went out on the last day of January: members of the GNOME and KDE projects
have gotten together to improve cooperation between the two with regard to
human interface guidelines. For the (many) users who have wanted to see a
higher degree of cooperation between KDE and GNOME, this move can only be
seen as a step in the right direction.
At the beginning, of course, it is a pretty small step. Both desktop
projects maintain a set of usability guidelines which promote consistency
and good human factors in desktop applications. The plan is to merge the
two sets into a single document. Initially, each project's guidelines will
remain in a separate section. Over time, the plan is to find areas which
can be merged into shared sections, common to both desktops. The
possibility exists that a single set of guidelines could eventually
emerge. That is a distant hope, however; for now, the Open-HCI workers are
more concerned with details like what format will be used for the combined
It would be hard to overestimate the value of a high-quality, shared
usability document. Usability work is hard, tedious, and unglorious; it is
also a crucial part of the development of end-user applications that
actually work. It is exactly the sort of work that free software projects
are not supposed to be good at - though much of the work already done
within GNOME and KDE puts the lie to that claim. Making it easier for both
projects to benefit from the usability work that is being done can only
lead to better desktop applications in the future.
Shared usability guidelines should also lead to more consistent behavior
between the two desktops. The competition between KDE and GNOME has been a
good thing for both projects, and for the Linux desktop as a whole. But
there is no need for the two to be separate islands. More consistent
behavior will make it easier for users to pick and choose applications from
both projects, allowing them to take advantage of the best of each. And
that, too, should be good for the Linux desktop.
(See also: usability guidelines for KDE and GNOME; there is
mailing list for the Open-HCI project).
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