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Have you read Eric S. Raymonds latest article?

Eric S. Raymond has just published an article on open source usability problems, called "The Luxury of Ignorance: An Open-Source Horror Story".

Here it is: http://www.catb.org/~esr/writings/cups-horror.html

Since you're an authority on UI design, could you comment on the article? ESR has never done anything to make him an authority in this area so, but he seems to be right. I thought maybe you could tell if he really is?

Fredrik Persson
Friday, February 27, 2004

I'll have my publisher send Eric a copy of my book.

See also
Why Free Software usability tends to suck
http://mpt.phrasewise.com/2002/04/13

by Matthew Thomas

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Friday, February 27, 2004

"Many hackers assume that whatever Microsoft or Apple do is good design, when this is frequently not the case. In imitating the designs of these companies, volunteer projects repeat their mistakes, and ensure that they can never have a better design than the proprietary alternatives"

Joel, this would seem to fly in the face of your theory that if 99% of users <i>think</i> it's right, then your program should work that way, even if is *wrong* for whatever reason.

Would you care to comment?

Walt
Friday, February 27, 2004

ESR has got to be the dumbest spokeperson for any cause on the planet.

No good leads for him!

Mitch & Murray (from downtown)
Friday, February 27, 2004

It isn't Windows. Boo hoo.

Google for "windows network printer problem" and you'll get over 1.5 million hits.

Mod Squod
Friday, February 27, 2004

"Many hackers assume that whatever Microsoft or Apple do is good design, when this is frequently not the case. In imitating the designs of these companies, volunteer projects repeat their mistakes, and ensure that they can never have a better design than the proprietary alternatives"

I believe his point here is more false than true.  There will always be a few examples like the link from that page says there are (Even though that page no longer exists), but in most of the cases, Microsoft and Apple fix their mistakes eventually.

For the majority of the cases, the things that Microsoft and Apple do IS good design, and they both spend a boatload of money to see what works and what doesn't work. 

Free software generally imitates the LOOK of things that M & A do, but not in the right places.  They make things look like Windows or MacOS / OSX so that users will be able to use things.  But the free software folks generally don't have the time or money resources to do research of the usability of the things they make.

Sun did a research study a little while ago on KDE or Gnome, i can't remember which to see if it could replace CDE as their environment.  I could probably find the article again, but it had a lot of good info and suggestions to those groups about how to make things work like people expected.  But sun put out a lot of time and effort to conduct the study.  J. Random Programmer can't afford that in the context of free software...

John Gardner
Friday, February 27, 2004

"the free software folks generally don't have the time or money resources to do research of the usability"

True, but here's another way to look at it.

The big companies in the Cathedrals spend  real cash to do the usability testing, then they release a product deemed by them to be usable, because their experts say it is. And some of it is very good.

The free software guys in the bazaar live in a survival of the fittest world. Keep tossing things out; if people use it, it must be better than anything else available and it survives. What usability expert would've let Perl out the door? But it survived and flourished because it was the best available for certain applications. Large scale usability testing is different for free software, not necessarily missing.

Tom H
Friday, February 27, 2004

Eric is just making the same point as the main point of Alan Cooper's "The Inmates are Running The Asylum", namely that programmers are often very bad interaction designers. This is very true and Cooper explains it in great breadth and depth.  Note that just about everything Eric says applies equally well to all software, open source or not. It's not a new point, but it is certainly well worth repeating.

Tom H says that open source just has different way of achieving usability, namely evolution by natural selection. Well, evolution by natural selection takes a lot of time.

Please note how little open source software is available that is of any interest or use to my mother. OpenOffice is an exception that proves (tests) the rule: the interaction design was done very differently for OpenOffice than for most other open source projects, and frankly most of it was "imitate Microsoft Office", which was the right thing to do partly because the whole idea was to provide an alterantive to Office and partly because Office has had a lot of good interaction design and partly because Office has been through many generations of interaction design and partly because Office imitated other good ideas (which I say with no disrespect at all -- they would have been crazy not to).

Most open source software that I've used fails miserably. Have you tried installing GIMP on Windows lately? I must have had to perform over a hundred mouse clicks, downloading this and that dependent package, and then I had to hunt in the file system and rename some DLLs (e.g. freetype6.dll to freetype-6.dll) to fix some error messages that a non-software-developer would never have understood in the first place. I was extremely underwhelmed. Perhaps installing it on Linux is a less painful experience, but whoever designed (?) the Windows installation procedure would deserve to be banished forever, except that probably there is no such person.

Dan Weinreb
Saturday, February 28, 2004

OpenOffice is also hardly representative of OSS in general because it's (a) funded by Sun and (b) based on a commercial product, StarOffice. No group of volunteers would/could have developed such a product from scratch.

Chris Nahr
Saturday, February 28, 2004

OpenOffice is also hardly representative of OSS in general because it's (a) funded by Sun and (b) based on a commercial product, StarOffice. No group of volunteers would/could have developed such a product from scratch.

Just to reply in style:

Yes, yes they could. So there ;)

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Monday, March 01, 2004

Yawn. So where are all those freeware office suites that aren't based on commercial software?

Chris Nahr
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

IIRC Chris, Star Office was a volunteer effort originally and grew to be a commercial product that was taken over by Sun.

As a point of interest, I have trouble using it because it attempts to be a copy of MS Office, which I know very well. Because it looks like a copy of MS Office I expect it to be a copy of MS Office in every way, and when it doesn't quite behave like I'd expect, often in the most minor ways, it really throws me off my stride.

I have far less problem using, for example, things like Lotus 1-2-3 because they don't attempt to look and act like MS office and so I don't get fooled into expecting them to behave like it.

Robert Moir
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

http://koffice.org/
for a volunteer-created and volunteer-driven, solid office suite.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Star Office was a German product that Sun bought. I believe the thinking behind this acquisition was that Sun was paying $x million to Microsoft in Office licence. So buying an office suite made sense if the price was less than $x million, or maybe 2 or 3x.

Of course you might argue that the product they bought at the time reduced their productivity compared to Office. You also lose focus by "insourcing" something that's far from your core business.

lionel
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Robert: what Lionel said. Star Office was originally developed by a company called Star Division in Hamburg, Germany. I had tried a demo copy a few years back when they were still selling it commercially. They weren't an Office clone then but I have to say that the interface changed for the better due to the new direction!

Chris Nahr
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Adriano: I guess I should have added "...for Windows"! Anyway, you proved me wrong there. Since I'm not running Linux I don't know how good/complete KOffice is but I'm impressed that someone actually undertook this effort. I wonder if it will survive against StarOffice?

Chris Nahr
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

Well
There are more than OO and Koffice for the Linux comunity.

But as you asked for a OSS Text Editor that is not created uppon comercial software maybe you should  look at Abiword, its fast an thin so you dont need a quite powerfull machine to run it.

Also its possible to generate KOffice for Windows using Cygwin and that stuff... but honestly I doubt that there is someone willing to do that.

About the terrible gimp isntaller for windows, its matter of the installer maybe you should have a look to the GNUWin page, there are OSS for Windows

Abiword:
http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/apps/abiword/en/index.html

The GIMP
http://gnuwin.epfl.ch/apps/gimp/en/index.html

Jorge Gutierrez
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

I think usability is too often mistaken for poor user interface design.  I believe usability is a combination of design, code, documentation and user interface design.  The problem facing open source and free software projects is that in many cases the necessary experience is not present.  There is always plenty of code experience but technical writing and user interface design are skills that need to be learned.

John Keyes
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The other day the same article appeared on /.
Some OSS people (not to offend anyone; I'm an "OSS person" myself) were against what they thought was "dumbing down" their program's interfaces. But a good, usable  interface is not dumb, it's "elegant".

A geek can relate to elegance, because he takes pride in writing elegant code. One would wish that the user interfaces were written with the same care they take when coding kernels...

...Anyway, saying that got me a "+5 Insightful" moderation, so you can guess  this concept is not very much ingrained yet. But I do what I can. I don't code much, but I do point out the flaws I see in the interfaces of the apps I use.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Tuesday, March 02, 2004

The key word here is "usable".

I think I've met a handful of programs that behaves as Eric describes he wants them: By placing only a few carefully though-out choices to the user.

It drives me nuts! It means every time I want to do something the developer didn't explicitly think of, AND everytime the detection routines fail for some reason, I'm stuck in a GUI dead end.

That can't possibly be good design. I want the computer to help me in my work, and I hate spending my time trying to outsmart the compter/developer.

Jonas B.
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

For those of you who are still interested in this topic check out these follow-ups:

Jon Udell - Aunt Tillie's OS X Adventure
http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/03/02.html#a931

Sam Ruby - Network Printing
http://www.intertwingly.net/blog/1724.html

John Keyes
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

"But as you asked for a OSS Text Editor that is not created uppon comercial software maybe you should  look at Abiword"

Nope, Abiword is also based on a commercial product, although apparently one that wasn't released:
http://www.abiword.org/information/about/

I think there was a thread about it in the general forum a while back.

Chris Nahr
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

Erm. According to http://www.abiword.org/information/about/, "AbiWord is part of a larger project known as AbiSource, which was started by the SourceGear Corporation. The goal of the project was the development of a cross-platform, Open Source office suite". So it would appear that it was open source from the start. There appears to be some conflation here of "Open Source" with "decentralised development". They are not the same thing.

Major Erms
Wednesday, March 03, 2004

No, the point was that the project was started by a _commercial_ company, open source or not.

Chris Nahr
Thursday, March 04, 2004

I would ask: Why the distinction between "Commercial" and "Open Source" as if they were somehow opposed? A project can be open source _and_ commercial at the same time. In fact, a project could be Free, commercial Software (though they almost never are). You are giving to Open Source a meaning it doesn't have.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Thursday, March 04, 2004

"A project can be open source _and_ commercial at the same time."

Yes, I agree, and that's what I was saying. Sorry, were you talking you me just now or to the previous poster?

Chris Nahr
Thursday, March 04, 2004

I was talking to you, Chris. I know you did say that, but the general tone of your first post in this "thread" was "Open source cannot compete with what a commercial shop can offer, as far as I know". That's why I asked.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Thursday, March 04, 2004

Sorry, my mistake. You were talking about "volunteers", which doesn't mean "commercial open source shops".

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Thursday, March 04, 2004

----"ESR has got to be the dumbest spokeperson for any cause on the planet."-----

Why? Nearly everything of his I have read, including the article referred to here, is both reasonable and reasoned, which is not the same thing as being right, of course.

Stephen Jones
Saturday, March 06, 2004

The man (ESR) does have some quirks, and an uncanny ability to look like he's endowed with the One-and-Only-Truth(TM). His rants about socialism, guns, etc are everything but reasoned. Basically, his ego has a buffer overflow.

He however does have some good points, so it's a matter of being patient and wait, mostly. His signal/noise ratio is acceptable for me.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Saturday, March 06, 2004

'Quirks' isn't in it. I'm sorry, but I really can't take seriously anybody who posts this sort of twaddle on their 'firearms page':

"A second is this: never count on being able to undo your choices.

If you shoot someone through the heart, dead is dead. You can't take it back. There are no do-overs. Real choice is like that; you make it, you live with it -- or die with it.

A third lesson is this: the universe doesn't care about motives.

If your gun has an accidental discharge while pointed an unsafe direction, the bullet will kill just as dead as if you had been aiming the shot. ``I didn't mean to'' may persuade others that you are less likely to repeat a behavior, but it won't bring a corpse back to life."

Yeah right. Really deep. Anybody who actually imagines they're making some kind of meaningful 'point' by posting this drivel is very very mad indeed. Which is why nothing else he writes is worth anything.

In my very humble opinion.

Mike Macsween
Sunday, March 07, 2004

---" Anybody who actually imagines they're making some kind of meaningful 'point' by posting this drivel is very very mad indeed."-----

So true! It's been known for decades that the chances of being shot in your own home by a member of your own family are much, much greater than those of being killed in the course of a burglary, but that has had no effect on the NRA or its followers.

Raymond must be mad if he thinks he can make a difference.

Stephen Jones
Sunday, March 07, 2004

While some programmers are bad interaction designers, some are also very good.

In fact, most of the best software was designed by programmers and, in top software companies, the specialist designers are often programmers.

Open source tends to attract poor quality programmers. That's why Raymond experiences the design troubles he comments on.

x
Tuesday, March 09, 2004

The distinction between "commercial" and "open source" is based on real life rather than the claims of the open source fan club.

If I want to charge for my software, I am not going to give you the source code. Sorry.

x
Tuesday, March 09, 2004

>>>
In fact, most of the best software was designed by programmers and, in top software companies, the specialist designers are often programmers.

Open source tends to attract poor quality programmers. That's why Raymond experiences the design troubles he comments on.
>>>

Hmmm... I was about to start flaming and frothing. But instead I'll calm down and write the following:

Open Source tends to attract good and bad programmers alike, same as Closed Source. After all, It's not like commercial software hasn't given us some of the worst crap available (Clippy, Notes, Quicktime 4, Staroffice before its Open sourcing, Juno, MSN Messenger, etc.) in the realm of UIs.

Of course, Open Source has big, big problems in usability over all (in part because geeks who were very good at designing CL interfaces thought they should cater to the same audience when designing GUIs), but saying gratuitous things about the quality of Open Source programmers in general will just get you flamed. Same as I would/should be if I spouted off about "Closed Sourcers".

The good thing about Open Source (particularly amateur Open Source) is that we've got nothing to lose, and everything to win. If I have a hobby, I don't care how much I initially suck at it. I just keep slowly improving. Which is what's happening now, with a big help from enterprises (IBM, Sun, HP...). Open Source software is only going to get better.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Wednesday, March 10, 2004

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