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OS and the art of UI design

John Gruber of Daring Fireball fires back at Eric S. Raymond who had trouble sharing a printer on Linux and (re)opened the discussion of OS' poor user interfaces.

http://daringfireball.net/2004/04/spray_on_usability

John writes:
"
In my estimation, the difference between:

    * software that performs function X; and
    * software that performs function X, with an intuitive well-designed user interface

isn’t just a little bit of extra work. It’s not even twice the work. It’s an entire order of magnitude more work. Developing software with a good UI requires both aptitude and a lot of hard work. Raymond acknowledges neither.
"

Gertjan
Friday, April 02, 2004

The article says little that is original and has cheap snide comments on the fact that Raymond has a parallel port printer instead of going out and buying a $3000 state of the art workstation to hook up his printer too.

He is correct about Raymond generally viewing the GUI as a piece of candy on top of the real work instead of an integral part of the design, and does make Joel's point about the difference between interfaces for programmers and interfaces for users, though somewhat less elegantly.

However he completely ignores the fact that in this particular instance Raymond is quite right. It is easy to put an interface on a wizard for connecting a network printer, particulary as Linux GUI's often run as a layer on top of the shell, unlike Windows. All that is needed is to get the list of choices right.

Stephen Jones
Friday, April 02, 2004

Gruber says that you can't write the software and then write a thin GUI on top of it, but you have to write it before.
As an example of this, he uses CUPS, which is the base around which the MacOS X engineers have added a thin GUI to configure printers.

Giovanni Corriga
Friday, April 02, 2004

Normally I'd say he's right, but I'm not sure here. Raymond's point is that the UI is offering the wrong choices and has deadends

And even if that were true it doesn't invalidate Raymond's point. The fact that it might be difficult to rewrite something to get it right, doesn't means it was difficutlt to get right in the first place.

Stephen Jones
Friday, April 02, 2004

I don't even know what point this article was trying to make.  I read about the first half of it, which consisted almost entirely of attacks against Raymond, his approach in trying to solve the problem, and specific phrases that he used, without actually refuting anything that Raymond was trying to say.

If his point is that UIs are hard to get right... well duh.  That's why most of the UIs out there suck.  That doesn't mean Linux shouldn't improve

MikeMcNertney
Friday, April 02, 2004

A graphical user interface will not do much to improve an operating system  if the OS is poorly designed or unfinished.  This is roughly comparable to applying a glossy coat of paint on a house that is sitting on a crumbling foundation built on quicksand. 
If only the Linux zealots would focus more on ACTUALLY completing their OS/kernel, instead of just slapping GUI after GUI and telling everyone that Linux is ready for the desktop when it needs at least 4 more years of work.

anon
Monday, April 05, 2004

If only the linux zealots would actually focus on deleting everything and starting again :)

No really.  It would be really good if they just got one version of each type of application and worked on them to make them better.  It would be a wonderful product.

Instead it really smacks of being developed by a thousand different people working in a thousand different directions.

Andy Watson
Friday, April 09, 2004

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