[Usability] Re: [Desktop_architects] Printing dialog and GNOME

<quote who="Linus Torvalds">

> No. I've talked to people, and often your "fixes" are actually removing
> capabilities that you had, because they were "too confusing to the user".
> That's _not_ like any other open source project I know about. Gnome seems
> to be developed by interface nazis, where consistently the excuse for not
> doign something is not "it's too complicated to do", but "it would confuse
> users".

So there are a couple of important points here:

  1) We absolutely have a responsibility to design software that doesn't
     confuse users. The reality is that most software developers can't even
     get this right! So if we've rejected ideas, features or designs based
     on their inscrutability, I don't think I need to defend that. But it's
     a very rare brand of silliness that is rejected for this reason alone!

  2) Sometimes this phrase is used as shorthand, or regurgitated by someone
     who was not directly involved in a particular design discussion. It's
     an easy fallback position, but doesn't usefully represent the approach
     we take to design (note: design, not usability). We use personas, use
     cases and testing to determine if we're getting things right. It's the
     kind of thing that permeates our culture, but has not been expressed
     well outside it.

  3) Should we care more about "features" or "benefits"? :-)

Let's get practical for a minute. Here's a bunch of screenshots of the GNOME
1.4 global panel preferences dialogue... It's a rat's nest of 'unbreak-me'
options, combinatorial obfuscation, feature accretion and laziness. How much
of this waived developer responsibility helps our users?


> The current example of "intentionally not listed in the printing dialog,
> the usability team of GNOME was against listing these options." is clearly
> not the exception, but the rule.
> Jeff, if the explanation had been "exposing PPD features is too hard, we
> need developer manpower", I'd have understood. THAT is what open source
> projects tend to say. Not "powerful interfaces might confuse users and not
> look nice".

Sounds like a third-source answer to me. I've just spoken to a few of the
hackers who worked on the current dialogue - a far more reliable source of
information: The PPD user interface is not exposed due to a combination of
lack of time, a desire to ship what we had, and the challenge to expose PPD
features in a usable and reliable manner (a problem Till understands very
well). Pulling together software built by different projects with different
needs and design briefs, and putting a coherent, *usable* interface on it is
*very* hard work. But it's an incredibly satisfying battle.

> If this was a one-off, I'd buy it. But I've heard it too damn many times. 
> And only ever from Gnome. 
> The reason I don't use Gnome: every single other window manager I know of 
> is very powerfully extensible

Sorry to snip mid-sentence, but this is an important point: We're not aiming
for "powerfully extensible". We're aiming for "Just Works". Some people will
hate that. Some will love it. Personally, I'd rather have passionate users,
lovers and haters, than be than average and ignored, and I think you'll find
most GNOME developers feel the same way.

> Same with the file dialog. Apparently it's too "confusing" to let users
> just type the filename. So gnome forces you to do the icon selection
> thing, never mind that it's a million times slower.

Jump into a GNOME file dialogue some time and just type a filename. :-) We
didn't get this 100% right when it first shipped, which was disappointing,
but it's top stuff now. Note the similarity in approach to the OS X 'open'
dialogue. We're not alone here, and this is nothing new.

I totally understand where you're coming from. In fact, I spoke about this
at length during my keynote at GUADEC earlier this year. Putting GNOME on a
long-term mission towards the 99.9% of users who don't care about computers
involved a massive cultural shift. On one hand, we've achieved great things
for the Free Software desktop in pursuing this mission. On the other hand,
it has been a pretty singular focus, so in some ways we've gone too far, not
concentrating on scaling up to the needs of our hardcore users. We can fix
that from where we are. It's much harder to go the other way. We've already
felt that pain in the leap from GNOME 1.4 to 2.0. Never again.


- Jeff (ah, good sigmonster)

linux.conf.au 2006: Dunedin, New Zealand               http://linux.conf.au/
   "Well, you know us usability folks... We like to believe that the two
    aren't mutually exclusive." - Calum Benson on power and cleanliness

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