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LinuxPower.org: Sun's Desktop Division making headway

Aug 28, 2001, 17:06 (10 Talkback[s])
(Other stories by Christian Schaller)
Christian: Some people claim that since most Free Software projects are created by someone who needs it to solve a problem of their own, free software projects automatically receive good usability since the hackers actually use the application themselves. Do you agree with this?

Suzanna Smith: I think this is only true if hackers will be the only people to ever use the software. If the goals for the software include reaching out to a wider, more mainstream user population, then I do not agree. At least in Sun's eyes, bringing GNOME to a different user population is definitely a goal.

Hackers are so close to the applications they develop that they might not see how these implementations could trip up someone who is not as familiar with the underlying code. Often user interfaces mimic the code that lies underneath. Most users do not think about accomplishing tasks in the order that a computer system would approach the task. They need a user interface that masks the underlying system architecture from the user level. But hackers are so in tune with their code that their user interfaces are often too revealing of this underlying architecture.

We are not here, as usability professionals, to tell hackers that they are wrong. Rather, we are here to offer another set of eyes and a perspective that is not so tied to the underlying code, to try to bridge the gap between the hackers' ideas and applications and users' tasks and their ideas of how to accomplish them. Some of the reactions to our report included the sentiment that improving the usability of GNOME would equate to "dumbing down the interface". I don't believe this has to be the case. Usability does not just make the system more usable for novice users; it improves the system for all."

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