On the Desktop
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See also: last week's On the Desktop page.
Usability testing. In the May 3rd edition of the On the Desktop page here at LWN.net there was a note about some usability testing that was done for the GNOME project. Telsa Gwynn wrote in with some additional information on this testing.
The talk was given by Calum Benson of Sun at GUADEC 2001. I went to it and wrote a very brief write-up which includes the how, when and why. Another talk at the same conference about usability was by Darin Adler [formerly] of Eazel and included "user testing on the cheap": two webcams and a checklist works even if you can't afford a UI lab with bells and whistles. And some test results from MIT assessing GNOME usability were posted to firstname.lastname@example.org before GUADEC II.
According to Telsa, the handouts from Calum's talk explained a little of how the tests were performed: "Here's a desktop. Look at it. Don't move the mouse. What do you think the icons represent? Why? Okay, now you can move the mouse and get tooltips. Now what do you think the icons represent? Okay, now try to ... (and so forth)". After the questions were answered a number of tasks had to be performed.
LWN.net interviewed Calum Benson, a Usability Engineer at Sun Microsystems in Dublin, Ireland about these tests with GNOME users. He says that usability isn't just about ease of use:
A less formal definition would be that a usable product is easy to learn and remember how to use, and helps you do your job quickly and enjoyably without making mistakes. Of course, each of those factors is more or less important depending on the product and the environment in which it will be used-- with an air traffic control system, for example, it's less important to be fun to use or easy to learn, and more important that it prevents you from making mistakes.
The key message is really "we are not our users". The GNOME desktop will become much more mainstream over the next couple of years, especially once companies like Sun and HP start rolling it out, and that opens it up to a whole new audience-- mechanical engineers, web designers, financial analysts and the like, not the developers who currently make up the largest part of the user base.
It is important for developers to understand that users don't have to know about every way of doing a task. They only need one, at least initially.
It's important that the key features on a desktop are well signposted, especially if you're new to that particular environment. But while more advanced features or quicker ways of doing the same thing may not become apparent until you reach a higher level of competence and start experimenting and exploring, they still need to be designed to be as easy to use as possible.
Sun's participation in this sort of testing may be just what the doctor ordered now that Eazel is gone. While Ximian could do the testing, that might be considered akin to the fox guarding the hens. And open source alone may not have the resources to do this testing properly (but read on for KDE's plans for an alternative view there).
The first group to do UI testing with KDE was Corel. They had a dedicated team working on UI issues and they uncovered quite a bit. They never released their results in the form of reports, though. What they did was have their lead UI guy subscribe to our kde-look mailing list. This list had been formulated for the express purpose of discussing and solving KDE UI issues. During the course of discussing various issues, many of the areas that Corel had investigated came up and were incorporated into the discussion.
Granroth added that anyone interested in additional information should visit the KDE Usability Study web site.
GNUStep: Adam Fedor talks with LWN.net. Dennis Leeuw provided us with an article on GNUStep for non-technical users to give them an idea of what GNUStep is and why they might like to get involved. We decided to follow that up with an interview of the GNUStep project lead, Adam Fedor. "In fact, GNUStep is actually the same API as Mac's OS X. A program written for OS X would require only a few changes to run with GNUStep. While no OS X applications have been ported that he knows of, older NeXT applications have. One example is the MusicKit/SoundKit for building music, sound, signal processing, and MIDI applications."
AbiWord and KWord unite on Word filters. AbiWord and KWord developers have united to assist each other in developing better MSWord import filters. A call for cooperation from Dom Lachowicz, lead developer of AbiWord and wvWare, was cross posted to the KOffice mailing list (originally via Dom's message after the KOffice 1.1 Beta 1 announcement) and participants chimed in almost immediately. A new version of the wvWare library (previously named mswordview) is now in the works.
Pilot support update. David Desrosiers wrote in with additional information regarding the pilot-link (which he noted is not spelled "Pilot Link") software. The first thing to note is that development on this project is anything but dead. "A lot of good code has been put into the new codebase, and when 0.9.5 is released, it will be a revolutionary change from the 0.9.3 release (the last "official" release of pilot-link)." Most of the information he provided was in the form of links to various mailing list archives. The main web site, where current updates are to be made available, will be moving soon from its current location to pilot-link.org, which at the time of this writing was not yet a registered domain.
Rick Moen also wrote in to let us know he maintains a large collection of open source binaries and source programs for the PalmOS (meaning not just the Pilot but pretty much anything that runs PalmOS). The web site is just a directly listing currently, but an index file exists explaining most of the applications you will find there.
Catching up with KDE (Linux Journal). Linux Journal reviews KDE 2.1.1 and finds it provides a rich set of tools. "The Kompany has been turning out an amazing number of much-needed Linux applications. IBM has been working with Trolltech on integration of their ViaVoice software into QT to provide speech recognition to Linux users. "
KDE 2.2Beta Freeze. Waldo bastian posted a note reminding developers that the KDE 2.2 Beta 1 releases should be frozen in CVS now, meaning, among other things, that no new features are to be added to CVS until after Beta 1 hits the street.
Linux gladiators duel for desktop crown (ADTMag.com). The issues between KDE and GNOME run from philosophical to technological, as this article explains in detail, and IT decision makers are looking for a long term choice. "This UI piece doesn't really make any difference, short term. But long term, it becomes an issue. If you're betting on one horse or the other for your company, this decision matters."
Infusion: an Evolution for KDE. Navin Umanee noted on the KDE Promotions mailing list that there is a new QT/KDE based competitor for Evolution: Infusion. It runs through the Citadel/UX server for individual and community based messaging.
GNOME Summary for Jun 03 - June 09, 2001. The weekly summary of the GNOME world is out. Highlights include the release of a new developers version of the GStreamer multimedia framework and discussion on the initial python bindings for Bonobo being entered into the GNOME CVS tree.
Kernel Cousin KDE #13 Released. This week's KDE Kernel Cousin includes summaries of discussions on Avery Label templates for KWord, KOffice file extensions and mimetypes and Flash support for Konqueror/Embedded.
Netscape set to unleash 6.1 beta (ZDNet). ZDNet reports on the upcoming Netscape 6.1 beta release. "Sources familiar with the 6.1 release said it would be faster and more stable than its predecessor. Other changes include a new cache for storing frequently accessed files, an upgraded mail program, new search functionality, and--borrowing a page from competitor Microsoft's Internet Explorer browser--drop-down auto-complete for Web page forms."
Gideon Development Update. This Gideon Development Update is brought to you by the dot (dot.kde.org). Gideon is the codename for the next generation version of KDevelop.
Open-Source Gaming for Linux (Linux Journal). This Linux Journal article looks at some open source gaming options. "One of the many neat ClanLib games, Trophy is basically an auto racing game with some Mad Max flair; you get to shoot at your competitors and toss bombs at them."
Pan 0.9.7 Released. The first stable release in two months has been made for Pan, a GNOME news reader. It includes better startup performance, sports a smaller memory footprint, and more accurately decodes binary attachments.
Galeon 0.11.0 Released. A new release of the Galeon web browser is also available. This release brings Galeon in line with the Mozilla 0.9.1 release.
Pyrite & Palm (IBM developerWorks). IBM developerWorks is carrying an article on using Pyrite, a set of Python tools designed to communicate with PalmOS devices. "A limitation of Pyrite Publisher is that it doesn't directly convert PDF or Postscript files to pdb files. Luckily, there is a simple workaround for this. The utility pstotext can transform a Postscript file into a text file. To generate a pdb file, first transform the ps file into a text file, and then use Pyrite Publisher to convert the text file into a pdb file."
And in other news...
Xft font management. Keith Packard posted an interesting tip to the KDE Core mailing list this past week regarding font management with the Xft :
Xft also supports per-user font directories and a per-user ~/.xftconfig file -- that will allow non-root users to install and use their own fonts without changing the global configuration.
Talking with Jim Gettys (LinuxPower). LinuxPower interviews the father of the X Windows System, Jim Gettys. "I believe very strongly that either GTK+fb or QtE are dead ends. Our experience in the market (beyond the hacker community) is that the major attraction is the ability to share with little or no hassle applications written for the desktop: while the applications may need reworking to deal with the screen size and touchscreen, there are many applications not written for GNOME (or KDE)."
The Agenda VR3: A Linux Orbit first look (LinuxOrbit). This review thinks the Agenga VR3 is, to put it plainly, "wow". "Originally, (with the first OS release) I experienced a slight delay when loading multiple applications. Thanks to the eXecute In Place (XIP) features, the PDA is much more responsive, especially when loading many applications at once (how many PDAs can do that?). The buzzer sound is very audible for the Scheduling application and the Contacts program is extremely quick. The FLTK apps for the Agenda have a similar style to their interface. Most of them contain a button labeled "Done" in the bottom left for exiting the application when finished using it. This makes the VR3 have a consistent feel. You don't have to re-learn an interface to use another application. The network application is a GUI based interface configuration program. Configuring it was a snap."
Section Editor: Michael J. Hammel
June 14, 2001