Posted Sep 12, 2008 6:20 UTC (Fri) by eru
In reply to: Canonical to fund upstream Linux usability improvements (ars technica)
Parent article: Canonical to fund upstream Linux usability improvements (ars technica)
If the interface is dumbed down to the supposedly average Joe &
you will be alienating a large minority who want to do more with their
desktop, and/or who want to do things quicker.
I don't think usability is just about making it easier for
less-sophisticated users. Programs with poor interface typically make
things bad for everyone, for example by making common operations require
too many steps to accomplish, or destructive mistakes too easy to make.
In the past summer I had the most enlightening experience of teaching an
elderly newbie to computers to get online and use e-mail. Of course I set
her up to use Linux, with a friendly distribution (Mandriva 2008.0 with
some extra localization and KDE) I configured for her, but all the
problems she encountered really had absolutely nothing to do with the OS
or window system. We nowadays assume that when you have a GUI, everyone
can easily learn to use it. Nonsense. We had to tackle basic concepts
like use of mouse and menues, how to start programs and make choices. She
had no idea about the difference between the hardware, OS, application
and the internet. When the system inevitably showed some error or warning
messages, and I tried to help by phone, it was difficult as she could not
really tell me if the problem was a dialog box from the web browsers,
something actually on a web page, or a message from lower layers. I can
now well believe that most users like her immediately fall for the fake
warnings from addware- and malware-pushing web sites or emails... (one
good reason for using Linux in her case!). And she was not stupid at all,
having had a long career in a quite demanding profession. It is just that
she had no contact with the wacky world of computers.
In this situation some of the configurability of the UI backfired. For
example, in KDE you can put the task bar at any side of the screen you
want by dragging, or make it hide by a click in certain place. Being
uncertain with the mouse, she sometimes dragged or hid it by mistake,
then wondered if she had broken the computer. Apparently using the mouse
is much more difficult to learn than we who have learned it long ago
remember. And it requires a degree of precision and muscle control that
some older people may no longer have.
I recommend that anyone who is working on user interfaces try replicating
my experience: Try to find someone who has never used computers, and
teach him/her the basics of daily PC and net use. It will make you see
the whole field with new eyes.
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