What is GNOME and Getting some real data on users

Hi team

(Sorry, this is a long post.  Key points are marked by ****)

This list is characterised by people saying things like:

- What users really want is ....
- Actually, most users don't do that at all.  They ...
- Most users don't ...

And so on.  

I have been lurking on this list for quite some time now and have been
struggling to understand what it means to "market" GNOME.  (Btw, is it
Gnome or GNOME?  Does it matter?)  Most of the discussion seems to make
the implicit or explicit assumption that what the marketers of GNOME
want is more users.


If you get more users you will then get more (probably clueless) bug
reports (that need to be triaged), more feature requests, more inane
questions, lowered signal-to-noise ratio on communication channels etc.

What's in it for you guys?  (This is a rhetorical question: I think I
know the answer.  And of course it begs the question "Who, exactly, are
the producers/manufacturers/owners of GNOME?")  The motivations of the
producers need to be stated clearly before the marketing team can make
any meaningful progress.

I suspect the answer boils down to some variant of frustration at the
general crappiness of interacting with one's personal computer, and the
frustration of having to rely on money-grubbing unethical corporations
for the privilege of doing so.  And getting gouged again and again for

When I try to explain what GNU/Linux and GNOME is to people who don't
know what an operating system is (or even a file, folder/directory or
hard drive sometimes) I almost always say things like:

1.  You know how there's always stories in the news about viruses, and
how when you browse the web you get all sorts of pop-up windows trying
to scam you, so that using the Internet is an uncertain and scary
experience?  Well, the system I use has none (OK, not none, but hardly
any) of that.

2.  You know how if the software you're using doesn't work right, you
can't do anything about it.  If you email the company, nothing happens,
or they tell you to buy the next version, but won't promise that your
problem will be fixed?  Well, the system I use is written by people who
love to get bug reports and often will fix bugs and release new versions
(for free!) in a few weeks or even days!  And there is a large community
of people who can (and will) answer your questions on-line.  And it's
all free!

(I used to say "You know how Windows crashes all the time?"  but now I
don't because later versions of Windows seem significantly more stable
to me.)

These, IMHO, are the reasons that will resonate with people, be they
clueless newbies or CTOs.  It's all about slowly eliminating all the
hassles of interacting with your computer and the Internet.  The fastest
way to do that seems to me to be the Free Software way.

This is all very pragmatic of course.  RMS would probably have a fit.  I
do find, however, that when I talk about the philosophical points of
Free Software, that people understand easily.  For the end user (rather
than the CTO) RMS's points are simple and easy to understand.  Maybe
that's a cultural thing (I'm in New Zealand).

**** So, after all this blathering I propose that any "What is GNOME"
answers touch on the two points above.

Next: finding out what people want.

I am interested in making it less of a hassle to interact with computers
and the Internet.  I have not delved into the literature, but I suspect
that perhaps it doesn't exist.  However I have the following to offer.

**** I work in a university.  In my building we have half a dozen
computer labs that seat around 30 people each.  The users in these labs
are a mixture ranging from arts and humanities students who are the most
clueless newbs imaginable to computer science postgrads.  They are all
monitored by CCTV.  I have an opportunity to

(a) observe people using computers
(b) ask them questions about it

I have a few vague ideas about what I would like to know, but I would
rather ask for your burning questions.  Specifically, when discussing
the issues that are raised in this list, what assumptions do you make
about how users act and what they think?  I can test whether these
assumptions are in fact true.

**** I may be able to get a grant from my school (of Business) to
conduct a proper study.

I apologise for the length of this post  (It's pretty much
flow-of-consciousness.  Perhaps it would have been better as two
separate posts.  Oh well, too late now.  I have to go.  Bye!)


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