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The GNOME project at 15

The GNOME project at 15

Posted Aug 16, 2012 5:13 UTC (Thu) by codewiz (subscriber, #63050)
In reply to: The GNOME project at 15 by jspaleta
Parent article: The GNOME project at 15

> Are you sure that the design changes between the 1.x to 2.x
> were "popular" with the 1.x userbase when they were originally
> introduced? I don't remember it that way.

I remember the criticism of GNOME 2.x focusing essentially on 3 major issues:

1) The "spatial" file manager, with no UI to change it;
2) The file dialog no longer allowed keyboard editing the path;
3) The printing dialog lost some advanced options (the "<a href="https://mail.gnome.org/archives/usability/2005-December/m...">interface nazis</a>" thread).

The complaints died off after GNOME was fixed to address users' requests: the "Open each folder in its own window" option reappeared and was made the default and the file dialog was enhanced so that the pathname edit box would appear as soon as you start typing, with full completion.

I'm not sure whether the printing dialog has ever been fixed, but perhaps there are just too few Linux users who are passionate about advanced printing options. Though I was surprised to see control panels to configure Wacom tablets and even color correction, stuff that few professionals need, when at the same time GNOME 3 has lost the ability to set something as basic as the font size. Makes me wonder how the GNOME design process works.

> I bet the reaction really was not all that great and not all
> that different to what we are seeing this time around.
> Moreover, throwing money at the usability issue to purchase additional
> expert manpower will not solve the perception problem. Changes are
> disruptive...even changes that adhere to expert state-of-the-art
> usability design considerations. Because fundamentally the userbase
> really does not appreciate what is and is not good usability in the
> same way that those trained in the art and science of usability do.

Are the developers convinced that history is repeating itself and all the users complaining are simply being irrational? This is a very risky assumption without solid data backing it.

It could be that Linux users are indeed very conservative and change averse, but one should also consider the possibility that Gnome Shell may be a good fit only for a subset of desktop users.

> Experts in usability think differently about usability than untrained
> users do. And its far from clear to me that we as a userbase appreciate
> or even understand the value of usability experts.

The problem with usability is that it's an inexact science and anyone could call themselves an expert in the field. Why can't I call myself an expert too? Do usability experts always agree when they make design decisions?

The only way to verify whether a UI change was really an improvement is testing it with real users and see what happens. In the case of Gnome Shell, there are some similarities with the GNOME 2 transition, but this time around some people seem to believe that all criticism is bogus and will stop by itself if they keep ignoring it.

Here's my prediction: all criticism *will* eventually die off... but just because all the discontent users will have moved on to some other desktop out of frustration. It could be a small loss or 80% of the current userbase. Hard to tell without any data.


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The GNOME project at 15

Posted Aug 16, 2012 16:41 UTC (Thu) by jspaleta (subscriber, #50639) [Link]

> Are the developers convinced that history is repeating itself and all the > users complaining are simply being irrational? This is a very risky > assumption without solid data backing it.

I'm a user. I'm not being irrational. Thus your thesis that all users are being irrational is debunked. Are some users being irrational? Yes. Do some users have legitimate concerns? must assuredly. There's no need to over generalize with the language.

And I've done nothing else in this thread but repeatedly ask that someone go back and examine the history specifically to provide data that is not based entirely on human recollection of events specifically because I have convinced myself history is repeating. I'm always open to solid data with documented methodology.

> It could be that Linux users are indeed very conservative and change
> averse, but one should also consider the possibility that Gnome Shell
> may be a good fit only for a subset of desktop users.

Oh I take that further. No single desktop environment is good fit for _all_ desktop users. How about that for a truism. For the same reason why we have different styles of chairs and desks, no single design aesthetic is going to be a good fit everyone. So it is with computer interface designs as well. So yeah shell is only going to be good for a subset. I really don't think anyone is arguing that its going to be the best fit for everyone so really its a bit of a rhetorical bait and switch. And I'm also telling you that those of us here are not the subset to shoot for. We are not the mainstream, our preferences will never be the mainstream, we are a very poor design target. Anyone who designs something to suit me, is designing for mass market failure. Anyone who is designing a desktop which appeals to the majority of the readership here is designing for mass adoption failure.

> The problem with usability is that it's an inexact science and anyone
> could call themselves an expert in the field. Why can't I call myself an > expert too? Do usability experts always agree when they make design
> decisions?

Yes indeed, this really hilights one of the points I made previously about the perception of usability design. As an audience I do no think we appreciate what trained designers actually bring to the table. You clearly do not. Anyone who stands up and basically says ah that stuff is easy, anyone can be an expert at that, clearly has no idea. I really feel for the people who have actually been trained in design in our community for that reason. Constantly having to fight with people with no training who think they can do it better. Demoralizing really.

And i'm not going to name names, but I believe certain high-profile individuals have perhaps spoken out of place, abused their soapbox a bit, and spoken on behalf his private design team far too often even though he himself is not a trained designer. We don't need their managers talking for the trained designers. No more of that.

We absolutely need more of the _trained_ designers to step up and explain some core concepts to us, so we, the larger participatory community, can better appreciate the effort being made (even if we still don't like the final outcome). We must gain confidence in the skillset and the training as a profession. But in order for this to happen we are going to have to make a safe space for these people to start communicating out in the open without having to deal with you and the rest of the "I'm not an expert but I can do better than that" crowd.

The GNOME project at 15

Posted Aug 16, 2012 17:57 UTC (Thu) by codewiz (subscriber, #63050) [Link]

> And I'm also telling you that those of us here are not the subset
> to shoot for. We are not the mainstream, our preferences will
> never be the mainstream, we are a very poor design target.

There are plenty of mainstream interfaces that I use daily with great satisfaction: Android, Chrome OS, Maemo...

Over the past year I even considered going back to Mac OS X out of frustration for the sorry state of the Linux desktop. But in the end I love free software and I'm going to stick with it a little longer in spite of the miserable user experience that I'm getting these days.

I think we should stop hiding behind the belief that Gnome Shell appeals to a wider audience than just geek. At least, not until we have data showing that the market share has been growing since GNOME 3.0.

> Yes indeed, this really hilights one of the points I made previously
> about the perception of usability design. As an audience I do no think
> we appreciate what trained designers actually bring to the table.
> You clearly do not. Anyone who stands up and basically says ah that
> stuff is easy, anyone can be an expert at that, clearly has no idea.
> I really feel for the people who have actually been trained in design
> in our community for that reason. Constantly having to fight with
> people with no training who think they can do it better.
> Demoralizing really.

I'm not saying that UI design is easy! On the contrary, I'm saying that being trained in UI design and usability doesn't make you a good UX engineer any more than studying CS automatically make a good software engineer.

The only way to verify whether a UI designer did a good job is asking users to vote with their feet. We don't have solid data, but by now there are a some hints that something might have gone wrong with Gnome Shell: lots of bad reviews, critical blogposts, forks, major distros switching to other desktops and, last but not least, lots of negative comments in user surveys.

> We absolutely need more of the _trained_ designers to step up and
> explain some core concepts to us, so we, the larger participatory
> community, can better appreciate the effort being made (even if we
> still don't like the final outcome).

Sure, I'd be eager to hear detailed explanations from the trained designers backing some of the decisions that seem arbitrary.

I understand that part of the design was meant to make our UI more suitable to tablets and smart phones. However, so far we've failed to steal any significant market share from iOS and Android, while at the same time we've lost the largest Linux distributions.

> We must gain confidence in the skillset and the training as a
> profession. But in order for this to happen we are going to have
> to make a safe space for these people to start communicating out
> in the open without having to deal with you and the rest of the
> "I'm not an expert but I can do better than that" crowd.

Sure, let's give them some time to try their ideas, but at what point do we verify the actual results and make a decision to change strategy?

We don't have the luxury of infinite time and resources. If you do believe in history repeating itself, take KDE 4's fall: the initial release was such a gigantic fiasco that large portions of the user base switched to Gnome 2. Afterwards, the KDE developers put an admirable effort at fixing the bugs and polishing the interface, but the project did never fully recover.

The GNOME project at 15

Posted Aug 18, 2012 10:52 UTC (Sat) by Jandar (subscriber, #85683) [Link]

> [...] take KDE 4's fall: the initial release was such a gigantic fiasco [...]

This was not KDEs but only the distributions fault. KDE had 4.0 clearly labeled as beta, experimental, not ready for production use and capable to shoot into the users feet. At that time it wasn't thinkable for me to install such a beta desktop so I was astonished to see it had found way into the major distributions.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 18, 2012 12:55 UTC (Sat) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

We have heard the argument that KDE 4.0 was not ready for production before; I remain unconvinced.

When releasing software it is important to follow a set of conventions to your target audience -- in this case Linux distributions. A "x beta", "x rc" or "(x-1).99" version number signals a release not ready for a broad audience; while "stable" or "x.0" marks software ready for distribution. In this case, KDE should have used a different version number than "4.0" if they did not want general distribution. It is not enough to say that the version is experimental somewhere.

Besides, the 4.0 release announcement contains nothing of the sort. It appears to be a bona fide major release intended for public consumption; and the KDE project seems happy that it will be included in major distributions such as Fedora or Debian lenny.

My last argument is that it is the project's responsibility to communicate to distributions. When one recipient misunderstands the message but others get it right it may be the recipient's problem; when most recipients get it wrong then it is clearly the fault of the sender. At least if the sender cares about reaching message recipients.

So please, enough with blaming distributions. A gigantic fiasco it was; so let us accept it and learn from it.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 18, 2012 13:59 UTC (Sat) by Jandar (subscriber, #85683) [Link]

That KDE 4.0 wasn't considered production ready was communicated widely at that time.

Here one part of http://www.commit-digest.org/issues/2007-12-30/

Stephan Binner writes a reminder note about the upcoming KDE 4.0 release (in an attempt to reign in wildly over-optimistic expectations by some users):

Before everyone starts to spread their opinion about KDE 4.0, let me spread some reminders:
KDE 4.0 is not KDE4 but only the first (4.0.0 even non-bugfix) release in a years-long KDE 4 series to come.
KDE 4.0 is known to have missing parts or temporary implementations (eg. printing, PIM, Plasma).
Most changes happened under the surface and cannot be discovered in a "30 minutes usage" review anyway.
User interfaces being unchanged in 4.0 compared to 3.5 may be still > changed/improved during KDE 4 life time.
KDE 4.0 will not be the fastest KDE 4 release - like for KDE 2 most speed optimizations will happen later during KDE 4.
Most applications (many are not even fully ported yet) will take only advantage of new features which the new Qt/KDE libraries offer later.
Don't measure portability success (eg. MS Windows) by current availability of application releases, they will come.
KDE 4.0 is only expected to be used by early adopters, not every KDE 3.5 user (and IMHO KDE 4.0 shouldn't be pushed onto other user types like planned for Kubuntu ShipIt (which by the way is said to have only 6 months support for its packages)).
KDE 4.1 development will not require the same amount of time as the big technology jump of KDE 4.0: expect KDE 4.1 later this year.
Last, again: KDE 4.0 is not KDE 4.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 18, 2012 16:50 UTC (Sat) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

Widely communicated but not mentioned in the 4.0 announcement? Not even distribution maintainers got the message clearly. KDE people admitted their mistake and corrected the 4.1 announcement but it was a bit too late. That's alright though. We all make mistakes. Let's not go around engaging in revisionist history. That's just silly.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 19, 2012 11:59 UTC (Sun) by Jandar (subscriber, #85683) [Link]

I expect a Distribution maintainer to not only read one announcement. If the beta status was to a mere user like me totally clear, it is implausible a maintainer hadn't heard about it. This has nothing to do with revision of history but with minimal awareness about KDE at the end of 2007.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 19, 2012 16:00 UTC (Sun) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

KDE 4.0 announcement wasn't just for distribution maintainers but also for users so that excuse is weak especially consider 4.1 announcement did include such a note. You can either claim that distribution maintainers who KDE itself advertised as including 4.0 were incompetent or admit there were mistakes from the project.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 19, 2012 21:50 UTC (Sun) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

Uh, the 4.1 announcement included such a note *because* of the flap over the 4.0 announcement not including one. (I would have hoped that it was bleeding obvious that 4.1 was released after the reaction to 4.0 had been observed, but apparently not...)

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 6:21 UTC (Mon) by rahulsundaram (subscriber, #21946) [Link]

It is obvious but you miss my point. 4.1 did include such a note because KDE project realized that not making it obvious in 4.0 was a mistake from the strong reaction to it. Now nobody should be trying to blame it all on distributions.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 22:47 UTC (Mon) by nix (subscriber, #2304) [Link]

Any distro that thought 4.0 was stable and included it as such was a distro that had not been paying any attention to the prereleases (with subtle hints such as the codename 'Krash') nor even tried to run the thing for a while and seen just how far from perfect it was -- nor even hung out on the kde development lists and observed the same.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 22:56 UTC (Mon) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

That was about all distros, since all of them included KDE 4.0 as stable. So distros did not pay enough attention, just saw the release, took the thing and packaged it. As is their job.

Conclusions: do not rely on distros following development of your package; explain everything in detail in the release announcement. Do not use subtle cues; use standard version numbers where "4.0" means "stable version". Do not count on distro maintainers knowing your software intimately; go after them and explain any anomalies. They are providing your users a service packaging your software; do not expect them to also do your job for you, and above all: do not blame them for your failures to communicate.

As an upstream developer I see these things clearly, but perhaps big packages are different.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 23:22 UTC (Mon) by sfeam (subscriber, #2841) [Link]

That was about all distros, since all of them included KDE 4.0 as stable
This is a bit exaggerated. For instance Mandriva, which is/was primarily a KDE-based distro, carried KDE3 as the default configuration and offered KDE 4.0 only as an experimental option with suitable warnings in the 2008.1 installation instructions. They didn't switch to KDE4 as a default until the 2009.0 release containing KDE 4.1.1. Even then it came with warnings and an installation option to stick with KDE3 instead.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 23:26 UTC (Mon) by man_ls (guest, #15091) [Link]

So not everyone, thanks. Just curious, what did OpenSuse do? They are the flagship KDE distro and sponsor KDE development. Did they ship 4.0 as stable, or did they wait until 4.1?

Following conventions

Posted Aug 20, 2012 23:47 UTC (Mon) by sfeam (subscriber, #2841) [Link]

I'm not a OpenSUSE user, but Wikipedia states that 11.0 and 11.1 shipped both KDE3 and KDE4. OpenSUSE 11.2 (late 2009) was the first to offer KDE4 only, and by that point it was KDE 4.2.something.

Following conventions

Posted Aug 21, 2012 7:14 UTC (Tue) by boudewijn (subscriber, #14185) [Link]

Yeah... And that's also why KDE released two more 3.5 versions after 4.0 was released. Maybe it should have been more, and if distributions had asked for another 3.5 release, I'm fairly sure one more would have been released, since for some time bug fixes were going in.

Following conventions

Posted Sep 1, 2012 15:09 UTC (Sat) by rich0 (guest, #55509) [Link]

Not only that, but was 3.5 still maintained?

Distros generally ship the version of upstream that is maintained - that is the one that when you report a bug against it the bug is very likely to get fixed and posted in a new release.

Once 3.5 was abandoned, distros basically had little choice but more to 4. So then to say that it was only a beta/etc is a bit disingenuous.

Following conventions

Posted Sep 1, 2012 15:31 UTC (Sat) by hummassa (subscriber, #307) [Link]

KDE 3.5 was never abandoned. But it's true that most app devs got lured into the upgrade lure. 3.5.10 was relased in august 2008, when 4.1 was already out, and 3.5.13 was release as Trinity last year.

The GNOME project at 15

Posted Aug 18, 2012 23:58 UTC (Sat) by sramkrishna (guest, #72628) [Link]

Me too. It clearly said beta. Unfortunately, people say "4.0" and said "oh, stable". So I think the lesson there was to say "beta" and call it 3.99.9 or something like that.

The GNOME project at 15

Posted Sep 1, 2012 15:13 UTC (Sat) by rich0 (guest, #55509) [Link]

That, and keep releasing new versions that are lower-numbered.

You can't abandon KDE 3.5 and then say that people shouldn't have migrated to 4. The current version is whatever keeps getting bugfixes.

Most serious software packages don't just do all bugfixing at the bleeding edge. Heck, the kernel still has full support for v3.0 and v3.4, with later versions not having longer-term promises (they're the equivalent of KDE 4 or 3.99.9 or whatever).


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