Saturday, February 1, 2014

Users prefer familiar desktops

A recent article at Datamation discusses the paradox in KDE and GNOME: Polls show that KDE is the most popular Linux desktop, yet more users prefer desktops that use GNOME technology. What's the explanation?

From the article:

A likelier alternative is that the paradox has been misidentified. Perhaps the paradox is not technical in nature so much as an unintended consequence of the user revolts against KDE and GNOME and how they were handled.
From a user's perspective, KDE responded most effectively to its user revolt. Doing so was easy, because many of the features that users demanded to have back were already planned to be included in KDE 4.1. However, KDE also responded in a few months, with every sign of interest in readers' concerns.

However, GNOME's handling of its user revolt was very different. The general perception—which, needless to say, is not shared by GNOME's supporters—is that the project expected users to conform to the desktop design imposed by developers. And that it made no concession to complaints for almost eighteen months, when the official acceptance of GNOME extensions finally gave users the flexibility they were demanding.
More interestingly, the article also covers the user preference of a classic desktop style. Citing Linux Journal's 2013 Readers' Choice Awards, the authors note that "desktops that support a classic functionality, such as Xfce, MATE, and Cinnamon, were preferred by 61%." The article concludes with "For better or worse, they [users] know what they want—a classic desktop—and the figures consistently show that is what they are choosing in far greater numbers than GNOME, KDE, or any other single graphical interface."

These results are not that surprising. From my own usability test results, I found four themes of usability:

  1. Familiarity
  2. Consistency
  3. Menus
  4. Obviousness

Testers indicated that the programs seemed to operate more or less like their counterparts in Windows, and remember that most (6 out of 7) testers used Windows as their primary desktop. Gedit wasn't too different from Windows Notepad, or even Word. Firefox is like other browsers. Nautilus is very similar to Windows Explorer. To some extent, these testers had been trained under Windows, so having functionality—and paths to that functionality—that was approximately equivalent to the Windows experience was an important part of their success.

But it's good to see the same conclusion in the Datamation article.


  1. My preferred Lubuntu/LXDE is not very popular. :(

  2. I actually like LXDE, but slightly prefer XFCE. I've written about XFCE's usability a few times on this blog, too.