Less is more (0)

shubert1966 (739403) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732798)

I always find new ways to integrate logic just about the time my testing is generating throughput without errors. The app works - it's just that "it can always work BETTER." If you're certain it's the interface - look at how messed up Win XP and Mac are. They lead you by the hand whether you like it or not. I know that sounds wrong but if your market is 'geek' they will likely appreciate having just the facts, and not aliases(sic).


Obviously the product should not just be usable, but intuitive. Crossing that line and being glossy can mean you're hiding the functionality behind graphic design or a perceived learning curve, which distracts from the intuitiveness.

Users are smarter now-a-days. They still want 'turnkey' solutions not kludgeware, but with computer technology still growing in complexity I'm suprised a bunch of hardcore ragtag programmers think they're going to fall behind in adoption because of mindshare.

Recommend-a-newbie (4, Interesting)

tezza (539307) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732800)

I think that people on the project need to volunteer friends, wives, parent to accomplish the user tests.

This is the secret to open source stuff: drawing on the community skill. This method is just in a non 'programming-skill' oriented fashion

If you get a Chilean developer to have his grandpa, who has no stereo vision, have half a look at it, then there'll be lots more important feedback, at least after Babelfish has done its work.

I just doubt it will get better. (1)

Steve G Swine (49788) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732801)

The article rips on someone who named a menu item captioned "smbUmount"... no doubt it's perfectly usable for the guy that wrote it. Why would he stop and "fix" it?

People who want to scratch their itch in ways you'd like to watch are rare, companred to people who just want to scratch in front of you. We'll have to avert our eyes from much of hobby-written software forever.

We use the users in designing (5, Insightful)

StateOfTheUnion (762194) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732803)

When we design systems for plants we typically involve the users . . . like for a compactor, the users demanded that two separate buttons be pressed to engage the machine and the buttons must be held down and must be located about 1 yard apart.

Why? Because then to operate the machine, each of the users hands had to hold down a separate button making it nearly impossible for the user to inadvertently reach into the machine while it was running.

At first I thought it was a silly thing to do that would insult the operator's intelligence (who would be stupid enough to reach into a compactor while it was running?) But one of the operators confided that it was a great idea because after being burned out from working a couple of double shift days in a row, he didn't want to loose his hand from a simple operational oversight.

The operational interface was well recieved because we gave the users ownership in the design process. I think that the same should apply in designing software UIs.

KDE, Gnome, Linux... (3, Insightful)

halo1982 (679554) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732830)

I've tried to switch over several times, and I just can't do it. KDE and Gnome get better and better, but they are still so different from the Windows I've been using for the past 14 years. I always have the same problems: I can't find things, wizards don't work properly forcing me to go to HOWTOs and the command line/conf files, and theres not enough integration between the window managers and X. I'm quite technically competent and I get better and better with Linux everytime I try it, but for the average user or your mother/grandmother there is still so much work to be done.

Interface Guidelines (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9732847)

Yeah, nobody pays any attention to interface [apple.com] these days.

Its because developers are running the show (4, Interesting)

fishlet (93611) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732865)

I am a developer myself, so this post is in no way meant to offend developers. However it's true that developers (generally) do not see things the same way that most users do.

When i ponder what makes Microsoft so successful (aside from the questionably legal business practices) is that their company is not ruled by the developers but by the PHB's of this world. Microsoft invest considerable effort into researching what people are actually doing with their computers. Say what you want about them, they are actually pretty good about listening to their customers when it comes to features. By contrast, Linux developers often concentrate on scratching thier own itches which ultimately only appeal to like minded individuals. I could list several things right now that are not easily possible in Linux right now.

I write software for a small company, and we are very blessed to have a very technically less-literate person on our staff. He is our functional expert and he gives us a lot of great feedback on our UI's. Open source projects should never underestimate the value of such a person.

Usability experience with Inkscape (1)

Bryce (1842) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732869)

In the Inkscape project, a lot of attention is placed on usability. As just one example, there are a HUGE number of keybindings for every important command. More importantly, but harder to quantify, is that the 'workflow' has a nice feel to it; as one user put it, "when you need some capability, it's just there where you expect it to be; someone else has obviously been there before me." There's several reasons that I think we've had some successes on this count. First, one of the core developers puts a *great* deal of thought into usability and how he can make it easier for him to use; he is a professional artist as well, and uses Inkscape on a daily basis, so he's definitely scratching his own itch here. Second, we place a lot of importance on what users suggest. We treat usability issues as no different than any other bug, and when a user has an issue trying to get the app to work smoothly and intuitively, we try to address that. This let's us take advantage of the adage "with enough eyes, all (usability) bugs are shallow". Third, we avoid pre-judging suggestions and instead encourage trying out ideas in the codebase. Instead of debating whether a feature would or wouldn't improve usability, we simply apply the patch into the development tree and let everyone try it out. Fourth, we include detailed tutorials with the application, and I think that's helped a lot at explaining how to use the program and what some of the obscure terminology means. Tutorials are a lot more palatable than a dry reference manual, especially when nicely illustrated with SVG drawings. :-) Bryce

Maybe we should be taking hints from games. (4, Insightful)

Gldm (600518) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732876)

Is it just me or are video games way ahead of other apps on user interface? These days most people can pick up a game and given the general type (fps, driving, rts, rpg) have a pretty damn good guess at the interface. It's not that the game authors have agreed on a standard interface for each genre, it's that they've figured out the things that frustrate new gamers the least so they enjoy the game more with less manual reading. When was the last time you had to read a game's manual to actually jump in and play it? I mean just the basic playing around, not the detailed stuff.

Why haven't desktops and apps incorporated advances from here? Let's take an old RTS, say Command and Conquer. The designers figured out how to make a USEABLE virual desktop that DOESN'T SUCK! You can navigate around this huge screenspace and the radar keeps track of where you are. Also, how do they handle things similar to launching apps? Well there's a sidebar full of big easy to distinguish one click icons, and a set of tabs at the top that switches what set of icons is displayed by type (units, buildings, etc). Seems pretty easy to figure out to me. Want to quickly get back to the thing you were last working on? You can designate hotkeys with ctrl+number an then pressing the number jumps back to it. Some RTS's have seperate select and change focus but all seem to use a similar hotkey system.

One of the things that keeps me happier with windows than linux is the at least moderate effort at standardized interfaces. Most apps of simlar types have similar interfaces and I don't have to relearn all the terms that someone decided to use THEIR names for. Every time I see a custom media player or something with this horrible neo-future interface on windows I cringe, because it's such a bad idea. I don't want to spend time relearning how to use a media player just so it can look cool, I want to watch media with it. On linux it seems every app suffers from this "I want to look unique" urge, or a complete lack of asthetic design whatsoever. So your choices are pretty and confusing or ugly and confusing.

Re:Maybe we should be taking hints from games. (1)

MisanthropicProgram (763655) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732986)

It would actually be kinda cool to write a paper using a steering wheel, gearshift, and pedals.

"Oops! I need to capitalize, shift into second. Right pedal to tab right." Oh, you get the idea.

Words of Wisdom (1)

argoff (142580) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732878)

It's alot easier to take a well designed software and give it a pretty GUI later on when priorities better permit than it is to take a pretty looking software and make it well designed after the fact.

Consistency vs. Flexibility (4, Insightful)

graiz (647982) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732914)

There is no UI that will ever satisfy 100% of the people who use it. In a closed source OS you sacrifice UI flexibility for consistency. Not everyone is happy but the UI can be built consistently to satisfy novice users and intermediate users.

In an open source world everyone can customize the software to suite their needs so you sacrifice Consistency and Usability for Flexibility. Advanced users are happy but novices loose out.

If you want to improve usability in Linux or other open source projects you need to put someone in charge of the UI. Linus is the de-facto gatekeeper of the kernel but the UI seems to be fair game for just about anyone.

(A Former MS UI Guy)

Consistency (3, Insightful)

zaphod_bee4 (752609) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732973)

The real key to Good UI design is consistency. Many open source projects have unfinished features, differing UI conventions and throw the user curve balls. This can be expected for testing and non stable releases. However any release labled stable build or 1.0 and so on should have a clear consistent UI and NO I repeat NO unfinished features.

This alone would help greatly. When a user downloads a stable build binary he should never see a menu that doesn't work or a radically different approach to a task that doesn't fit with the rest of the app. CVS snapshot builds and testing builds are a different ballgame.

Also Stable builds need to be clearly marked as such and stressed as the "polished" version.

How bad do you want to attract them? (1)

wyldwyrm (693798) | more than 10 years ago | (#9732978)

The real question in my mind is how badly the open source community wants to attract the average user. Admittedly, it'd be wonderful to have everyone in the world using a more stable O/S, but that would cut down on tech support calls :) Truth is, I don't want everyone using Linux; it leads to more probelems than it's worth. I believe it was one of Chrysler's engineers who said the Viper isn't an easy car to drive, which is good; not every 12 year old out there could steal one.
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