Change it for the better

Posted 1 Aug 2001 at 12:32 UTC by jono Share This

*You* can help make KDE and it's applications better. How? By getting involved with usability reports.

I am the maintainer of the KDE Usability Project and a KDE developer. Like many open source projects, KDE is staffed by volunteers from around the world, and a mostly polished powerful interface has developed.

KDE can however be improved, and to do this we need the help of not developers, but users. We need *your* feedback, and we also need people to summarise this feedback into usability reports that we can submit to the application developers so they have a list of points that users have stated that maybe need attention.

All you need a limited knowledge of HTML, a bit of knowledge of KDE and a little time to read the kde-usability mailing list (available at We have a standard report framework that can be used to formulate the report.

This could really make the difference in developing KDE to be even easier to use and more powerful. Usability tests and reports are important things, and every GUI environment should use them.

We will be also conducting tests on various KDE software to add to these reports.

Wrong Audience, posted 1 Aug 2001 at 13:04 UTC by khazad » (Journeyer)

Asking usability reports from geeks who will use just about any interface and prefer high-ceiling learning curves instead of the AOL learning curve isn't probably what the KDE folks really want.

I wish you luck and hope this turns out to be useful, unlike the Sun usability study on Gnome that submitted people who are using Windows for a decade to half an hour of Gnome to conclude that Gnome != Windows.

Yes, but Geeks can conscript., posted 1 Aug 2001 at 13:19 UTC by cmacd » (Journeyer)

Yes, having Geeks judge usability is a not in the cards, BUT asking for reports on useability is a great idea.

Ten Ts'o went into the lack of useability by the Anut Minnies and Uncle Freds of the world in his Keynote at OLS.. Ted asked if your Grandmother could use your computer. (Note that your grandmother probaly can't make sense of the redmond product either) Redmond spends bug bucks subjecting potental users to walkthroughs of "try to send an e-mail" and "type up your resume" using their products. The researchers take notes and feed back to the development managers a list of items where confusion was found.

This may partly explain such dumb things as hidding file extensions on a system that depends on them..

So your misson Mr. Phelps

Get your non-geek friends to try the system (The principal extends past KDE, but at least they are wise enough to ask.)

NOTE carefully where the confusion starts

Report your findings,

Rinse and repeat.

Let me clarify, posted 1 Aug 2001 at 14:04 UTC by jono » (Master)

We are not asking for geeks to make comments on usability, but to simply summarise all of the comments non geeks have made into reports. This would not affect the content that the non geeks have said.

The reason why we need this is that users dont really know HTML and dont want to write reports. We need people who are familier with the technology to summarise their comments in reports that the developers can access easily.

Thanks for your kind support though. :-)

Sun's usability testings were useful, posted 2 Aug 2001 at 08:27 UTC by hadess » (Master)

khazad, what are you on about ? Have you even read the usability study ? It is a great piece of information, and make a lot of valid points. The editing of a text file takes seconds under any operating system/UI and it was a bit of a pain in GNOME. GNOME needs to be fixed, and it will be. Maybe you're just one of those snobbish people that feel that anybody below their level of knowledge in computers should be forbidden to use one.

Gnome's Usability Study, posted 2 Aug 2001 at 14:16 UTC by khazad » (Journeyer)

hadess, the problem with that study [the Gnome one] is that it assumes a common paradigm between Windows (a CLI-less OS) and Unix-like OSes. It's not fair to compare the time it takes to edit a file by a person who has been using MS Word for 5+ years and now will need to a) find out where is the editor(s) b) how to use it/them. Also, I find the 'How could I know this foot is the start menu...' quotes ridiculous. If those are to be taken in account, then what we'll have is a perfect clone of Windows behavior, look and feel, with the window and the word 'Start' in the menu button. That study took in consideration too much the 'first impression'. And after discovering what the foot menu is, anyone would remember it. These tests take by heart that learning is painful. avoid avoid avoid. What they're measuring is 'How usable is this system by someone with learning capacity zero ?'.

I also fail to see the efficiency of these usability tests when comparing different paradigms. Say, when I (and a lot of people I know, all of them with technical background, not necessarily on Computer Science) need to write a report, the procedure is: a) fire emacs (personal preference, fire vi if you wish) b) write LaTeX source c) run LaTeX d) do whatever desired with the dvi (render to PS, preview, send to /dev/null , many professors even prefer to receive the .tex source). I've used Word and StarOffice and I know perfectly that they'll never be what I want, I write more efficiently with LaTeX and the document always looks good. Now, how would a usability test detect that ? Put a newbie in front of Emacs and say 'write' ? Or better, give him a copy of LaTeX: A document preparation system, L. Lamport, put him in front of Emacs (or GNotepad, GEdit, whatever people call user-friendly these days), open the TeTeX HTML documentation index in a browser window, and take note of the time he takes to accomplish the task ? Yes, it'll take longer than typing the document in StarOffice.

To say the least, the test subjects should be given at least some days to get acquainted with the new system and only after that be asked to perform the tasks.

So, I'm sorry if you take that study by heart, but for me when they say ''it's not ready for the desktop yet" they're saying 'It's distinguishable from Windows.'

khazad, there is more going on than you realize, posted 2 Aug 2001 at 15:38 UTC by adubey » (Journeyer)

I'm not actually sure where to begin this -- I think I'm writing this email from a completely different worldview than you. Now, there are somethings that you are saying that makes sense. Linux is not Windows -- Linux/Unix interfaces tend to be hard for beginners and tuned for experts, whereas the Windows interface is tuned for beginners and often frustrating for experts.

I think it would be bad if, to lure new Linux users, we fell into the Windows trap, or, going even further, simply became a clone of Windows from a useability standpoint.

Now, maybe this is just our differing interpretations of the Gnome report, but I have a feeling it goes deeper: I feel that Linux could be easier to learn for beginners yet retain the advantages for experts.

On the path to making things easier for new users, yes, some things will become like Windows. This is not copying Windows for the sake of copying Windows, but rather because -- horrors of horrors -- Windows actually does some things right.

Take the start menu. Once upon a time, the start menu wasn't there. When Win95 came out, MS had to convince people about the usefulness of the start menu. They did this by making it look like a button (rather than just an icon) and making it somewhat prominant on the display.

Now, when KDE and GNOME came out, the usefulness of start buttons was well-established. So they copied it. But they made a boo-boo. In GNOME (at the least the version the useability study was done with), the foot button doesn't look like a button - it looks like an icon. There is a small up-arrow, but apparently that visual cue isn't big enough for an untrained user to figure out what is going on.

Your take on this is to make the GNOME foot exactly like the Windows start menu. My take on it is to make it embossed, like other buttons, or to give a better hint that a menu will pop up when you click on it. Yes, it may be uglier, but useability should always trump looks. It's a computer, not a piece of art.

The conclusion? Yes, one solution would be to make things like Windows -- because the Windows UI is given heavy useability testing, there are things they do right. But if Windows has solution X to a certain useability problem, there is no reason Linux/GNOME has to use the same solution -- as long as the chosen solution makes sense.

Khazad has missed the point ..., posted 2 Aug 2001 at 15:55 UTC by movement » (Master)

... I think. The tests were not about "how similar is this to MS Win", but about transferrable skills. A user familiar with how GUIs work in general should be able to get used to a new system without too much pain.

The lesson of the report is not "avoid learning" but "how should gnome be changed to be approachable". This does not imply that is must clone MS products in every way, but that it should present a steep learning curve.

The users were of course encouraged to talk through their actions; this is probably why there were the "gnome foot" comments. Read the suggestions the sun engineers make for this problem again; do you really disagree with them ?

I also don't understand your little rant about LaTeX. This is clearly NOT the focus of this study, and not the primary intended audience for products such as KDE and Gnome. Usability of a system in the sense you intend it here is a complete irrelevance, as you point out quite clearly at the end of that paragraph.

You say the test subjects should be given some days to get acquainted with the system. But the whole point of the exercise was to get some grasp of the intuitive nature of the system (personally I found the report rather limited in scope, and lacking in big-picture recommendations).

KDE could sorely do with something like this.

(and an unrelated rant: why does KDE not make good use of the very corners of the screen, the largest targets there are ???)

*nod*, posted 3 Aug 2001 at 00:34 UTC by khazad » (Journeyer)

ok, I majorly agree with both comments above, looks like I exaggerated a little (especially on the LaTeX part).

Still, I keep the feeling that such a study should go deeper than watching how people do things on their first encounter with an "alien" system. While yeah, the study did find some interesting points, it's too shallow.

adubey: let me just correct you on one point: Once upon a time, the start menu wasn't there: it was an apple on the top left corner of the screen and only macs had it. Then Microsoft copied it. Amazingly enough, the apple wasn't 3D-extruded like a button (at least on Mac OS 6 and 7), and Macs have a long tradition of user-friendliness.

I'd love to see exactly the same Sun usability study performed with Macs (people who haven't had previous contact with Macs, of course). The comparison of both studies could get interesting.

Apple menus, posted 6 Aug 2001 at 13:58 UTC by dan » (Master)

It's been a while since I turned my Mac on, but as far as I recall, the Apple menu is not an application launcher. If you want to launch an application, open "Dark Brown Overcoat" or whatever other cute name you gave your hard disk, and find the app and doubleclick it.

I'm still not convinced that the Start menu (or foot, or whatever) is a good thing as a primary interface. Even on Windows where the average application name is quite long ("MicroMacro Advance Frobozz 1.4(R)") there's still not a lot of indication as to what the program will do for you if you didn't already know.

(Surely the end point of all this document-centric embeddable foo is a bunch of icons for your existing documents and a single button marked "New document" that will be anything you like and let you embed anything you like?)

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