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Conducting a Unix Desktop Usability Study?

Cliff posted more than 8 years ago | from the not-something-you'd-generally-find-in-the-HOWTO-db dept.

GUI 313

cyclop asks: "I am a close friend of a Ph.D. student on human interface usability. She's now working to tailor a KDE-vs-Gnome usability study (a pretty hot topic these days), and I have been called to help, as a long time GNU/Linux desktop user. What kind of advice -- both technical and theoretical -- would you give us on conducting a deep and objective study on the Unix desktop, that can be useful for the developers and the OSS community?""She has installed GNU/Linux and used both KDE and Gnome to get to know them, while I provided her a number of links on background information and previous usability studies on both DE, and advised her to subscribe to relevant mailing lists of both projects. However, I feel that it's not enough and that there are a lot of potential pitfalls and misconceptions that wait for us, me being a geek and she being a Linux newbie. Moreover, she found that most of the previous studies on the web were quite sloppy, in comparison with common usability research standards."

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Allow power-users to tweak settings first. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268689)

No windowing interface is as efficient as it can be out of the box. (for example, for some use-cases, In the Windows world that usually means making things like the File viewer actually show you the files and extentions).

The out-of-the-box setup is a compromise at best; and shouldn't be used to judge the overall usability for people who use the system more than once.

Allow power-users to tweak settings first-NO (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268753)

"The out-of-the-box setup is a compromise at best; and shouldn't be used to judge the overall usability for people who use the system more than once."

I wouldn't recommend doing that.

Re:Allow power-users to tweak settings first. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268762)

how could the study possibly be conducted? each distro seems to package these environments differently. even if you build from source (and there are probably a ton of ./configure options), are you then not allowed to tweak each one the way you want it? why do people argue so much about this stuff? it is a waste of time. people will use what they like and what works best for them. i hope the kde vs. gnome battle goes on forever. choices are good.

Re:Allow power-users to tweak settings first. (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268800)

Well, it would make a comparison useless IMHO.

I think we should go for defaults instead. I feel the distro closest to vanilla desktop settings are Gentoo and Debian, we'll probably run one of these two, but if you have advices please tell me.

Re:Allow power-users to tweak settings first. (2)

paulproteus (112149) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268923)

"Generic" defaults, like Gentoo or Debian, don't cut it for this.

You don't want to compare GNOME to KDE to Windows because GNOME and KDE aren't operating systems. You should compare *Fedora* against *Ubuntu* against *Mac OS* against *Windows*.

Fedora and Ubuntu make customizations to GNOME because they feel they are doing a better job of usability than upstream. Fine, let them. Tell us how they compare.

No one (sane) will give a newbie an uncustomized Gentoo box or Debian setup, so compare realistic things.

Tainted vs Ignorant users. (4, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268840)

The first thing to understand is that you will have 3 groups of users:

#1. The ignorant users: These have never used a desktop before. These aren't as easy to find anymore. I worked with one woman back in the mid 90's who could not even use a mouse. She had to hold it still with one hand while she clicked the button with her other hand. After a week of solitare, she had the necessary muscle coordination to start learning the system.

#2. The tainted users: These have experience with systems other than the one you're testing. If your system isn't 100% like the one they're used to, they'll waste time clicking around where the functions are on their systems.

#3. Friends: These have worked on the system that they're being evaluated on.

Now, a system that is easy to learn for the "Ignorant" class may be incredibly un-friendly for more advanced "Friends".

Determine what functionality you want to measure and what GROUP you want to measure it for.

The real "ease" on an interface comes down to 2 things:
a. Can you quickly guess where a function is based upon your existing experience with it?

b. Once you know where a function is (you guessed at it before, you asked someone, you went to training), how easy is it to remember that 24 hours later, 1 week, 1 month, 6 months later?

Advice #1 (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268696)

Don't read slashdot.

always wondered which one was better (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268698)

I'm a n00b to Linux, kind of wanted to know before I chose one & tried Linux.

Simple (5, Insightful)

captain_craptacular (580116) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268699)

Get a slashdot poll on the topic and read the insightful comments.

Re:Simple (1)

eosp (885380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268763)

CowboyNeal is an interface?

Re:Simple (5, Funny)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268847)

CowboyNeal is an interface?

No, but "KowboyNeal" [] is.

Re:Why not? (1)

psycln (937854) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268969)

I'm quite surprised there is no such poll in /. considering the interest in this topic.

Good Lord (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268705)

a deep and objective study on the Unix desktop
Ha. Ha ha. Ha ha ha heh heh hee hee hee hee ha ha HAA HAA HAA HAAA HARRRRRR. You might as well do a study on whether apples are better than oranges, or settle the One True God question once and for all. It's hardly possible to do a deep and objective study on the merits of the Linux kernel vs. the FreeBSD kernel even though that's reducible to a purely technical inquiry.

It *does* sound like perfect academic paper fodder.

Study Useability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268710)

by actually using it in daily life!

(on a side note: I was suprised after switching to Linux that I was not distracted anymore by annoying popups for virus scanners, 'unused icons' bullshit, 'network is connected' messages)

for meaningful results... (5, Interesting)

smash (1351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268711)

I'd ensure first up that the study runs for "long enough".

3-6 months perhaps?

"Usability" imho, in the usual meaning of the term, is a load of wank.

Who cares if the first time someone uses the environment that it takes a little orientation to get used to? In the real world, if a couple of weeks of pain makes you much more productive after that, it's a net benefit imho - the remainder of your time using the environment outweighs the significance of the learning time.

I'm not saying that initial learning is not important, but I think that these studies need to show both sides of the equation...


Re:for meaningful results... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268774)

I think you bring up a good point, however the speed it takes the average person to learn to use a OS or software package directly effects their productivity with it. If it takes me say, 2 months to learn every in and out a specific piece of software and 2 weeks to learn it's competitor to the same degree, and assuming the same features, thats 6 weeks extra of full usage I'm getting. To both employers, and private users thats important, they didn't buy or download the product to learn how to use it (most of the time). They got it so they could make use of it's features, and every second that they have to spend learning the program is another second they can't get the most out of it. Usability is very important.

Depends on Intended use... (2, Insightful)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268877)

An occasionally used website (like an airline) or kiosk (photo stickers?) must be useable on first contact.

A work desktop must be quickly learnable and facilitate productivity of intermediate to advanced users.

Learning should be built into the system. (3, Insightful)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268890)

IMHO - the "best" interface would be one that starts off at a child's level and allows the user to set the degree of functionality and complexity based upon his/her knowledge and needs.

How about, how many repetitions of instruction does it take for an average user to remember how to perform one action after a week of not using it?

And, once one function is explained, how quickly can the average user deduce/guess at related functions? This is how you select "bold" text. Then let them find "italics" and "underline".

Re:Learning should be built into the system. (1)

ScoLgo (458010) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268963)

"IMHO - the "best" interface would be one that starts off at a child's level..."

Oh boy, have I got a DE [] for you!!

(Sorry, sorry, sorry...)

usability? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268718)

Sheesh man. It's Unix. It's not mean to be usable. : p

My thoughts (5, Insightful)

gid13 (620803) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268721)

Get people who are not experts, see how many problems they run into doing simple tasks that they're familiar with on Windows. See how many of these they can solve themselves. Start half of them on Gnome and move them to KDE, do the other half in the reverse order.

It is probably also worth noting that most people (apparently including Linus) consider KDE more powerful, so KDE is kinda at a disadvantage.

Re:My thoughts (1)

angaram (875805) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268796)

Not a bad approach for starters. It would be important to also have different classes of users represented, e.g., novice, proficient, expert.

Also, it would be useful to construct a set of metrics like number-of-clicks-to-achieve task x. Then calculate some average number of clicks or layers of dialogues or number-of-clickables-on-screen, number of distinct ways to perform one particular action or whatever. Also average number of non-resolvable problems that result in call to helpdesk. Interpretation can come later, but like parent post, I would say definitely first get some data from design and from real-world usage.

Re:My thoughts (1)

gid13 (620803) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268825)

"number-of-clicks-to-achieve task x"
Yeah, good idea. It would be very interesting to me to see if there is a correlation (either positive or negative) between this and what I mentioned about users' ability to perform tasks and/or solve their own problems.

Re:My thoughts (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268876)

It might be better to test it on childern.

most people have used windows at one time and expect things to have that type of layout.

children who havent gotten used to what windows is like might find it a bit easier/harder to move around in.

you could have 2 groups of children

set one group of children to use gnome for the first week/month/year and kde for the second week/month/year whatever
and set the other group to use kde for the first week/month/year and gnome for the second week/month/year

and compare there reviews of how easy it is to move around.

however it might be better to test it out on teenagers are they will be able to take more infomation in.

Will they be testing as Linus uses it? (1)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268937)

Linus seemed to be saying that he wants all the functions exposed and available. That's why he didn't like the GNOME approach of hiding what they considered "un-necessary" options.

But ... for a user who is unfamiliar with the system, a stipped down interface with only the functions that they'll be using would be the easiest to learn.

We have people at work who are really scared that they'll do something wrong with their computers. If ANYTHING changes, they need to be walked through it for a few days.

Re:My thoughts (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268949)

Usability extends to those who are adept at using the environment they are in.
Just because I know _how_ to do something in an environment, does not make that environment more usable. You've got to take into account consistency of how related tasks may be completed and the number of steps it takes.

Oh, and remember the principle of least surprise.

The Nipple? (2, Funny)

mukund (163654) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268722)

You've got a lady friend and you have been called to help on conducting a deep and objective human interface study on the desktop?

Go for it!

(If you're wondering about the subject of this comment, the nipple is one of the most intuitive human interfaces btw).

Re:The Nipple? (4, Funny)

catmistake (814204) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268768)

the nipple is one of the most intuitive human interfaces

maybe on a woman... but I don't consider my own very intuitive; I can't figure out what its purpose is.

Re:The Nipple? (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268771)

You are late, but thanks for advice. ;)

For an example... (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268727)

Check out []

KDE vs. GNU & What about the others? (1)

catmistake (814204) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268734)

I have a feeling there are more interfaces than I can count... I don't know, so I'm asking... What are the other interfaces? And aren't there more than one interface from KDE & GNU?

I can appreciate that a PhD student has to narrow their field in order to complete their study, but this is an interesting topic. I could see entire periodicals dedicated to available interfaces. Hey, there aren't any of those are there?

Re:KDE vs. GNU & What about the others? (1)

Sam Haine '95 (918696) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268770)

Take a look at the RISC OS desktop. Fourteen years old and still years ahead of anything else for usability. Too bad the rest of the OS is obsolete. :-/

Use Science! (0, Troll)

mshaslam (688800) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268738)

Use Science! Flip a coin and justify your reasons later.

Long-Term Efficiency (5, Insightful)

Anti-Trend (857000) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268741)

I for one would like to see a study involving not just how easy it is to learn an interface, but once learned how productive one can be in said interface. For instance, I am proficient in both KDE and Gnome (and a myriad of other WMs which aren't mentioned here), but I feel I can get the most work done faster in KDE. Of course I do tweak quite a few aspects of KDE, but I digress. I would really like to see a productivity evaluation between already proficient users, confident with their skills on their respective interfaces, performing a series of common tasks and comparing the results.

Re:Long-Term Efficiency (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268769)

Wow you sound like a real "power user".

Re:Long-Term Efficiency (1)

smash (1351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268806)

My thoughts exactly.

I find the gnome interface a little "cleaner", but several things in KDE just work better for me. The KDE IOslaves (fish, etc) just rock - excellent for web development, etc - they're a huge productivity boost for me.

Ripping CDs in whatever format with full CDDB support etc with drag and drop to another folder just rocks.

Having said that, right now at home I'm running ubuntu 5.10 with gnome. I find it less cluttered to navigate, but in terms of actual application use, right now KDE has it I think :D

Development is another story. I'm going to play with GORM/GNUstep on the weekend :)


Re:Long-Term Efficiency (2, Insightful)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268966)

For me it's the exact opposite. I'm a lot more happy in Gnome; it doesn't get in my way. From the default Ubuntu installation I don't need to tweak anything desktop related, it all just works.

As for doing a usability study, you first have to decide what to measure, then to decide what your users are. "everything" and "everybody" are hopeless non-answers.

On what to measure, you could focus on several things: time spent dealing with the desktop rather than your work; number of desktop related problems run into; perceived comfort by the users. All of these (and many more) would be legitimate targets - and no need to pick only one, you'd pick some number of them that you can study at the same time. Probably the one that says the least is measuring the number of clicks - for measuring intrusivness or comfort, time spent on non-work tasks or user perception is probably much better.

On users, you need to decide wether you want people experienced users of other systems, or novices; people mainly Windows users, Mac users or exposed to both; the level of understanding and interest in computing; the kind of task the users are expected to be interested in (gaming, office work, home use, development, technical work); the age and education level. Also, you need to control for previous exposure (direct or indirect) to either desktop and to willingness to actually use either (or any Linux) desktop at all as part of the study. Controlling for the subject variation is all a hoary problem, and is the single most important factor in determining if the study would be useful of a piece of dross.

Usability (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268748)

Keyboard accessibility
Keyboard accessibility
Keyboard accessibility

The above was achieved more through reflexive twitches than through hand-eye coordination.

The main thing Billy did right for the early versions of Windoz was to build in keyboard accessibility.

I was so delighted when I discovered that alt-tab worked in Firefox to switch tabs.

My Advice (-1, Flamebait)

alexborges (313924) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268751)


Even if Linus said it sucks, he has always accepted that he SUCKS at UI...and he should, i mean, hes a kernel devel.

So...:) I hope you can graduate just by quoting me.

Re:My Advice (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268794)

Wow, you really come across as a... well, as a Gnome user, actually. :P

My advice? (5, Insightful)

rampant mac (561036) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268757)

"I have been called to help, as a long time GNU/Linux desktop user."

My advice? Don't have someone who's been a long time GNU/Linux user assisting her. Chances are, you're fond of either KDE or Gnome. Before the study has even started, I'm alarmed by potential bias. Let her do the study on her own, gather the facts and come up with her own conclusion. Isn't that what Ph.D.'s do?

"[...] while I provided her a number of links on background information and previous usability studies on both DE, and advised her to subscribe to relevant mailing lists of both projects."

To me, the study is already flawed. You've dropped a load of information onto her lap, while a complete "newbie" doesn't have that same luxury. How can a usability study be unbiased in this manner? Who's to say you didn't provide her with REALLY good links to KDE information, while giving half-assed links to Gnome?

Re:My advice? (3, Informative)

cyclop (780354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268827)

You didn't understand. She will conduct the study, but that's not she will judge what's more usable and what's not. This would not be a usability study, it would be a -1,Flamebait article. She plans instead to put categories like WinXP-proficient people,MacOSX-proficient people and total computer noobs (if any still exists) in front of Unix desktop enviroments and see their reactions and if and how they can be proficient with them. She's using them to understand them and for obvious curiosity, and I gave her info to help her tailor the study.

Not good. (2, Informative)

khasim (1285) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268981)

She plans instead to put categories like WinXP-proficient people,MacOSX-proficient people and total computer noobs (if any still exists) in front of Unix desktop enviroments and see their reactions and if and how they can be proficient with them.

No. All she is "testing" there is how closely the desktop they're being "tested" on resembles the one they're used to.

Novell did this already. 146202&tid=223&tid=106 []

So, to send email ... where's Outlook? Where's Email? What's this "Evolution" thing? That doesn't sound like email. Maybe if I open all the apps I can find, I'll click on the right one.

Re:My advice? (1)

ardor (673957) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268829)

To me, the study is already flawed. You've dropped a load of information onto her lap, while a complete "newbie" doesn't have that same luxury. How can a usability study be unbiased in this manner? Who's to say you didn't provide her with REALLY good links to KDE information, while giving half-assed links to Gnome?

No, thats actually a good start. User X gathered some information from various links and tries to work with this little knowledge. Its the same in Windows. There are tons of Windows help sites, tips&tricks etc. and help sites. Usually, geek Y gives Windows user X these links when X wants to do something with Windows (Y being the geek-next-door). Also, Y is often not a true geek, but one of the wannabe power users who read about the newest coolest memory optimizer shareware in the newest shiny CD on that PC magazine.

objectivity schmuctivity (4, Insightful)

abes (82351) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268779)

It's not clear that one can easily do an objective study on usability, as it can mean very different things to different people. It should at least be done with segregated populations (e.g. power-users vs. novices).

Some examples:
* A novice might look for how obvious it is to do a certain task, whereas an expert user might instead prefer what can be done fastest (e.g. notepad vs. emacs).

* Related: How much time does this person use a computer/this application can be an important factor. If I rarely do 3d design, I want to be told how to do everything, and have obvious controls (i.e. > 3 parameters might boggle my mind). However, if I work for Pixar, the verbose messages, and dumbed down controls (i.e. 30 parameters might just not cut it for what needs to be done).

* Certain paradigms might make sense to people who are used to using certain types of systems. Files and folders make perfect sense to many people, but certainly not to everyone (e.g. my mother). We think these simplified analogies work better for novices, but that isn't always the case. People think differently, and different analogies will make more/less sense dependent on their world view.

Some suggestions (2, Interesting)

ardor (673957) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268780)

*) Get total PC newbies and Windows users to try using them and observe what they do, what they try, how and why they fail to succeed in their attempts. Let them talk verbosely about what they are doing.

*) Count the times you had to look in a manpage, in google, and how often you had to fire up a console for doing simple things (like creating a shared folder, browsing the internet, installing some plugins like flash etc.) Keep in mind: SIMPLE things! Trivial tasks done by the casual user.

*) For each system you need to learn how to use it, thats a fact. Unix users have to learn the concept behind the filesystem (nothing too fancy, but basic knowledge about what mounting is for example). This is comparable to the knowledge about the drive letters in Windows, the usage of backslash for separation in paths, that .exe are apps etc.

*) Review the help system and documentation. Among other things, look for technical mumbo-jumbo. This is a common error. Stuff like SSH, SSL, CORBA, FUSE, pthreads etc. should never occur in enduser documentation.

*) Have a look at the menus. Are they cluttered or usable? How long did you have to search something in the menu?

don't do it! (5, Insightful)

schwaang (667808) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268787)

But if you must, at least don't do KDE vs. Gnome. What's the best possible outcome of that? ("So in summary, Gnome tended to be less confusing for newbies, but power users preferred the configurability of KDE...")

Instead compare either or both against Windows or Macintosh for tasks that your _specific target userbase_ would do. [If you haven't defined one or more use cases you've already lost.] This would be much more valuable.

Better yet, switch your topic to focus exclusively on accessibility (a11y). Every DE out there needs some accessibility love.

Personally I think Apple has... (1, Interesting)

SmoothTom (455688) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268788)

Personally I think Apple has done a quite decent job of building a GUI on top of a UNIX core (the Darwin flavor of freeBSD).

Currently they have it working on two different processor families (the IBM Power series, and Intel).

Yes, it is proprietary, but that does NOT mean that "Aqua" is not a GUI desktop running on a UNIX system.

Why not compare the other UNIX desktops with what may be the best UNIX desktop running?

Don't get excited, it's just an honest question. After all, just because it was done by a commercial software shop doesn't mean it doesn't work...

How DOES the usability of other attempts at a UNIX GUI stand up to Aqua?


Re:Personally I think Apple has... (1)

temojen (678985) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268982)

IMHO KDE (3.4) is better than Aqua. But that's for the tasks that I do. YMMV.

I used a Solaris CDE Desktop from 1992 to 1999 (1)

PenguinBoyDave (806137) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268790)

Worked perfectly. Email, Internet, Applix Word, Spreadsheets, etc. Putting KDE with OpenOffice on it would only make it that much more useable and interesting.

Frankly, I don't see why this is needed...people have been using it for years.

There...Can I please have my doctorate now?

Re:I used a Solaris CDE Desktop from 1992 to 1999 (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268835)

but its sooooo fugly!

Here's a suggestion: (1)

maynard (3337) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268807)

Try questioning the slashdot community. They're sure to offer up objective advice on the KDE vs. Gnome debate!


If you are pursuing a PhD in interface design... (1)

sweeze (530463) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268809)

If you are pursuing a PhD in interface design, do you really need to ask slashdot how to conduct a usability survey?

Re:If you are pursuing a PhD in interface design.. (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268906)

I'm going to ask what kind of quirks and pitfalls the specific subject of the study should we take care. By the way, I'm NOT going to pursue a PhD in interface design. My friend is going. I'm a PhD student, but in biophysics.

Don't ask the experts (1)

Fujisawa Sensei (207127) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268812)

You want an unbiased opinion?

Don't ask us.

For one its not GNU/Linux Desktop. It's KDE vs GNOME.

KDE runs under BSD as well as Linux. Gnome runs under Solaris.

Of course the GNU people probably want to start calling *BSD running GNOME GNU/*BSD because of all the GNU code in it.

Oh, wait. Its not that popular.

Re:Don't ask the experts (1)

cyclop (780354) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268883)

The title of the post says: Unix desktop.

Re:Don't ask the experts (1)

JanneM (7445) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268988)

KDE runs under BSD as well as Linux. Gnome runs under Solaris.

Gnome runs under BSD. And as far as I know, there is a fairly recent port of KDE to Solaris. And XFCe is probably ported to more platforms than either of them :)

Answer is simple .. (1)

sundru (709023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268815)

The best usability desktop is where

1. Ctrl+C (Copy), Ctrl+X(Cut) Ctrl+A (Select All) Ctrl +V(Paste) Ctrl+P (Print)

works in all applications you open out of the box.

2. You open up a file Browser, go to the folder you wanna browse and type the first letter of the file and the cursor takes you there.

One has to agree, whatever follows MS Windows closely.
In this case that would be kde handsdown .

Re:Answer is simple .. (1)

jedir0x (522662) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268859)

Why not follow OSX closely? Or Warp? Or .... You get my point. Windows, to me, doesn't define usability (in my case it's just the reverse). Just because MS has the greatest marketshare doesn't mean that it sets the standard for usability.

Re:Answer is simple .. (1)

sundru (709023) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268935)

"Just because MS has the greatest marketshare"
How else do you think usuability is defined ? whatever a majority of the peeps are comfortable with.

Do you think any application would survive if the print button was located in the help menu ? I believe we owe it to MS for standardizing many of the function buttons in an applcation. Atleast when someone is lookign for a particular button you have a vague idea where it could be located.

Re:Answer is simple .. (1)

jedir0x (522662) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268967)

I disagree. There are a lot of features that were birthed elsewhere that have made it into apps across the spectrum. Marketshare doesn't define "usability". Marketshare may seem (operative word) to be setting standards, but that doesn't mean usability. Hell, look at MS office vs. OpenOffice. I find OpenOffice to be far more usable, granted that version 2 looks a lot like the latest MS office product offering.

Re:Answer is simple .. (1)

An Onerous Coward (222037) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268958)

No, no, no. The simple answer is this: The most usable desktop is one where all text boxes implement EMACS-style commands. For example, Ctrl-W cuts, Ctrl-Y pastes, Alt-W copies, Ctrl-N takes you to the next item or moves the cursor forward, etc.

That, for me, would be the absolute most productive desktop around.

Your problem is that you're taking your own personal preferences about which arbitrary mappings of keys to actions works best for you, and you're assuming that it would work best for everyone. As someone who uses EMACS constantly, anything that maps my EMACSy instincts to other programs just feels "right" to me.

In conclusion, one does NOT have to agree.

Re:Answer is simple .. (1)

Stevyn (691306) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268959)

In other words, consistancy. Consistancy is the key to making things intuative to learn and easy to use. This includes icons, toolbars, fonts, dialog boxes, etc. Most of these things are pretty well covered in Gnome and KDE when using Gnome apps and KDE apps. The difficulty lies when someone wants to use k3b, firefox, juk, openoffice, gaim, and gftp in either desktop. They all share different appearences which makes them appear thrown together.

I mention these specific apps because I use them frequently in both KDE and Gnome. I've tried the gtk engine to display the gtk apps like they were qt, but I had stability issues so I had to revert back to their original forms. I consider these apps the best in their individual categories and that's why I use them and deal with the inconsistancies.

I guess what I'm saying is usability might improve not just for newbies but for power users if all apps I used in KDE shared the same dialogs, at the very least. Icons and widgets would be nice, but I don't know enough about the underlying architectures of qt and gtk to expect them to be able to share these features.

It all comes down to one thing. (1)

thisisauniqueid (825395) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268817)

It all comes down to one thing. Can the user reconfigure their mouse so that right-click launches a terminal? If not, it's a useless desktop, and you should tell everybody to switch to a REAL desktop environment.

Amount of help & documentation (1)

Neo-Rio-101 (700494) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268819)

Something that both interfaces really lack are decent help documents from the GUI.
I think KDE edges out gonme in this department, but by and large, the help documents on both lack the completeness you would expect. This is not the fault of the GUI's per se, but the fact that X application programmers don't have to make KDE/GNOME help documents - I don't think it's really standardized.

Re:Amount of help & documentation (1)

ardor (673957) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268885)

Yeah, thats true. manpages are NOT for endusers. Definitely. I do like Microsofts CHM format a lot, but I don't know if it can be used freely. Then there is DocBook, which could be used for a standard documentation. For Linux, maybe a modular documentation system would do fine. Basic documentation common to all distros, and on top of that KDE documentation, K3B docs, KDevelop, Konqueror etc. as modules. AFAIK only devhelp features this, but devhelp is very gnome-centric.

USE KDE!! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268828)

Cause Linus said so [] !

Sanctimonius Know It All Desparate for Attention (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268837)

Blah blah blah. PhD whaever. If you are serious act like adults and do some real research. Don't post bullshit here in a lame attempt to garner attention.

How Accessible is the Documentation? (1)

Larkvi (243818) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268842)

If you are going to do a useability study, might I suggest sitting down a bunch of fairly bright volunteers with the documentation, and seeing how long it is before they get it up and running? As a Mac/PC user, I recall the hardest part of learning Unix (of which I still have no great command, but enough to extend the useability of my OS X laptop and write programs to batch simple functions for me) was the general spottiness of documentation--some of it is excellent and some of it looks like ot was written by an alien civilization (engineers!).

Find the provided docs and also find some of what you consider the best docs, and see if they can work it out for themselves without help. Once they get it running and customized, see how long it takes them to learn a new feature. Once they have learned a feature, see how long it takes them to use it on a repeat visit. Usability to me implies everything from the learning curve to the advanced user features.

K-D-E? G-n-o-m-e? (1)

bennomatic (691188) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268851)

That's not how you spell A-P-P-L-E!

Oh, that's easy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268857)

Oh, that's easy. The most important thing you can do is ask each prospective user how they feel about the GPL. When they invariably profess ignorance, lecture them at length until they're sorry they ever met you. It's the Slashdot way.

If they stick around through your rant, it means they want something from you. Lecture them about how inferior LGPL is to GPL in an attempt to sway them to choose KDE, that should get rid of them.

decide your goals and personas (1)

rjnagle (122374) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268858)

Linux/Unix users are a self-selected bunch. You need to decide whether your user persona should be Joe Clueless (who is put in a room and has to perform basic functions in Linux) or the Power User.

The Power User may turn out to be the more typical linux user (from the standpoint of HP/IBM), so the reactions of Joe Clueless may just not be useful. Good to have a specific goal in mind while running this study. Are you trying to help developers understand power users better?
Or trying to help a company make mass market tools?

If dealing with Joe Clueless, be sure to give tasks about how to locate system documentation. I just installed Fedora Core and for the life of me couldn't find it (and I'm a fricking tech writer!)

Also, should you assume that users are dealing with a fully installed system (office/school user)? Or that users normally would need to figure out how to get their hardware to work (home user)? My "usability problems" have usually not been with the interface but just getting hardware to work, and that would not so much a problem if the Office/School made these decisions for me.

I would be very curious btw which of the package managers that users find the easiest to use. Crossdistribution comparison of how individual users used package managers would be really useful information!

This group does a lot of usability analysis [] .
Also, I seem to remember that a few years ago Sun did a usability study of the Linux desktops.

KDE vs. Gnome (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268860)

I run Linux on old hardware (Used to use a P2 350 now using a P3 400) and have always tried to get the fastest performance out of it. I started out with KDE, then switched to XFCE, then to GNOME, and back to KDE in the end. KDE is now my favorite - it is very snappy, easy to set up, and easy to use. I do admit that it is a bit unorganized (GNOME's strongpoint IMHO is simplicity and organization), but, surprisingly, it performs faster than the other two desktops. Also, I love KDE's very extensible eye candy features :). I also tried many different browsers in search of the snappiest - I found that the answer is Opera. FF is an excellent browser, but it is just to bloated to run on my hardware.

Mac OS X is the only usable Unix desktop (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268866)

'nuff said.

Don't assume. (2, Interesting)

MikeFM (12491) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268867)

Don't go into it with the expectation that more like Windows or Mac OS is better. Sometimes they may be and sometime they may not be. Study people ranging from no experience up through experts.

First acquire body armour (1)

FishandChips (695645) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268868)

I wonder if she might better user her time doing something else. There is so much catcalling and pointless arguing in the nix community, and especially between the Gnome and KDE factions, or at least their fans. Nothing seems to be looked at objectively or is taken seriously except as grist for yet another propaganda offensive. Open source developers always have the ultimate get-out if something is subpar, namely that they aren't writing for a market or to a set of standards but for pleasure or their peers. The professional ones never use this excuse and turn in a top-class job, but scores of less talented or committed ones use it all the time.

Perhaps there are other areas - Ajax, even particular websites or other operating systems - that would repay her efforts more fully and bring her into contact with some outstanding and seriously experienced people.

If you're taking on the KDE vs. Gnome forces ... (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268870)

"What kind of advice -- both technical and theoretical -- would you give us on conducting a deep and objective study on the Unix desktop, that can be useful for the developers and the OSS community?"

If you're taking on the KDE vs. Gnome forces ...

Divert Warp Power to the Shields.

Linus say: Gnomes for dummies! (2, Interesting)

gnujoshua (540710) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268880)

Well we all know Linus's opinion [] . It's rather insightful: GNOME is overly simple and for dumb users, KDE is for smart people, haha. But, seriously, it is all about configurability. One of the nice thigns about both KDE and GNOME is all of the configuration you can do to them. The question is, how "stripped down" of a configuration are you going to start a user out with? Are you going to set up some nice buttons or put some useful help-guides on the desktop? For instance, I'm starting a cute little Web site I'm going to put on the desktop on my parents computer at home. I'm probably going to start them off with KDE, but that is because I get to set it up for them and give them a cute little guide to using it, and some simple pieces of software they might want to use.

That must be some university. (1)

mumblestheclown (569987) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268891)

That must be some universtity, where a researcher asks slashdot users about usability. slashdot is where usability goes to die. Viva the CLI! Users are idiots! Consistency is for the simple minded! et cetera ad infinitum.

For god's sake, woman. Read some Norman for the theoretical background (his older book, not his newer shite which pisses all over his previous work without any real reason to other than to shine his own "i'm a high priced consultant" knob now. Then, and this is serious though it's bound to not be seen as such here: read the MS stuff on usability. What MS stuff? Their design guidelines for apps. Or, read apple's. Forget the details - look for the philosophical points they emphasize there since whatever you get there certainly is a distilled version of what they have learned through years of getting it right.

(did I say MS got something right? ooh .. into the "troll" basket i go!)

Objective (1)

umbrellasd (876984) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268898)

If you want a deep and objective assessment, I would recommend not asking the community what they want to see. It's what your PhD candidate friend sees (independent of the community that produces the product) that is so critically important to improving the product.

usability study (1)

adrenalinekick (884201) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268902)

Do it in terms of levels of computer literacy. Get your grandmothers to try and accomplish something on both gnome and kde. Then go for windows users. Not "power" users, anyone who knows how to view file extensions is too smart for this step. Then see if you can get some children involved - they seem to be naturally good at this sort of thing. Then test your average college student (skipping engineers and computer-type majors) Lastly test your tech-types. (Aka almost anyone who is reading this right now) (Notice placement of children and microsoft users) What questions to ask exactly? I have no idea, but I would start on your basics - try to go to a specific website, try to play solitaire, try to play a music CD, try to type and print a very simple letter - and I would eventually move up to changing system settings, accessing logs, etc.

Both. (1)

drn8 (883816) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268904)

I prefer gnome, and I think it is more usable then kde. I have friends who prefer kde, and think it is more usable then gnome. Right now I am using IceWM, because it's faster, smaller, and to me more usable then the former 2. I also have friends who swear by fvwm. Apples and oranges indeed.

Install a Gnome-Skin on Windows XP (1)

iion_tichy (643234) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268907)

and pretend it's Linux

Some suggestions: (3, Interesting)

laughingcoyote (762272) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268908)

Get some novices (people who have never used the interface before) in, and a list of tasks to complete. Let some of them muddle through it on their own, and give others pointers on use of the help system, google, and man pages. (One of the tasks for the first group could be -finding- help on some of the things they won't be able to complete on their own.) This will help represent the range of people coming into it-some will have absolutely no idea what they're doing, others will have at least some support from other knowledgeable users who can at least point them in the right direction.

You also might want a broad cross-section of users-some who rarely or never use a computer at all, some who use one relatively frequently, and some "power users" from other operating systems. This could lead to a very interesting picture-do those that already "know how" on a different interfacee have a harder time with something new, or are they able to translate most of their knowledge and pick up more quickly?

As to a comparison between the two, you may wish not only to time how long it takes the users to complete their task lists, but also include feedback from them-were the help pages actually helpful, or did they just confuse the issue more? Was the experience relatively smooth and welcoming, or aggravating and frustrating? Was there anything the user expected to be/work a certain way that did not do as expected? Did the user find it necessary to work in CLI at any point, and if so, was this disorienting or frustrating, or relatively smooth? Did they ever think they had done something right when they really had screwed it up, and were any clues/warnings given them to this effect if so?

All these are factors in usability, and I'm sure anyone can list plenty that I missed. In the end, usability is determined by-well, the user. Since it is somewhat subjective (I find working in a command line far easier and more convenient then use of a GUI most of the time, but there are many that would disagree!), focus on what the end-user, presented with the interface for the first time, thinks of it overall.

I believe simpler window managers are more usable (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268916)

However, it depends on how you define useability. They take much less memory, are faster, are dependent on fewer packages. You can later put as many applications as you want into their menus as they are needed. But no one is ever going to study them because it can't be hyped like it can via the Gnome vs. KDE flamewars. Examples of more usable window managers would be Windowmaker, Afterstep, Enlightenment and many others.

Re:I believe simpler window managers are more usab (1)

ardor (673957) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268970)

Generally no. Less memory, faster, dependent on fewer packages, these are all reasons for a GEEK. Joe Average doesnt care about that. The big DEs have file managers (I really like konqueror), do not need to be configured by manually editing some configfiles (BIG BIG reason against small DEs for end users - they dread complicated-looking stuff like this), have built-in help, support for tons of tasks (like browsing, watching some videos - and no, mplayer is not userfriendly, neither is its GUI; kaffeine is the enduser player), graphical frontends for tasks like fonts installation, printer installation etc.

Small DEs are good for specific workstations where the users are unlikely to do anything else than the pre-planned type work (like cgi departments with 3d artists using maya, or medical workstations with only one app running constantly, like some MRI-scan analysers).

She? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268919)

My first concern is that your PHD (Piled Higher and Deeper) friend is a she. I don't think women can perform a technical enough study to really understand things like desktop usability. You need to dicth her and find someone a man.

My advice? (1)

Solr_Flare (844465) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268932)

Make sure the study becomes large and well known enough so MS's payoff for you to "adjust" your findings is higher.

Ignore the CLI and you ignore us all (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14268939)

If you pretend the CLI is unusable you throw away the best part of every Unix desktop and you'll just be laughed at.
Make sure you use intelligent users, not uninitiated idiots, in the test. It's nice to have a system for beginners, but in the real world it's power users that matter and it's power users that Unix desktops are usually tailored to: That's where they shine.

Identify your users (1)

cjames53 (845484) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268943)

First and foremost: Categorize your users. Usability is meaningless if you haven't identified the skills of the user and the tasks to be accomplished. For example, a rough categorization might be:

    Novice, reading email and surfing the web

    9-to-5 business user, lots of word processing and spreadsheet,
    fairly experienced with Windows

    Scientist, uses a few applications heavily, willing and able to
    learn arcane interfaces

    Computer geek, very knowledgable, wants to customize his windows
    heavily, alter all menus, mostly uses command-line and emacs.

A single usability test couldn't possibly span these different users; each needs a completely different test. For example, computer geeks strongly favor the keyboard, and only use the mouse as a last resort. They're willing to spend lots of time learning all the emacs key sequences and are very good at it. They'll use ALT-TAB to change windows. By contrast, Grandma only surfs the web and checks email, and only uses the keyboard when typing an email.

What type of user (1)

charnov (183495) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268945)

I would think she would want to decide what type of user you are testing for. The needs of a large or medium sized business user would deviate greatly from those of a home user.

Funding (1)

kuzb (724081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268948)

Watch who you take funding from. It doesn't matter if you're as objective as you can possibly be, if you get funded by anything even remotely associated with one camp or the other, the hardcore geeks won't trust a word you say.

Tipps (1)

Elektroschock (659467) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268953)

1. Desktop Environments are today not the loopholes of Linux usability. Both are superiour to Windows and easier to use.

2. Linux Desktop is always perfect when it works. The real problems are: It takes to much time to get it to work.

* unsupported hardware and broken hardware detection
* what happens if one component breaks, how are problems in hardware handled. (how to get rid off popup annnoyances), e.g. your cd drive is not detected, how does your music player handle the problem and help you, during installation the wrong mouse driver was selected, how do make it happen to switch the mouse driver to default when you only have keys.
* installation difficult and what to do when bugs happen
* error probability due to complexity
* ability to get your simple tasks done because of legal problems, e.g. mps, libdvdcss etc.
* internationalisation
* packages availability: I do not mean, use a tool to install a package. But say: There is the most recent version of Abiword. Now find a way to install that version on your distribution.
* some applications lack maturity or features
* api unstable or updated or broken versions break the system


- usability of software installation: Yast, apt, klik etc.
- bugs: Users shall seek bugs. Study could investigate why they are not fixed.
- compile a list of past annoyances and look whether the problems prevail.
- look how to make users more productive. E.g to reduce time when searching for bugs.
Usability of help and documentation to solve problems. Ability to get help on the internet.

When you examine KDE vs. Gnome ask yourself what KDE or Gnome you were talking about. I mean KDE as shipped or some "improved" versions? Please always take the latest original version.

3. The solutions

* better integration of distribution functionality with the DE. DE or both DE are able to set standards and dictate them to all distributions which do not want to hack, they should better do that.
* quality checks. E.g. manpages for all applications? Translations 100%? x-projects
* system conformity checks.
* unify DE registry and standardize setting file data formats.
* buildserver
* bridge some desktop functionality

Check for simplicity! (1)

F.Z.Bunny (749528) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268954)

Try to establish which is the SIMPLER interface; the one with the fewest surprises; the least "clever" interface. That is, the one which will not turn off people who have a life, who just want a way to use their damn machine!

Depends on the dynamics (1)

Lumpy (12016) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268961)

We need more information.

Is she testing against newbies or experts or in between? Choice of distro will make a HUGE difference here.

An absolute newbie will have an easier time with Ubuntu even compared to windows (windows does not have a gui to download and install new apps without thought.)

While ubuntu will cause fits to 15 year Linux vetrans that cut their teeth on making their own distro or slackware.

Everything depends heavily on the perception of the users tested and the distro used. KDE and Gnome under Ubuntu is brain dead easy. The same pair under Slackware or BSD is certianly not.

don't trust /. (1)

Tom (822) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268962)

Your friend probably has more knowledge on HCI than all of the comments here combined. Trust her, don't trust /., because what is true for cryptography is also true for usability - it's easy to get it wrong and hard to get it right, and it takes an expert to spot the difference.

improve apon betterdesktop (2, Informative)

goon (2774) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268964)

`...What kind of advice -- both technical and theoretical -- would you give us on conducting a deep and objective study on the Unix desktop? ...`

Improve apon betterdesktop [] . The site is a collection of usability data with a focus on Linux apps. The front page gives more detail ...

`... is a project dedicated to sharing usability data with Linux developers. Over the past year, we have conducted many usability tests on different parts of the KDE and GNOME desktops. We created this site to serve as a place where developers can watch videos of these tests. Here you will find over 200 videos of people using Mozilla Firefox, Evolution, Open Office, Banshee, F-Spot and other applications. ...`

Mac OS X (2, Insightful)

Slackdog (893543) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268989)

KDE vs Gnome? hey dude, you missed Mac OS X, the perhaps the best operating system based on UNIX []

Oh man (1)

vrioux (723563) | more than 8 years ago | (#14268996)

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