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Can Open Source make good UI?

Here's a puzzle: we know that open source is great for making robust code, because whoever needs a fix for their scenario can just fix it. 

And we know that open source is good for getting features done, because if you need a feature, you just add it. 

But can open source methods of developing software turn out easy-to-use, clear, helpful UI? 

Often better UI means less UI, which might mean something has to get cut that some volunteer worked for months on.  And lots of features means lots of choices and configurations, neither of which are usually helpful to UI.  Consistency helps a lot, but that's hard when decisions are decentralized.

Can people who like UI, and have good design skills, participate in open source projects?  If they don't have the skills to add or change code, can they contribute interaction design?

Can open source make good UI?

andrewm
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Can people who like UI, and have good design skills, participate in open source projects?  If they don't have the skills to add or change code, can they contribute interaction design?

Can open source make good UI?

Yes, yes they can. The main problems are:
- A tendency to add "useless" features
- A lack of good designers.

The GNOME project is actually striving for a more elegant and less cluttered GUI. If you are a good designer, and you want to help, people will be willing to listen.

Of course, some people are nicer than others... Just pick a project carefully and start helping.

Adriano Varoli Piazza
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Ditto on Adriano's observations re: GNOME.  In general, I think OSS *is* coming around in the UI design department.  I still find annoyances in most OSS products though, including the ones leading the pack UI-wise.

I think the two challenges facing OSS UI desing suggested by Adriano are true in commercial software too (probably much less so with shrinkwrap though), but are exacerbated by the OS model.

I've been using Linux and OSS for my desktop machines about 50/50 with Windows for the last 5 years, and I just recently gave up my last desktop Linux installation to do all my desktop oriented tasks on XP.  It's not that I have many  competence hurdles using Linux anymore, it's just that my priorities have evolved to where I *just don't care* that much about all the things Linux is good at on the desktop (like no cash outlay for licensing, and infinite configuration choices), but I do get annoyed at the things it's not good at (like iTunes, my pocket PC, and an IDE that feels like VSNET).  I would guess that in the future it will resume a similar 50/50 place in my tool-choice lineup, but I don't have any particular urge to accelerate the arrival of that day.

MacSqueeb
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

No.

A good UI requires one (1) big ego to design and keep it togther. By definition Open Source involves greater than one big ego :).

Dan Maas
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

I mildly agree with Dan.
although not totally :)

I believe that a _great_ UI requires someone with a vision who is able to push their ideas through. (OS X and Steve Jobs is an example of this IMO)

I also believe that OSS is capable of allowing that to happen...Linus had a vision and has pushed it through, someone out there is a great UI designer just waiting to find their calling.

OTOH I also believe that a decent UI can be designed by programmers over time. (windows shows this quite well)

That is more of an incremental process as they learn from trial and error, but will still get there.

Currently OSS is slowly but surely building a very good UI indeed, it just has a while to go yet.
Remember that every step it takes forward is a gain that is very unlikely to be lost again over time.....OSS is like a huge lumbering turtle IMO, its pretty much unstoppable but its not quick either.

OTOH with all the corporate buy-in thats happened in the last few months, including sun, IBM, Novell and Hewlett Packard, I suspect that its time has nearly come..they can and will provide resources to push the UI forward...although unless a 'man with a vision' comes along it will never be _great_, just 'decent'

FullNameRequired
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Most OSS I've used isn't too great on the UI thing, but I think that is coming around.  I use a MySQL design/schema tool from a company called FabForce that has a fabulous UI.

I think one factor in this issue is that most *good* designers are probably more interested in making money (by working for commercial outfits) than *contributing to the community*.  We all got bills to pay, so I can't judge anyone for that.  I like the idea of OSS, but I have a wife and two kids, and a mortgage, and not enough time to take care of all of them... and still spend oodles of hours writing code for thousands of thankless people to use warily.

That reminds me, I should really send off a note to FabForce for such a nice product. (saunters off ashamed)

Slicky
Wednesday, March 24, 2004

i reckon good ui (like good code) is about management - the people in charge have to enforce whatever standards are decided upon. 

and most projects have average to poor management - for both UI and code.  the difference is that poor code is not immediately apparent to the end-user whereas a poor UI is. 

zealot
Thursday, March 25, 2004

"we know that open source is great for making robust code, because whoever needs a fix for their scenario can just fix it. "

"And we know that open source is good for getting features done, because if you need a feature, you just add it. "

I mean, really, don't you find it a little odd? While this in theory might work for software developers, what about the 99,999% of the general population that aren't developers?

As it stands I see no correlation between robustness or feature completeness and the business model surrounding the code.

Just me (Sir to you)
Thursday, March 25, 2004

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