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Open Source's Achilles Heel

CmdrTaco posted more than 14 years ago | from the stuff-to-read dept.

News 476

Tony Shepps writes "From comes an essay by UI consultant Mike Kuniavsky, "It's the User, Stupid", on what might be Open Source's worst failing: User Interfaces. In short, Open Source is geeks writing software for geeks, and usability suffers... and maybe that's an inherent problem with the model. "

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BS... (1)

kwsNI (133721) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327837)

How can they say that the GUI's are hard to use? Sounds like it was written by someone who has never seen XFree86. It's almost as simple to use as Windows or MacOS.


Many geeks could make great gui's (1)

_GNU_ (81313) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327840)

Since alot of them has computer experience since "alot" of years..
But, they just dont, since they don't need it.
I guess we really should get some good gui's running soon :)

Specialties (1)

Samus (1382) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327845)

Everyone has there specialty. Just because you are a geek doesn't mean that you can't write a good interface. The geek label doesn't neccessarily mean pigeon hole you into some kind of backend design. Some people are good at db design others oo design and others ui.

keep it simple, stupid (1)

CrudPuppy (33870) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327850)

what this author does not understand is that the
real guru's are writing code with the simplest
possible interface. if it can be a text-only
interface, then why not? who needs "innovative,
flashy looks" when a nice text-prompt will work
just fine?

This author needs to go read some UNIX history,
and then rewrite =/

Bah! (1)

BrotherPope (8102) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327852)

The premise seems to assume that geeks are the only vendors at the Open Source Bazaar. That's no longer true. Corel has done a hell of a job of improving KDE and Debian in the direction of user-friendliness. This premise is just another tired objection to Open Source that gets spit out every so often by people who either don't know any better, or should know better.

Re:BS... (1)

_GNU_ (81313) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327855)


Pure XF86 would be nice to use :)

I hope you mean "insert your favourite windowmanager here".

poor guy (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1327955)

now it's time for him to get eviscerated for pointing out a valid flaw with Open Source.

People should realize by now that only opinions coinciding with the overwhelming "Open Source/Linux is God" opinion are the only valid ones. How dare he express an independent thought....get back in line Mike!

We need a Microsoft Bob-esque interface for X (2)

LordOfYourPants (145342) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327959)

I am planning a Microsoft Bob-style interface for the X windowing system. So far I have the following in place: An opening menu where you start off looking at a zoomed out view of your house. Click the door lock to run xlock, click the mailbox to check your mail. Click the door to open a new xterm-style term. This is like xterm but it will instead be a 3d file navigator. Clicking on the window with the happy person peering out at you will spawn a wine process running Comic Chat, and to logout you click on your bed upstairs. I think that this will be the future of window managers, I'd appreciate any feedback

Sure (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1327962)

Floor 5 represent

drop it! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1327966)

stop talking about open source already! there's more to life than this stupid subject.

A list (4)

SheldonYoung (25077) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327971)

Some of open sources greatest successes:


And how many of them are easy to use? How many of them are have interfaces that are just evil?*

But hope is looking up. Look at these newer open source projects:


So, I think the community is doing pretty well giving geek-interfaces for geek tools. The user-interfaces on user tools aren't doing to badly either. They're not excellent yet, but even interfaces benefit from the open source model.

* Trick question. Just sendmail's interface is evil, the rest are just difficult.

still kinda hard for people (1)

PHroD (1018) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327974)

I think that Its still a pain in the ass for people w/ less experience to configure X...i would never have my mom do it, and most people dont know what to do about horiz and verticle refresh rates etc...the caldera 2.2 system installer was better about it all, letting you test modes etc, all in a GUI, but that seems to be the4 exception, not the rule. Even with fewer supported chipsets in OPENSTEP, i had an easier time configuring the display than in X (well in X a few years ago, when my X-perience was lower hehe - pardon the damn pun)

Basically, every configuration panel/app thingy you see in MacOS is designed for simplicity, and if you had a swath of programs like that in a standard distro, X would be less of a pain, and people wouldnt even have to THINK about the fact theyre are running X

"There is no spoon" - Neo, The Matrix

Wierd (-1, Too Obvious) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1327977)

Lots of of open-spource articlees in the stuff-to-read department today....

GUIs, MSVC++, etc (3)

Bert Peers (120166) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327983)

I'm glad to see someone picks this up.. I was recently ranting about this on the linux gamedev list but couldn't find much response for this. Imho this goes pretty deep; yes, we have Gtk and Qt to get away from the 30 year old "command prompt is just fine, thanks" attitude, but we still have a long way to go. Let's not turn this into yet another GUI-vs-console debate : I guess what works best depends on if you're the geek type, or just the end user "where do I click to launch Office" type. To break through, Linux should support both. But here's indeed our Achilles'heel : the development of these apps with smooth, welltested GUIs. Say what you want about MSVC++, but once you've used their built-in editors to model your GUI and attach code to it (a la Visual Basic), you really don't want to go back to native Win32 programming. Since hand-connected signals and slots under Gtk or Qt are the Linux equivalent of such hand-tuning of Win32 code, you also don't want to go program GUI's under Linux anymore without the Linux equivalent of MSVC. This is really important because without such ultra-user friendly, dumb-monkey-could-use-it interfaces the tools to build content, and hence the apps which need such content (like games), will not arrive under Linux. I know, I know, this may be ranting.. but I'm just happy to see this topic getting picked up under developers after months of crying in the void :) As long as the "cutting edge" IDEs of Linux or lagging years behind MSVC, decent GUIs simply wont become common because it takes too much effort to build them... I mean, it's coming (check out the FLTK project).. but the general attitude still seems to be "we don't need GUIs.. so why build them, or build the tools to build them". Maybe KDE and Gnome's IDEs will change this ?...

Credit (2)

CyberDong (137370) | more than 14 years ago | (#1327987)

A good part of the credit for the lack of a friendly interface has to go to the folks who keep saying "If they can't figure it out, that just proves they're not worthy to use it." This response seems to occur regularly on Slashdot whenever a criticism is levelled at Linux useability and installability.

And besides, who'd want a Nova, when you can get a perfectly good Dart Swinger for the same price...?

Its true (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1327988)

What "we" need is a commitment to a standard GUI regardless of what it looks like... So the user, who ever it may be or whatever they are running , knows he or she can go to one place and configure their box or application.

harmful? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328005)

I really don't think that usability suffers. If that were true, then open source wouldn't be popular/successful. Escher

Open Source writes for the long term (1)

Sinner (3398) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328006)

We all know proprietary software is optimised for the first 5 minutes. Then it crashes. But how much does the first five minutes matter weighed against the overall life cycle of your use of a program? Yes, free software is harder to use at first. It is optimised for experienced users. But for most of the time you'll be using it, you will be an experienced user! Think about the long term!

In conclusion, I say we let proprietary software have that first five minutes. It has to be better for something!

KDE, GNOME not mentioned. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328011)

Without mentioning KDE and GNOME, the author obviously knows nothing about the state of UI's in open software. He is repeating his or someone elses conclusion from 3 years ago.

"Failure"? (2)

Valur (87561) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328015)

The goal of open source, as I see it, is not to make software designed for the least common denominator. That's what Microsoft and AOL are for.

We are not failing if our software seems to complicated to a computer-illiterate newbie -- that's not who we designed the software for.

The goal of open source is to make software that doesn't suck. As long as we continue with this, we're doing fine.

Open source software is usually designed to be very powerful and flexible. With flexibility and power comes complexity. Do we sacrifice writing powerful software with writing "easy to use" software? It cannot always be both.

By Geeks For Geeks (1)

interiot (50685) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328022)

In short, Open Source is geeks writing software for geeks, and usability suffers...

Duh. :)

I've always taken this as a good thing though... yeah, maybe 'find' is a hard command to figure out, but once you figure out how to pipe things aronud, you can do things with one line of text that you couldn't do anywhere else.

Re:keep it simple, stupid (1)

ywwg (20925) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328026)

(I'm not trying to be a troll, it's just I hate when people see only themselves and not other people's perspectives)

It's views like this that prevent OSS from moving ahead of Windows. Read my lips: text interfaces suck for everyguy's day-to-day work.

Imagine: I can type "rm -rf junkdir" or I can click and hit delete. One requires memorization of a command, its parameters, and typing. The other requires a click and a keystroke. A text interface is NOT THE BEST for _most_ user situations!

Talk to someone who doesn't like computers and you will see what I'm talking about.

Re:BS... (1)

MISplice (19058) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328028)

Yes KDE and Gnome make a nice UI for most people, but the real problem lies in the actual setting up a system. You can't just pop a CD in have it Autostart press an install button and then be on your way. The desktops may be as good as Windows and Mac but the actual "usability" is still geared more toward the technical side. Once that barrier is broke then maybe the claim "Its Easy" will work but until then most novices I know when you say untar something they would think you just drove through a newly paved road.

Resource sharing. (2)

slashdot-terminal (83882) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328030)

How can they say that the GUI's are hard to use? Sounds like it was written by someone who has never seen XFree86. It's almost as simple to use as Windows or MacOS.

Actually what makes it hard is the ammount of system resources your typical program is using.
Take an example I went from version 1.1.10 of the gimp 1.1.14 and suddently more and more memory was being sucked into the program. Wheras a perfectly good program had once run on my machine 16MB or physical ram and 20MB of virtual the machine needed even more. So now I have something like 38virtual just to make sure the memory dosn't just magically run out.

If people would just optimeze the development the UI could be more user friendly and still be interesting.

Red Hat's IPO changed everything, and this as well (1)

SethJohnson (112166) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328031)

Now that Open Source software has really ventured into the commercial realm, the quality of the user interface has become a prominent issue and isn't being ignored by the companies (Red Hat, Debian, Corel, etc.) who are trying to sell their product to the largest possible market (non-geeks).

I think the guy who wrote this piece has sort of been spending too much time with his wife and family lately.

Re:Wierd (-1, Too Obvious) (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328043)

open- source articles

No I wasn't talking about a ancient greek communal mold.... (not that this make much more sence ;-)

Yes and no. (1)

kwsNI (133721) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328047)

Yes, there are different Window Managers that have some really kickass interfaces. However, there are some interfaces that aren't so great. What may be someone's favorite WM may not have a really great GUI. I picked XF86 because it's my favorite and because it is one of the MANY good user interfaces out there.



Open Source UI's (1)

Sakhmet (137111) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328051)

I'm more than willing to help any of you coders out there with user interface issues.

I'm a writer by trade and education, as well as an educated graphic designer.

Let me know of any of your projects require any UI work, and I'd me more than happy to assist.

Not being a coder, this is about all I have to offer the community.

"The surest way to corrupt a youth is to instruct him to hold in higher esteem those who think alike than those who think differently."

Being for 'geeks' is what makes Linux great! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328055)

One of the only reasons I run Linux is because I can. Not any idiot off the street can setup, install, maintain, and use linux. If Linux becomes too GUI and user-friendly I'll ditch it and go to something more complex. Something bothers me when I go to a gamer-store and the clerk thinks he's all elite cuz he can install redhat! BAH! I'm already looking into getting OpenBSD.


So True (2)

348 (124012) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328057)

The fact is that it's much harder to make good end-user software than it is to make good infrastructure software - and that's going to make it tough for Open Source software to break out of its server niche.

This is so true. A common thread around here is that someone will say "But doing X on Linux is hard, it was easier on my old UI" or something like that and then the flames start. Linux is supposed to be for people who are smart enough to understand it etc. etc. I agree to a point, specifically around the infrastructure areas, but to be truly mainstream and industrial strength, Open-Souce software will have to grow up so that the average customer can use it.

Never knock on Death's door:

Not so. (3)

Aasmunds (114237) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328062)

X is easy to use, if someone sets it up so that it is easy to use. Which means that there are as many different "easy-to-use" setups as there are hackers. To the experienced user, a bad thing about the Windows GUI is that you can't do very much about it. To the inexperienced user, a good thing about the Windows GUI is that it is pretty much the same no matter what box you use. Furthermore, Windows comes ready to use out of the box. X doesn't. And X is not X if you change machines. FVWM, GNOME and KDE look and feel very different, and adding new apps and changing the sysadmin's stupid default setup to one you like is not entirely painless for the inexperienced. Bottom line, X is still a hacker's GUI.

Sometimes it's just a lack of time... (1)

Telcontar (819) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328065)

For many small programs, the people who write them just don't have the time to create an elaborate user interface around it... usually, the programmers themselves use the command line version, so the scratch-an-itch motivation is no longer here. And if the author of the program has time to extend it, he would probably rather improve the functionality. Nothing evil about that.

It would be good if all those Win32 programmers who don't like writing deep (complicated) code but love designing UIs (shallow, boring code) contributed more to Open Source programs!

Does he have a point? Maybe (3)

vanguard (102038) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328067)

When I was a sysadmin I installed a package with a terrible gui installation routine. The only people who would use this installation routine (the software cost around $750,000) are experianced system administrators. The next revision of the installation was not graphical but it worked. The new system was well accepted.

What's my point? Good UI design is not important for applications that cater to IT pros.

I wonder if he's looking at the apps that are built for IT guys?

The X window is not tough to use. It's certainly not any tougher the MS Windows. Star Office is a breeze, so are the other apps targeted at "users" (xmms, gaim, etc.).

I don't this it's fair to bash the UI of Apache because my Aunt can't set it up. It wasn't built for her.

Completely Disagree (3)

Hrunting (2191) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328070)

If you look at it, the foundation for open-source software has been laid out over the years. Functionality was always second place to aesthetics and usability. Now, OSS is entering a more mature age where those other concerns begin to exert themselves. KDE isn't a unique interface, but GNOME is pretty unique. If you take the ideas of themes, then you have an open-source GUI model. Some themes are extremely excellent in terms of their usability (some are downright awful). Granted, the code underlying all of that isn't beautiful, but end-users only see what's on top anyway. Programs like wmakerconf and sawmill's control panel allow people to make these changes extremely quickly, even directly from the gzipped tar file. You can't tell me that that's not extremely easy.

What this article says is that the OSS model has a hard time producing good GUIs, but that's not the case at all. We haven't needed good GUIs because our programs have never been for the end-user. Now that OSS is going mainstream, the end-user is being involved, and I think the OSS model is successfully tackling this challenge as well.

UI != OS (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328072)

a) Linux is for geeks & servers, so it will always be around. This gives it infinite time to address UI issues. b) Linux restores a layered approach. Some people even like to run it without a UI (gasp!) Once enough seats are in place, the UI market can flourish independent of the OS market. "Value-added" resellers can present a monolithic glob for that segment of the market that somehow requires one. c) Developers of all those little internet appliances, settop TV boxes, palmtops, game consoles, etc. *love* the fact that they can put their own UI on a robust OS. I sure hope the mentality of "there can only be one OS for everybody, and the one with the most market share 'wins' due to herd mentality, so an OS must be all things to all people" dries up as the light of a future of infinite possibilites shines brighter and brighter.

THEORY: It's the closed source (1)

argoff (142580) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328084)

by endorsing copyrights, society creates a culture that's inclined to promote hype over substance. This unnaturally attracts away the people who are attracted to pretty looking interfaces, and asthetically elloquent solutions. Getting rid of copyrights would go a long way to migrating the two cummunities - we can already see a larger artistic attraction to Linux than any other unix os in history - so this support the theory even more. (eg gimp, gnome were unthinkable with other unices)

Closed source GUI's innovative?? (1)

Aravaipa (30801) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328087)

I don't agree with the premise that closed source commercial products have innovative GUI's. Compare the GUI of Word to WordPerfect and you'll notice almost no difference between the two. To make a blanket generalization, I think the average open source user is much more open to new interface ideas. I think that if success and marketshare are the only concerns, writers of OS software might be advised to copy the GUI's of closed source programs as closely as possible, change the names of a few of the buttons, add some color and send it out. Isn't that what MSFT did with IE, after all?

I hate to be this cynical, but, for the average user, the barrier to trying something new seems to be pretty low.

What problem? (1)

MetalHead (54706) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328092)

I fail to see how this is a problem.

If you don't like the UI, change it. It's probably GPL'ed, nobody can stop you.

If you're just going to whine, then get out of the way.

UI in Open Source programs (4)

waldeaux (109942) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328096)

OK I may be a radical, but although I hear over and over again that the "failing" of Open Source (which for the purpose of this response I will equate with UNIX) is that the user-interface is SO HARD compared to

I have spent almost no time using Windows since I first ran into it in 1983 or so. I have avoided Win3.1, Win95, Win98, WinNT, and I will probably try to avoid Win00 (as in "Win zero zero") when it plops onto the universe. That doesn't mean I haven't USED it at all, but I haven't attempted to master it.

So, now it looks like I'll be started a new job soon which uses WinTel all over the place. I'm not worried about that (aside from all the obvious places I should be worried: security, scalability, reliablility, etc. :-), but when I see other people using WinTel OS's it seems that the UI is nothing CLOSE to "immediately obvious". It's levels upon levels of options and configuration which isn't intuitive most of the time.

OK - so let's compare that to X11, Gnome, CDE, and even to older things like OpenWin. Are these UI's THAT far afield from Win9X or NT that they're actually MORE difficult to master? I think not. Sure the key mappings might be different and for most users, there's some fraction of expected interaction with a command line,but even for Win9X people, there is still a LOT of "delving into DOS" that takes place, even though there is a percentage of users who only interact with the GUI.

So what about this new generation of UNIX users (defined for convenience as the post Ultrix/SunOS/ SCO people --- basically the "Linux era", although that also includes non-Linux UNIX, e.g., Solaris)? While it's not common to have users who never ever deal with the command line, I think we've reached the threshhold that it could be done. The available client software that I find under RedHat and Gnome are very quickly eating away any need (other than convenience that my fingers are hardwired to vi sequences and sentences like "ls -lt | head -5" :-) for the shell. The file managers are no worse than what comes with Win9X, there's a Gnome "finder" that works as well as the one in MacOS (does anyone know why "find . -type d -exec chmod g+s {}\;" doesn;t work under Linux?), and so forth.

At this point I think arguments along the lines of "well, Linux/Open Source loses because they have really geeky UI's" is more FUD than accurate. It will become even less accurate over a somewhat short time scale! One metric to testing this assertion it to see how many "normal" admin UNIX tasks (sysadmin or user adminstrative tasks) are being pushed over to programs with UI's than are done on the shell. Programs like Gftp, xchat, etc. are definitely taking the place of all the command-line programs in my life, mostly because the UI is straightforward and gets me to complicated uses faster and easier than before. At that point, it's no different than searching for some obscure panel item in Win9X...

YMMV, of course.

skins. Bah! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328097)

Skins are IMHO a worthless feature. Who cares if I can redesign the whole interface if it doesn't work correctly in the first place? All I'm doing is making a poorly-designed product look different and run more slowly. Pick an interface and stick with it, refine it, modify it as needed, but forget about being able to choose what color of dropshadow I can have for a 3-d button.

All that time and effort wasted on supporting skins could have been poured into fixing other bugs or refining algorithms. With all the talk about how "real Unix eschews eye-candy" I'm surprised to find this such a "must-have" feature in so many newer applications.

usability (2)

banky (9941) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328101)

One of the most common anti-Linux things I hear is that "while you're typing away, I'm getting work done", implying that point-and-click GUI applications are the only way to do useful work.

Once again, I think its about mindshare, not technology per se. People equate typing to bearskins and stone axes. People also have developed a large amount of "muscle memory" when it comes to using a UI. I can't live without alt-tab, I have yet to retrain my fingers for any of the different "superior" keybindings, for instance. And may people now refuse to take their hand off the mouse, even if it provides an "easier" way of doing things.

Themes are nice, but usability is more than themable checkboxes and xmms skins: its a consistent metaphor across the entire UI, which imo is against what X stands for: why force anything? But until a certain level of rigidity is enforced, it won't ever be set for Aunt Millie.

No. (1)

Maul (83993) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328103)

This article has little weight behind it, IMO.

On one hand I would say that he has a point, except for the fact that there are open source applications for Linux that seem rather easy to use once they are properly set up. I don't see anything awkward or difficult about X. Point and Click is Point and Click. In Red Hat you can set it up to start up on X, so they don't even need to remember to type the command to start it.

Another open source app, The GIMP is rather akin to photoshop. Not everything is there where you would expect it, nor is the product quite as good, but it seems rather easy to use.

If this guy is talking about software like Apache or something, it seems rediculous. What kind of end user is even going to install software like Apache? Hopefully not someone that demands a point and click interface for everything, and a paperclip buddy to tell him how to do it.

I mean, there are people who complain that Windows is too hard to use (even with it's wizards and paperclip buddies flying around), and I don't think it is appropriate to bloat our code to accomidate people who for some reason turn into idiots the minute they sit in front of a computer.

"You ever have that feeling where you're not sure if you're dreaming or awake?"

Re:Many geeks could make great gui's (0)

ryandlugosz (142662) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328106)

No, actually 'alot' is not a word at all. The verb you are thinking of is spelled 'allot'. You should probably check the dictionary before you attack someone. :)

For once... (2)

drox (18559) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328109) article about the flaws of Open Source software that doesn't hint (or outright declare) that the solution to these flaws is to abandon the Open Source model.

Until the user's perspective is an integral part of the Open Source development process, those Open Source products that rely on end-user interfaces (beyond the command line, that is) will continue to offer substandard interfaces on top of excellent engine code.

This problem can be fixed by merely paying attention to what ordinary users want and/or need.

Of course one person's flaw is another person's feature, but that's okay too. There will continue to be command line interfaces for those of us who want them, but an easy to use "training wheels" open source operating system with lots of GUI bells and whistles would certainly help to spread the gospel to those whose life doesn't revolve around computers, but who still use them from time to time.

well, it's true... (1)

Frederic54 (3788) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328111)

a lot of OSS are written by geeks and for geeks, as a geek i don't care, but if i tell a coworker "try this it's wonderful" and he discovered it's a command line tool with a lot of options, he'll not use it. I know people called them "computer geek" but the only thing they know is click on a button, like the script kiddies who don't know what a shell prompt is...
i'm going back hacking with vi :o)
BeRoute []

Can't somebody do better? (4)

Industrial Disease (16177) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328122)

Almost as simple to use as Windows? Yeah. That's the problem. The Windows GUI isn't that great, and hasn't seen any real improvement in usability (as opposed to cosmetic changes) for years. Looks like the new MacOS might have some significant improvements in usability under the eye candy. A lot of people have learned to use the Windows and Mac GUI's; people assume that means they're easy, and that they're the best possible interfaces. I don't buy it. I feel like there's got to be a better way; unfortunately, I don't know enough about UI design to know what that better way could be.

I think there is a point here, but ... (2)

drenehtsral (29789) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328125)

I think he definitely has a point. I think that most average users would never think to find a programmer on the project, and say what's on their minds, because they are used to years of large companies who let all suggestions sit in a box somewhere and never act on them. I also think that it may be hard because some programmers have very little tolerance for end users, while some are very open to input.
One thing that made me bristle while reading this was the idea that a graphical user interface should be part of the program. I love all my command line linux tools, because they are small, powerful, and configurable. I can put everything i need to rescue a system on one floppy. I can script stuff. The main thing that makes Linux worth it for me is the tools, and the fact that the GUI is _ENTIRELY_ optional. (this is starting to change... Ever tried installing a distro from CD _without_ the X libraries? &ltDOH&gt)
I do think that providing support for desktop users who don't want to know what's under the hood may be a good idea in terms of a quick way to increase the user-base, but i grew up when everybody had to be at least comfortable with a command line (my first comp. was an apple II clone (Franklin Ace 1000)), and most were programmer-users. I think that one thing that is missing is an intermediate step for new users to head towards programmer-users without having to be dropped right into a confuding environment of uncommented C code. I think that it might be more useful to make a nice integrated BASIC (&ltshudder&gt) interpreter that is ultra-user friendly to get the new users that have the drive to become programmer-users, but need some sort of a stepping-stone to become comfortable with the system. That's what got me (and a whole generation) of new computer users into the whole thing. Having a starting place that is easily self taught, soon you'll want to do more, and then you'll look for a more powerful language, find C, and if people did a little more commenting, there would be plenty of example code for new programmers to learn from.
To sum up, i think that for short term concerns, it may make sense to lure in desktop users by pampering them, but it would be nice not to damage any of the flexibility in the process. However, i think that for long term growth, what we need to do is create a less intimidating environment for more programmer-users to learn and be nurtured in, because they will ultimately be the main source of growth, reguardless of corporate support, etc...

Re:Many geeks could make great gui's (2)

klik (93694) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328130)

IMHO Whats needed is to get some real expertise in man-machine interfaces involved - I am sure there are a great number in the academic community ( psychology / human perception / cybernetics graduates and lecturers ) who I believe would be more than happy to give their input on taking the GUI in a whole new direction, and try and get away from the Desktop interface model entirely. The model in itself is/was good - but is limited when the information being used is no longer local or centralised, but distributed. An example of one of my favourite non - 2D / Desktop/Folder interfaces is the PLUMBDESIGN THESAURUS [] . It would be nice to see something more intuitive at a basic level than the desktop. Klik

Re:Yes and no. (1)

_GNU_ (81313) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328132)

XFree86 is the X Server.. it has nothing to with the interface, except just keeping it on your screen in form of a windowmanager, like Afterstep, Windowmaker, KDE and loads more..

(Afterstep 1.0 is my favourite btw)

Consistency, not Quality (2)

cbustapeck (116328) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328133)

I disagree with the author. A really well designed gui would be wonderful, but who would use it?
All of the people who really know computers extremely well, like many of the readers of slashdot probably would, but the readers of slashdot are but a minority in the group of all computer users.
More important than quality is consistency. My father, a man who has had a home computer since 1987, hates the way each time he buys a new computer, he has to learn a new system, first DOS, then Win3.1, and now Win98. And he uses the computer more than the "average" user. What he, and I think most people want is a system that is consistent. Sure, upgrade the system, make it more capable, but keep the user interface consistent with something people know, so that they can focus on actually creating a product with the computer, rather than learning how to use it.

I think you're all missing the point :) (1)

Bert Peers (120166) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328135)

People are reacting here by saying that so far vi etc has worked just fine, and OSS is for the long term and for the experienced computer user, and this and that.

True !

But, the thing is that recently a large group of these geeks have gotten the attitude that they'll try to push Windows away from the desktop : they're no longer happy with Linux munching away those hardcore textinterface tools on servers, they want Linux on the common end user desktop !

So the contradiction is kindof obvious, no ? On one hand you want to stick with Linux's roots claiming "it has worked before" and "we're not newbies", while at the same time you want to build desktops that enable your grandma to write and print a nice letter under an Office clone.

What the author is saying is that the current situation under Linux is not really suitable for running such apps, and I'd like to add that Linux in general is not suited, right now, for even building them, lest you go the "but I have too much time on my hands" way (see my other post)...

Just imho ofcourse ;)

Well... (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328139)

This is kind of like writing a paper about a book. If the target audience already knows the story inside and out, then you can omit a plot summary in the paper.

I have a feeling that these programmers automatically assume that the people that are going to use the program already know what they're doing, and don't need any assistance in their activities.

Or maybe I'm just an idiot.

-- Dr. E --

MSVC++ (0)

PHroD (1018) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328140)

eh? theyre modelling technique is just a bad ripoff of OPENSTEP's InterfaceBuilder app, with none of the really cool things like graphically connecting UI objects to backend objects (literally clicking and dragging)

If I had a floppy drive (which was recently destroyed) I'd reinstall it, b/c yes there are people still writing apps for it, and Objective-C, ProjectBuilder and InterfaceBuilder make life REAL easy for rapidly writing new apps :)

"There is no spoon" - Neo, The Matrix

Re:Yes and no. (1)

DaKrushr (16560) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328143)

I take it you really don't know what you're talking about. (NOTE: This is not a flame)

XFree86 provides almost nothing but the ability to display windows and do input.

If you start up X without a window manager, you won't enjoy it very much - I do it occasionally when I want to play a game (Quake*, CivCTP, etc.), but all I have is an xterm with no border.

You must be using some window manager to get a nice interface - i.e. WindowMaker, Sawmill, Enlightenment, FVWM*, or even twm - either that, or you are using an 'desktop environment', such as GNOME, KDE, XFCE (is that what you were thinking of?), or possibly UDE.

Re:Its true (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328144)

If ALL of us would pull together instead of staying in splinter groups we could dominate the desktop world. Well its easier said than done..... :-) Actually if all groups could work on the ONE GUI of non technical end users... Still keeping up with their own on the side. Just ideas....

Re:Bah! (1)

Mad Browser (11442) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328154)

I would agree with you that things are getting better, but it's still far from as easy to use as Windows or the MacOS *for the average user*...

Consider this example:

CDs - Windows and MacOS automount the CDs and they are available for use. Most Linuxes do not automount CDs. You must mount them by hand...


Its not about cant, its about dont want to... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328157)

Some tasks are just to bothersome for most to do if they arent being payed to do it.

Do we really need GUI's? (1)

Eruantalon (87981) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328159)

What exactly is a GUI in the first place? My understanding of it has always been that it's a graphical interface to make using a program require less thought/reading/learning. Point-and-click at its best. Perhaps Windoze users need GUI's, but I really don't think that Open Source users do.

Most Open Source OSes were built by people who knew what they were doing, for people who would know what they were doing. Thus, no real GUI's were created. The fact that there really are none doesn't mean that we can't create them - I think it more means that we don't need them.

Sure, getting new users into Open Source OSes is hard, has been hard, and always will be hard, as far as I can see. But if people take the time to learn about the OS before switching to a new one, and to read the manuals after switching, and to join usenets, newsgroups, and mailing lists where they can ask any questions they have, they'll be able to learn about their new OS, and become more educated in the process.

Of course, we need to stop feeling so high-and-mighty towards newbies and users of other OSes, or else they're never going to feel comfortable enough to switch or ask questions or learn about our OSes. We need to help them, not ridicule them. Either that, or we need to create these GUI's to dumb-down the users of Open Source, which is against its ideals. Using Open Source means you have to learn something about it before you can reap its benefits.

If we don't want to have problems with getting new users & keeping them, creating useful/"pretty" GUI's, losing users because of the amount of info they need to learn, etc., we need to help them learn how to work with the OS. GUI's are nice, but knowledgeable users are so much better.

The author's fundamental mistake (4)

cpeterso (19082) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328161)

why is the best software writing organization on earth unable to produce innovative interfaces, when small commercial software companies do so with regularity (if not always with commercial success)? The answer is relatively simple: The Open Source movement has no feedback loop to end-users, and no imperative to create one.

I think this is the author's fundamental mistake. The developers of successful Open Source projects are its users. The user has a software itch that must be scratched. No one else is going to do it. Most Open Source developers don't get paid to write their software. They code for personal enjoyment. Can someone think of an example Open Source project where the developers are not users?

Re:A list (1)

auntfloyd (18527) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328163)

How many newbies are going to run the following:


X11, yes, and possibly Apache (which is usually preconfigured for whatever distro you get). The fact is newbies, won't be using TeX or bind, setting up sendmail, and will probably will use joe or pico instead of Emacs or vi. So why dumb down the interfaces? A brain dead Emacs makes no sense, and vi without it's odd commands is not a vi. Newbies won't be running bind or sendmail, not because they are hard to configure, but because they have no need to reconfigure them. And TeX? Why would any newbie give up on WordPerfect or Maxwell or whatever and use raw TeX?


Re:keep it simple, stupid (1)

DaKrushr (16560) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328166)

I use the command line for most of my file handling because it is FASTER for me to click xterm, then rm -rf junkdir than to:

Click file manager
Click-click-click to the directory it is located
Click once more, then hit delete.

Similarly, it is hugely faster to do:

mv *txt mytxtdir/

Drag, release.

I'm not saying GUIs are bad - but for real power users, they often don't make sense.

What is easy for you and me... (5)

Little Brother (122447) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328168)

What is easy for you and me, even if you're not a programmer. Is probably VERY different from what is easy for the old lady down the street. While I was in high school I earned spending money as independent tech-support, advising and systems repairs for the town in which I live. I learned quickly that there are things that we take completly for granted that many people have a difficulty learning. The people I worked with were primarly college graduates and none were paticularly dense, nevertheless here are some of the problems I came accross:

Someone didn't know what double-click meant, thought it meant clicking with BOTH mouse buttons. (Makes as much or more sense than clicking with one button twice.)

Someone didn't know that Windows 95 wouldn't run very well on his 386DX system. (how should he know?)

Someone didn't know that return and enter mean the same thing.

Someone didn't know what I meant when I said "monitor."

Someone didn't know what I meant by "Icon"

Someone didn't know how to access the file menu.

Someone didn't know that he had to turn on his external modem seperatly from his computer system.

Someone didn't know what a link was

Someone didn't know how to turn on his monitor. (I had a bit of trouble finding the hidden switch.)

Someone didn't know the difference between memory and disk space (many don't actualy)

These are but a few examples of things that are EXTREMLY basic to us. However few of them are intuitive in actuality. Most "geeks" I've talked to don't understand the mindset of the non-computer literate user. They could write a user-friendly program, if only they knew what the user might need.

Oh and by the way, most extremly new users I worked with prefered keystrokes to mouse strokes, so why do all the manufactuarers rush to put GUI's on all desktops? A simple arrow key oriented shell (in the msdos shell sense of the word) would be better for many of them and applications with a printed list of ctrl commands may well be more usefull than one with confusing pictures.

GUI != ease of use (2)

rw2 (17419) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328171)

I think a lot of the problem is one of perception. The GUI is good idea has been around for a long time, but is difficult to substantiate. Ease of use means taking the least amount of time/effort to complete a task. The substantial up front learning to become a shellophile is paid back every day by *not* having to use a menu for every task.

One example is simply finding the file one is looking for. Using grep, find, xargs, cut, sort and their ilk one can find any file he wants. Not so with the fancy pants 'find' utility in Visual C++. So the advantage of having the find facility a keystroke away and integrated into the IDE is quickly lost.

Another example is Star Trek (hey Lederman made Star Trek analogies, why can't I!). They use displays as feedback mechanisms, but for interacting with the computer they talk. Why? Well two reasons, GUIs are really bad TV and also because it is much more intuitive to describe your problem in natural language and let the computer do the rest.

So, as other posters have pointed out GUIs are gaining ground, but let's not forget the power of text to represent the world. The sooner I can talk to my computer the better!

BTW, does anyone know a good speech to text tool that I can use from a command line? I'm using Festival to go the other direction and need something to complete the loop.

there is some merit (1)

octover (22078) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328173)

I am a web developer, every day I code in ColdFusion and Php, I also do some graphics work. I use windows at work because ColdFusion Studio is really great. It offers the best enviroment to code ColdFusion/Php and the closest thing I;ve found is NEdit that pales in comparison (can't even get all of the syntax highlighting right). Someone posted that the guru is coding in the form neccessary (only a console text-only app) to avoid the layer of a GUI because it is not needed, but a nice GUI makes a program stand above the rest and a more pleasant experience for those using. Note: there are some programs that only should be console only but there are a lot that could benefit from a good GUI] Granted if I wanted to I could code in Linux at the console in Pico/Emacs/Vi, but I don't, because I have used a good editor (CFStudio) that had a good GUI. I know that Emacs would be really nice to use for coding my C/C++ programs, but I don't know all the commands and really don't want to, when I can open the program in M$ Visual C++ 6 and get all the neat features now, without a learning curve.

I like the Gimp it is very nice, but I have used Photoshop, and the keyboard shortcuts and polish kick the Gimp's behind any day. If I had never used Photoshop I would praise The Gimp all day long, but it isn't as friendly as Photoshop. If The Gimp's shortcuts were as easy to use as Photoshops and not so complex it would give it a leg up, but they aren't and the learning curve is steeper which makes it harder to jump in and get something done.

Basically what I'm driving at is that while Linux is nice, Linux is great, right now it isn't the best means to the end of a web developer. The engine is nice but the car looks like crap and isn't polished.

Don't forget (1)

MrEd (60684) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328174)

If you want another example of something that bodes well for user interfaces, check out moonlight3d [] , an open-source graphics rendering program.

Re:BS... (2)

wagnerr (145558) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328183)

I think that a lot of the article's comments are directed not only at the window managers, but also at the applications themselves. The window managers are improving themselves in ease of configuration and use by leaps and bounds... It's often times the interfaces for the included software that are either "less-nice" looking or more difficult to use than the Win32 counterparts.

Even under Linux at home, I use Wine with my Forte Agent to cruise the newsgroups. The Linux application community is getting there, but still has a ways to go.

Re:UI in Open Source programs (1)

Bert Peers (120166) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328186)

Yes, it's not making sense to put a GUI on top of an application which doesn't need one. But you're making the mistake imho of throwing the child away with the water (heheheh is that English ? :)

Yeah, /etc makes a helluva lot more sense to configure an OS than those goddamn un-navigatable WinNT comboboxes. But a nice button with a diskette on it makes a helluva lot more sense to save a file than ":wq".

Please, stop confusing the server side of Linux with the desktop side !

He hit the nail on the head... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328188)

If Linux/OSS is ever going to "take over the world", "Destroy Bill Gates", etc, etc ad infinitum, then coders are going to have to stop coding for themselves and other like-minded geeks and start thinking about the ultimate end-user - your average Joe Sixpack. Heck, Linux (for an example) is a pain in the neck for even experienced end users.

What A Load Of Dog Shit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328191)

OK. I can immediately think of one Open Source project which has, probably, the best looking interface in the history of computer software. It's also a sheer joy to use...

this would be the copyrighted undistributable open source natalie portman and open source drew barrymore project, of course. these aren't just idle words either. see for yourself [] !

in fact, this interface is such a pleasure to use, i hardly ever want to stop! let some closed source windows chicken shit beat that!

yeah, bill gates can get some aging rock group to sign on to his little os, but where are the hot young actresses, billy boy?! freakin' poseur.

thank you.

Bingo! (2)

jht (5006) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328193)

Open Source has developed a plethora of worthy software - as the examples mentioned elsewhere prove so well. But user interfaces have never been an area of concern - partly because those of us who use and build the software aren't the type of people who need much in the way of a UI, partly because we're building on a system that wasn't designed with usability as a primary concern (remeber the age of Unix, folks!), and partly due to Geek Testosterone.

Sure, the Gnomes and KDE's of the world put a prettier face on some of it, but most programs that have a thought-out UI in the Open Source world are just retreads of existing non-free programs' interfaces. So the GIMP is an example of a nice interface? It's pretty much a Photoshop clone that has some differences, but there are more similarities than not. Skins and chrome are cool, and a nice way for power users to spice up their user experience, but if we want to see World Domination anytime soon, we need to understand the needs of the ordinary user. They don't need or want a cool skin - they need a straightforward interface that works the way they need it to and that they can use out of the box.

Saying "once they learn how to use bash properly" doesn't cut it - If an average non-power user has to get that far they'll give up. Period. They don't want to learn, nor should they have to. For Linux to succeed as a desktop OS, it needs to be possible to perform all the necessary user tasks without ever requiring a command line or editing a .conf file. That includes configuring the system and installing software. For better or worse, the marketplace has Windows and MacOS out there, and both have comparatively well thought-out, consistent user interfaces that enforce similar rules throughout all applications that run on the platform. In this case, the power and flexibility of Linux is the fatal flaw.

- -Josh Turiel

Case in Point (2)

Chester K (145560) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328195)

who needs "innovative, flashy looks" when a nice text-prompt will work just fine?

This is exactly the attitude that the author was pointing out as the reason why the acceptance of Open Source software on the user's desktop is still quite a ways off.

The point is: end users want innovative, flashy looks, and Good Design(tm). They freeze up like a deer in the headlights when they see a $ or a #. Geeks are happy with command prompts and tend to assume everyone else is to, or they assume implementing skins will solve everyone's problem. Skins are no substitute for good UI design. Thanks for illustrating the author's point.

So? (1)

Hampswitch (113637) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328199)

I don't understand all this hoopla over GUIs. I mean, if you want a user interface, write one. If you don't want one, then you don't have a problem. If you want one, but don't know how to write it yourself, pay someone else to write one. Frankly, it's no skin off my back if other people decide that linux is too complicated for them to use.

Flawed premise (1)

Crag (18776) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328200)

I didn't read the article, I'm just responding to the slashpost.

Since when is it all free software/open source's obligation to satisfy the needs of people who aren't writing it?

The point of free software is whatever the author(s) say(s) it is. For Gnome/KDE, it's UI. For vim it's being an improvement on vi. For emacs it's being a programmer's workspace. For enlightenment it's configurability (not necessarily ease of use).

If someone created a volunteer effort to put a colony on the moon, would uninvolved parties then complain that the accomodations at the colony were too spartan?

I've seen it said a few times in this discussion already, but not loudly enough: if you don't like free software, fix it yourself or don't use it.

Re:Consistency, not Quality (1)

grumpy_geek (97488) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328201)

Umm... wait a minute there... who would use it, people who really know computers would NOT use it. How many power users write html in vi or in a GUI editor, now how many grandmothers, etc write in vi (or notepad) compared to the GUI. The gui gets in the way for people who know computers, the gui is meant to help the end user who doesn't know. You can't tell me that if you were to plop your father down in a room by himself (with no help or instruction) in front of a linux text prompt compared to KDE or GNOME or Win98 (assuming he had never seen any of them) that the text prompt would be the one that he prefers as he tries to learn the OS. Most of the world is this way, they get a computer and have to dink around with it; they have no direction as to what they should or should not do. Now do you still think that the "average" user would prefer learning text commands over a GUI?

I understand where you are going with your statements, it would be nice (in theory, until you take a second glance) to have one interface that works with everything and never changes... but of course that would mean that we never would have anything other than a login prompt... not even text menus, heck if we kept it the same we'd still be using punched cards since we won't have to learn that new darn keyboard interface when I can feed a card.

Re:A list (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328202)

How many of these projects are actually used by say, I dunno 10% of the computer-using public? Gnome and KDE, however well-designed and architectured, are ugly ducklings next to an NT box, or even better a good ole Mac. Skins and cool looking buttons are skin-deep pretty; a really beautiful interface is consistent, predictable and, most importantly non-intimidating. Virtual Desktops? CPU Usage Meters? That's just coats of paint...

The article is 100% on target: UIs in OSS are geared towards the type of people who contribute to the project that creates the OSS --not the users of the software. And for the same reason that /. will never be as popular as an AOL chat room: it's not easy to use.

I think it's time for the OSS community (Debian, LSB, RedHat, whoever) to come up with HCI guidelines, much like the Mac has had for 15 years now.

Now, I am not a Mac advocate; I used to admin Macs and I am all too familiar with the rebooting chime of a Mac, the strange celtic-sounding melodies produced in any largish Mac cluster. But, the things are so easy to use; I've had people walk up to me, saying that they had never used a typewriter, much less a computer, and after a 5-10 min tutorial on the Mac, they'd be pecking their way thru Word...

We need the same level of usability on a Linux box. Otherwise I am lining up for a G4 with OS X ;-)...

Things the UI makes me use commercial software for (2)

GlobalEcho (26240) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328205)

I'm not a user-type, and even I have eschewed free software with ugly UI's for better commercial version. Here's a brief list:

1. Text Editing
This is obviously a touchy issue for many. For me, they need a good GUI. On Linux, I use gEdit, which is buggy and feature-poor, but OK. When I want to get real work done, though, I use OpenStep's And yes, I know how to use vi, emacs, joe, and even ed when I must.

2. CD Burning
To burn an audio CD on my Linux system, I spent 2 hours(!) reading manuals -- for xcdroast, cdrdao, etc. Then I went to burn, and still screwed it up. I rebooted in Windows, used the free utility that came with my CD-RW, and was ready to burn in 5 minutes. Success.

3. Copying and Pasting
Anytime I will have to do a lot of copying and pasting between apps, I switch to an OS where the keys for doing so are always the same. And where there's a real clipboard.

4. Matlab
Octave successfully duplicates the command line interface, but (surprise!) has nothing like a more convenient notebook interface.

5. Paint programs
Sure, the GIMP is all right. But (unless I'm missing some motherlode of plugins) it is feature-poor, and the interface for some tools in nonstandard.

Is there ANY free software that makes you want to switch to it, just for the UI?

- Brian

Re:keep it simple, stupid (1)

DrEldarion (114072) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328206)

who needs "innovative, flashy looks" when a nice text-prompt will work just fine?

Ah, yes... this reminds me of my many years of using DOS. When it all comes down to it, I can get things done way faster using DOS than I can with Windows. (Yeah, I use Windows, so sue me.)

-- Dr. E --

Comments and What We Really Need for End Users (1)

SgtPepper (5548) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328207)

Mr. Kuniavsky brings up some /very/ valid points, but one thing he does fail to realize is
one of the main reasons OSS groups copy popular commercial interfaces is because that is
exactly what they are..../popular/, why do your own research when the multi-billion dollar
company has already done it for you? Not to mention this one part irked me:

can't just rely on newsgroups
and email as a way of finding out what users want.
Most end-users who run into problems will never
provide that kind of feedback, and those who do will
be a self-selecting group of loudmouth power users.

that /might/ have been true a couple of years ago, but email is now so wildly popular that
i'm sure even normal users would respond via email. I mean why not? If it's something
that someone wants but they can't do it, email the programmer and say, "Hey I have this
great idea". I'm sure we'd /all/ love feedback like that. The reason why this loop isn't
there yet is because the installed base of normal users is still quite low, and /that/ is
something that still needs to be addressed. Which brings me to my second part, what we
really need in the OSS community is a simple, intiuitive STANDARD GUI installment process,
we all know that most installs on WinXX look the same and operate the same (ie "D:\setup",
etc, etc ). Ones it's easy to install and configure from the GUI goodbye command line, it
would need some kind of auto compiling/making routines, but really, how hard would it be to
do? Hmmm...maybe that'll be my next project...unless it's already out there, and if it is
SOMEONE /please/ point it out to me. In my mind that's what's /really/ missing.

What does this contact do?*BBZZZZZZZZT*

Any standard is better than none... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328208)

X easy to use? Depends on how the hell the developer in question chose to set up the GUI this time, 10 different X programs 10 differently working GUI's. Hell I have used X programs wich didnt even assign mouse button functions consistently inside the same program. No way you can use stuff like that without either a lot of trial and error or just memorizing the manual. Its not all that bad, but on the whole windows programs tend to be more consistent IMO.

Re:Can't somebody do better? (1)

crush (19364) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328209)

A lot of people have learned to use the Windows and Mac GUI's; people assume that means they're easy,

Agreed! I find it interesting when I try to use a w95 box or a Mac - I find them both a real pain in the ass to use and definitely non-intuitive (Quadra is easier), but my wife who uses them regularly finds them fine. Yeah, I can get along with it, but some things take me a little longer to figure out than I care to admit. There's a whole visual language to be learned with every interface and users of each one asume that it's a natural easy thing.

I think the bottom line is to provide a stable constant thing that people feel they can learn - it's worth their investment of time because it's going to be still the same in essentials years down the road. I actually think that GNOME does a good job here.

Your fundamental mistake (5)

lbergstr (55751) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328211)

Programmers are _not_ typical end-users. They are way, way more savvy. On top of that, they're intimately familiar with their own work, so idioms that may be completely mystifying to typical users become second nature to them. The key to useful usability testing is seeing how much a typical, slightly computer-phobic user can get done in the first half hour of use. IMHO, often, a programmer's evaluation of the usability of his or her own work has little connection to reality. UI design should be trusted to UI professionals, subjected to as much testing as possible, and then translated into code.

Rules for writing BS about OS (2)

whoop (194) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328220)

1) Most importantly, no facts, just vague generalities.

I don't see a single tangible suggestion in this thing. What good does saying Open Source user interfaces suck, if you cannot say "Doing X in program Y is too complicated for the average user, it should be done like A and B." And don't forget to just say, "Fix it."

2) Don't do research. Open source is for geeks, that's all you need to know. Everyone knows what a geek is, so draw upon that.

Ignore any email addresses, news groups, mail lists, web sites, icq numbers, etc in the documentation of a program. There is no way to get in contact with the software authors, just give up right now. It is a closed society. If you are not a geek and willing to watch X-Files all night long, you will have no impact on anything. They are all sitting in their darkened basements admiring Natalie Portman while writing these programs.

3) Honor Microsoft, they are the only ones who can do anything right.

What do they do right? Who knows, but it is correct, and open source programs will never be able to touch them. Why don't these programmers just go to work for Microsoft? Then we'll have usable programs with every feature in the world, but actually work, philosophies be damned.

4) Users are the be-all when it comes to designing programs.

Any feature not included is a snub to users everywhere. After all, what other reason to users upgrade to the latest Windows/Office/etc program than the myriad of features listed on the boxes that they will never use. Eat up more and more hard drive space, but include them, all of them, and more, there isn't enough in that program. What you ask needs adding? I don't know, but add it, and don't stop there. Add something else too! Dammit I want a program that's usable, can't you get that through your head?!

5) Why is this grass in my yard still green?

There is no flexibility in that, and I have written paper upon paper imploring God/Mother Nature/whoever to change it. If grass is to be accepted by the vast majority of users, it must be willing to bend a little.

Well now (2)

Pike (52876) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328221)

Command-line software all but disappeared from the Windows world because the only available command-line interface, DOS, was such a limited system that it had to be pushed out of the way in order for the platform to evolve. As a result, most people do not know how to use it anymore. They never even learned to begin with.

It doesn't make sense to say that open source software is inherently hard to use. None of the graphical programs that came with my Mandrake 6.1 are hard to use even by Windows standards.

Are textmode tools hard to use? Maybe if you've never used them before. They're certainly not the paragon of interface design according to Tognazzini, but for many applications they're the only thing that makes sense. It may in fact be no harder to learn than Windows if you have never used a computer before; you don't approach the system with any preconceived notions about how the interface works.

Is vim hard to use? Maybe if you're used to Notepad or MS Word. It's all relative.

I was a bit frustrated with Linux at first because I had been a Windows user for a long time and had not used DOS for many moons. Administering your computer can be a little tough when all you have is a prompt and you have no idea where Linux puts everything. After you readjust, it all makes sense.

In fact, the only major real hurdle with open source software is having to compile it. Much software is available only in source format. I have had any number of compiles fail on me, and it's too much to ask of a typical user to have him poke around in the code or go out and grab some missing dependencies, even though I personally am capable of trying to fix the problem.

There should some sort of automated package tool that provides the both the performance benefits of compiling with the automation of a binary install. Rather than distributing a binary package, distribute a package containing a source tree and instructions for the package tool that allow it to automatically compile and install the program, without having a bunch of extra source files laying around if you don't want them.


Re:Credit (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328224)

Exactly. The superiority complex from a lot of Linux users is precisely why it won't go mainstream.

Programmers should not design UI's. (1)

Deega (41540) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328225)

User Interfaces are the realm of ergonomics specialists and psychologists. Programmers can hash out a usable gui, but are not usually experts in human behavior. How do you convince an ergonomics specialist or a psychologists to help out? Maybe this is something that can be done in an educational facility with cooperation between CS and human usablity related fields.

Re:"Failure"? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328228)

"The goal of open source is to make software that doesn't suck"

But software that is impossible to use without pouring over how-tos and man files for hours does exactly that - it sucks.

Re:Completely Disagree (2)

brianvan (42539) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328230)

What you're failing to take into account here is that many geeks know nothing about user interfaces and that possibly UI/GUI work should be collaborated on by professionals who do it for a living. Yes, you can talk all you want on how that could be open source too, but that's an area where we would be better off buying commercial packages in the near future. Open Source can't be applied to everything... I think that the fields of user interfaces and graphic design are well established OUTSIDE the realm of computers, and that for us to ask that our Open Source model all of a sudden be applied to something that it doesn't make sense with (how can you open source an image? Other than not copyright it at all) is ludicrous.

I think Open Source does a fine job with straight programming without elaborate user interfaces. For it to enter the popular realm, it needs to have user interface work done WITH it, not IN it. I think Microsoft realizes this and spends a lot of time with the user interface as a priority because they know it's important... and we get pissed at them just because the programming is crappy at times. (Part of the problem with bloatware is that fewer bugs cause more damage, so we see a bluescreen when Paintbrush has some awkward error... but we see the error, not every little step along the way that MS did perfect). I think MS has the right approach in terms of UI/GUI, and maybe a lesser quality but acceptable approach to the programming, and if you want to beat MS, then you can't take the right programming approach and the crummy UI approach (treat it as programming, not separate interface design). Do you think that the same guy who wrote the programming for an ATM machine was the same guy who put it together by hand? No. If that was the case, ATMs would suck.

Re:BS... (1)

um... Lucas (13147) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328232)

XFree86 is nothing.

Compared to things like the MacOS and Windows, the older window managers like FVWM, Afterstep, and Lestif feel far inferior in terms of basic usablility. Gnome and KDE looked promising, but quite honestly I haven't looked at either of those in probably about a year, so I can't comment there.

Last time I looked, they were looking rather smooth, but they're basically reimplementing the windows interface with just a couple extra's.

When we start seeing things like open source 3 dimensional window managers, it'll be a new story, but a lot of the times it appears that open source is mainly about refining existing technologies rather than creating new ones. Before you flame me, notice I said "most of the time"

Re:BS... (1)

Megane (129182) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328233)

Are you just being a silly First Poster, or do you really believe this?

Not only does it not pass the "mom test", but I'm pretty damn good with computers, and it took me a couple of months just to figure out how to properly configure XFree86.

Most of the X config utilities suck rocks, and keep trying to give you modelines with wierd sync rates because they think your monitor can handle them. Just let me pick the resolution and vertical sync from a list of VESA standard rates, please. I'll go in and edit the config file when I have the freaking time to tweak things.

So far, I have found only two useful installers. Xconfigurator at least bothers to put a whole bunch of standard sync rates (with the correct sync polarity) into the config file where you can comment out the unwanted rates. And the configuration from TurboLinux 4.0 lets you choose the vertical sync from within their X setup program itself.

SAX and XF86Setup both try to put in wierd sync rates, and I don't think either of them got the sync polarity right for my old NEC Multisync 4D at 1024x768.

And then there's the issue of useless installs. Trying to install a "Gnome Workstation" in SUSE 6.2 gives you something almost completely useless, and using anything but the TurboLinux window manager in TL 4.0 gives you completely useless setups, some of which aren't even configured to give you an xterm or "Run" item on the menus!

After many evenings spent on trying to make a Linux desktop system (as opposed to a server in the other room), I have finally settled on RH 6.1 as the most usable Gnome install without having to search over half the net downloading stuff.

I still use MacOS to read email and usenet. If I could find a usable GUI newsreader for which I didn't have to figure out which packages to install to get it to compile, only to segfault when reading the first message, that would be a start. But what I want is something as usable as NewsWatcher. I also want to be able to edit text and read email and news in Japanese, and MacOS 9.0 has really good support for that.

Re:A list (1)

algae (2196) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328236)

Yeah, I think it's fairly ironic that a fairly accurate analysis of open source software development's issues with UIs for the general market is coming from Or maybe they just realize it more than most.

One interface triumph I would have to add to the second list is the newer version of linuxconf that comes with Mandrake 6.1 and above.

Re:The author's fundamental mistake (3)

Bert Peers (120166) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328237)

No, I think he's right. We have feedback loops from end-users when those end-users are fellow geeks. In fact, we have the tightest feedback loop possible because those "end-users" are going straight to the code to fix what they don't like ! But when it comes to our whole new category of end-users, the desktop clicketee-click monkeys which we try to lurk over from their windows machine, we're stubborn as hell to accept that those guys simply need their dumb-ass buttons to click or they'll ignore Linux, period.

Check out the truckload of arguments dumped here as to why we really don't need GUIs, and then go ask that dumb secretary sitting next to you at the office what she'd think about a PC that gives here "# >" when booted. Yeah, maybe Gnome and KDE is listening to what their users' complaints are.. but the majority of the geeks definitely isn't. I think that's what he was saying.

Re:Bingo! (2)

PigleT (28894) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328247)

>Saying "once they learn how to use bash properly" doesn't cut it - If an average non-power user has to get that far they'll give up. Period. They don't want to learn,

This much is true, and not a problem. Just don't expect those of us who know our shells from our eggwhisks to pander to the sheer pathetic attitude of "don't want to learn".

> nor should they have to. For Linux to succeed as a desktop OS,

Disagree from here on, though. People *should* both have to, and want to, learn how to use something for what it's worth in the first place, otherwise get lost by all means. Open-Source hasn't got where it is today by getting a committee-load of morons together saying "we can't help, won't help, make it pretty pictures for us".

I suggest you also have a strange idea of linux either "succeeding" or (in general) "winning". It doesn't win by having more (l)users; it wins by being *better* than the alternatives (not "the competition"), and having a user-base giving out a *quality* signal, not a quantity one.

How can "power and flexibility of linux be the fatal flaw"? They're right up amongst its major strengths, apart from stability and all that.

Innovation is overrated (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328248)

Consistency is more appreciated by the masses.

Re:What problem? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328249)

And this kind of snobbery is why Linux will ALWAYS be just a small niche market.

The Gimp (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328250)

Ever seen it? It's got a nice GUI, and it's open source.

Re:"Failure"? (1)

Atomic Frog (28268) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328251)

Hard to use software sucks. So it fails the test.
Powerful and flexible does not necessarily imply hard to use. They are not mutually exclusive.

Take a look at MacOS. It's so easy to use. Yet, with the simple inclusion of a command-prompt window (which it doesn't have), you can add power as well, WITHOUT sacrificing either.

KDE and GNOME are an excellent start, not only for the desktop, but as well for any compliant apps.
However, if any of you "macho command prompt" dweebs would get your heads out of your ass and check out what's available, you'd find that they are still quite a bit behind the best GUI's available (X-Windows + Window Managers don't count as GUI's in my book, no matter how cool looking the buttons and window frames).
Check out past interviews with the GNOME and KDE guys, even they acknowledge that there are much better GUI's, such as OS/2's WPS.

Easy to use for non-experts is an excellent goal. Suppose I tell you that anyone who owns a car should also know how to fix it. Do you? Feel stupid now that it's something not in your area, eh? Computers are the same, some people are experts, some are not, but expertise shouldn't be required to use them.

Re:"Failure"? (1)

Jestrzcap (46989) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328253)

Hear, Hear! A very wonderful observation. I wish more people would make it.


But it is intuitive, and getting more so rapidly (1)

Morelli (60096) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328255)

I think Open source authors are in fact more reponsive to their users. It just so happens that initially most users where other programmers.

No increasingly users are no longer programmers and the open source guys have responded and seem to be now sucessfully creating interfaces for these people. KDE, Gnome, even the Gimp seem well targetted to non programmer types immediatly come to mind.

The best ideas are been taken from the Mac, Windows and X, at the same timel retaining a well hidden flexibilty for programmer types. Its the best of both worlds.

I think Open Source programmers are so closely tied to their users that I feel within the year the year we will see the arguement might be totally reversed. That in fact all the marketing types companies have, making decisions for their own political and business reasons, that it is they who frequently ignore their users desires.

Personally I believe Windows to be not that intuitive
, with the Mac probably representing the best out there currently, but that KDE (especially) and Gnome not to far behind.

Gnome UI, mailing lists and feedback (2)

tjwhaynes (114792) | more than 14 years ago | (#1328256)

One of Mike's key theories seems to be that there is no sense of feedback between the end-user and the coder in Open Source development. I would refute this fairly strongly - often the people I know using Open Source tools have fairly widespread experience of other User Interfaces, ranging often both across multiple platforms and going way, way back to before the days when the Graphical User Interface first raised it's head above the primordial digital soup. Now this experience does not make any of these people a UI expert, nor does it necessarily mean that the programs they write have well designed User Interfaces. It does however give us the possibility of recognising good UI design when we get to experience it, and also the possibility of influencing the design of the User Interface in later releases.

In these days of expanding user-base for Linux, and the push to provide a more newbie-friendly environment to work in (which, by the way, I totally support), good User Interface design is getting to be much more important. There are various resources appearing, from the Gnome UI Improvement project [] and its mailing list, along with the work that the KDE people are putting together with KDE 2.0, which are testament to the need to try and learn from the many graphical interfaces out there and to innovate as well. Having a well designed UI need not reduce the speed at which the experienced user uses their machine, while allowing the novice some hope of making progress.

Innovation is often overlooked in designing a new UI. As soon as you stray from, say, the way MS Windows does something, people jump up and down worrying that new users will be confused by a different method. I'd disagree - just because it has been done that way before is not, in itself, reason to continue doing it. A good UI *must* be intuitive and logical at some level - simply copying the existing behaviour of other window managers will not end up with a coherent project. At the moment, the graphical user interface is a mess of conflicting ideologies. We all have experienced the frustration of 'Drag-and-drop' when it isn't a universal quality - for example in Windows, you can (sometimes...!) drag a file into a program to load it, but you can't drag that file out to save it or pass it to another application to work on it in a different way. And I don't mean using the clip board either, although that may be the route that would be used to effect such a transfer, it shouldn't be obvious to the user that that is how it happened.

Taking the best paradigms for working with a graphical user interface and making it all stick together in a cohesive fashion is a task of iteration, experience and reiteration between the end-user and the coder. Since in the Open Source world the user may also wear the coders hat, this should be the ideal environment in which to create and refine the most useable graphical interface on any platform, as long as we keep our sights on some central game plan of Useability and not merely on creating a feature-rich tick list of things our programs can do.


Toby Haynes

Define good! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 14 years ago | (#1328259)

How do you define good:
Good: Morons can learn to use the software in little time.
Good: Expirenced users can work a high speeds.

Which is right? I think they are opposing goals.

Take GIMP for instance. All the time I hear new users (who are used to pshop, psp, etc) complain that it's interface is tought.
A few weeks later they complain that Photoshop's interface is inefficent.

I like the way OSS optimizes for the expirenced users. You learn once, you use forever.
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