Re: Three Point Zero - Idea Mockups

On Thu, 2005-05-26 at 10:28 -0400, Havoc Pennington wrote:

> I think for us to jump "product generations" the branch/fork approach is
> probably required and you really need a structural change in "what the
> product _is_" to justify it.

Another way to look at this which I haven't even seen considered is,
"What do we need to do to create a really exciting, useful, and usable
desktop environment that people love to use?"

Certain things come immediately to mind:

        - build a baseline of useful applications that are useful,
        slick, fun, and work well together
        - make it possible and fun for other people to build additional
        applications that work well with our desktop and with our other
        - perform usability testing on what we've already built,
        identify the problems, and fix them
        - create compelling new and original things like what the
        Xgl/Luminocity/Cairo work might enable, like Beagle/Dashboard,
Breaking ABI, changing version numbers, "rethinking everything," etc,
don't float to the top for me.

On a related note, at GUADEC this year, on Monday, we're going to be
hosting a hackfest for people who want to work on simple usability
improvements to the desktop.  These are, hopefully, the kinds of things
that people can knock off in an afternoon.  We'll try to provide a nice
list of hacks people can do.

Some of this will be informed by video.  Over the last several months we
at Novell have sent a team of people around the world with a portable
usability testing lab: two video cameras (one on the face, one on the
hands) and a frame grabber record everything the user does; we ask them
to perform five or six simple tasks with GNOME.

It's amazing to watch the ways that people fall on their face.  We've
all read about the benefits of usability testing, but until you actually
try to sit still through two hours of these videos, it isn't a visceral
experience for you.  It is exciting, and totally emotionally exhausting.
You squirm.  And it focuses you like a laser.  A really focused laser.
Made of razor blades.

For example, we asked a lady to send mail to a friend.  Against all
odds, she started Evolution (nothing in the menus indicates that it's a
mail program; something we hadn't realized before but which was
immediately obvious after watching her stalk one-by-one through the menu
items muttering to herself along the way).  

The correct next step would have been for her to click on the "New"
button that's in the upper-left-hand corner of the window.  This button
didn't even register for her, however.  Instead, because she wanted to
"send" a mail, she clicked repeatedly on the "Send" part of the "Send /
Receive" button just to the right.  For about a minute.

This is easy to fix; we just need to change the labels to be more
sensible (and then test again on 5-6 people to make sure we changed them
appropriately).  It was interesting to watch this video and instantly
realize that the "Send / Receive" button is all about *how Evolution
works* and not about *what the user wants to do*.  I've been staring at
that button for five years, and never realized it was wrong until I saw
that video.

Anna Dirks will be airing much of this video at GUADEC on Monday, before
Lunch, and we will also be publishing a lot of it online as soon as we
get all the participants to finish signing release waivers.  We're also
thinking about providing funding for more of these usability labs so
that other people can do this testing themselves.  The video talk will
be followed by a hackfest, so people who want to work on improving the
desktop we have, instead of engaging in an open-ended "GNOME 3"
discussion, have a place to go.

Those of us who have been around software long enough feel our
sphincters instinctively clench in terror when people say certain
things.  Things like "What is a file anyway?" or "We can just create a
general system that abstracts all this away!" or "Let's just rewrite the
whole thing."  These are all ways of thinking that get you away from
solving user problems.  GNOME is primarily a project that's writing
software for users, and we need to keep them in mind.  Throughout this
sometimes-excruciating 3.0 discussion, I haven't seen them (the users)
mentioned a lot.  It seems like people are more focused on being
original than on building software that's really great to use.

My point is just that there's plenty of cool and productive work for us
to do that doesn't involve rethinking everything, breaking ABI, or doing
something totally and fundamentally original in computing.  We are
already doing something totally and fundamentally original in computer
software -- we're building a completely free desktop environment upon
which anyone can try out their craziest ideas, and we're trying to make
it useful and exciting to regular people.  

Okay, I need to pack.


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