Monday, November 5, 2012

Slashdot question on open source usability

A few weeks ago, the popular technology blog Slashdot polled the community for interview questoins to ask open source advocate Bruce Perens. I was glad to see Bruce answered my question about usability in open source software:

Usability in open source software?
by Jim Hall

Bruce, I'm doing a study of usability in open source software - how user interfaces can be designed in Free / open source programs so the program is easy to use by real people. So my question is twofold: What Free / open source program really got it right with usability? What qualities make for good usability in Free / open source software?

Bruce: Although I evangelize the issue of building our software for people outside of our community, I am no expert in usability at all. So, what that means is that there is room for others to evangelize best practices. I'd like to learn. I'll gladly pass your message along, if you build a compelling case.

If I had to guess, I'd say that Mozilla has more expertise in this than many Free Software projects. I have been running the GNOME 3 desktop in Debian Sid for a month or so, and I am not sure GNOME 3 is quite there yet. Keep it up, folks!

Unfortunately, that's a pretty short answer. I didn't expect a longer answer, though - usability in open source software seems to be an overlooked topic. Not a lot of research in this area.

Interesting to note a comment I see repeated when I ask open source software folks about usability: "I'm not a usability expert." But you don't need to be a usability expert to apply usability to open source software. As Redish said to me in our interview, you can learn a lot just by sitting down with a user, and watching them use the software. You don't need to be a usability expert to grab a friend or family member, and ask them to try out a scenario for 15 minutes. (I'm doing the same with my family when I return from a trip next weekend - the start of my usability testing!)

As of this writing, none of the comments on the Slashdot article discuss usability in open source software. But I wanted to share anyway.

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