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Linux Software

Making Linux Easy With Eazel's Andy Hertzfeld 203

Make no mistake. Andy Hertzfeld, Eazel developer and Macintosh forefather, is an Open Source zealot. Forged in the fires of Steve Jobs and Bandley 3, Andy's leading the team to build a kinder, gentler interface for our favorite operating system. I got the opportunity to speak to Andy last week, and I learned a lot about the challenges and victories of thinking different with Linux.

Slashdot: Tell us what you're doing now, and how it differs from your work at Bandley 3.

Andy: What's similar about it is we're working on another revolution, trying to take usability to the next level -- it's different in that we have the network now. With the Macintosh, we were able to solve a different class of usability problems, but we really weren't able to get at some fundamental issues of system management and robustness. Now, with the network, it gives us the ability to address those.

Slashdot: How is it, working on a hyped-up technologically advanced version of what you've done in the past?

Andy: I don't know if that's really true or not. There's a level of it that's similar, but it is twenty years later, and the possibilities are vastly different. Sometimes I stop and think about when I was working on the Macintosh, it seemed like 128k was a lot of memory, because we were initially trying to fit everything into 64k. Nowadays, 128k is lost in the noise, it's a rounding error. There are possibilities to do so much more than we ever could before. On the other hand, the original Mac prized simplicity, and some of that simplicity has been lost. The Mac has gone, in certain respects, downhill on the ease-of-use curve over the years, and part of that is the natural evolution of a system to order to fulfill the complex and varied needs of it's users. There's just a tendency in the world toward complexity. On the other hand, one of the things distressing me is the lack of innovation over time. Just your very question indicates that even though the hardware now is thousands of times more capable than what we had when we were working on the original Mac, the software paradigms have not advanced in the same way.

Slashdot: The whole Linux craze, you've got Windows, and 'Ooh, look at this new fighter on the horizon.' But it's UNIX.

Andy: Well, but the new fighter on the horizon, from my point of view, is not so much that it's UNIX, but it's a new and better business model, a new and better paradigm for developing software, and that's really exciting.

Slashdot: How did you get involved in the Open Source/Free Software movement?

Andy: When I took off from General Magic in 1996, the Internet was exploding, and I just wanted to learn about it. So, I set up an ISP at my house, got a T1 line, and set everything up myself so I could learn about how things are put together. But also, to justify that T1 line, I started doing pro bono projects of various kinds. I was happily puttering along with those kinds of projects when in January of 1998, the Mozilla announcement caught my attention in a big way. That led me to Eric Raymond's papers, and an epiphany, you know, a moment of insight, where I realized that it solved the structural problems in the software industry. I'd been depressed about the lack of innovation and the stagnation and the anti-user framework that the software industry had fallen into. The idealism of the computer industry had led to this cul-de-sac, where no one was really happy with their machines. The basic problem is that the applications want to converge on a common system infrastructure. That's what's good for the applications, good for the users, good for everyone, to be built on top of a common system software base. The problem is that when that common system software base is controlled by a proprietary interest, the company that controls it necessarily becomes anti-innovative. In order to maintain their control, they are at odds with the users and the developers. I had realized that, and I didn't see a way out until reading Eric Raymond's papers, and learning about the successes of Linux, Apache, et cetera. I saw that if that common infrastructure could be owned by the community on something like the GPL, the problems are solved. You can have a healthy software industry, where anyone who wants to innovate has equal footing. That was really exciting to me, and I saw it as a call to action. The first step was converting my Web servers over to Linux, I started installing all sorts of software, playing around to see the state of usability. The first one I did was KDE, about six months later, I started exploring Gnome, and just getting up to speed in the space which took about six months of just exploring around, and another six months actually programming on gtk to understand it's strengths and limitations. Around the very beginning of 1999, Bart Decren was the founder of an organization in East Palo Alto called 'Plugged In,' which was one of the few organizations trying to address the digital divide, trying to fix the paradox that right next to Palo Alto, one of the most affluent and high-tech communities in the nation, was this little place called East Palo Alto, which was one of the least affluent and high-tech places in the nation and Bart started an organization to try to bring technology to them. So, I supported Bart in those efforts over the years, and he was one of the people I respected the most. He had all the qualities of a classic entrepreneur, but he was applying them for public good instead of his own private interests. So, when Bart came to me and said he had run his course at Plugged In and was looking for something new to do and just wanted my advice, I told him about my excitement about free software. My plan was not to start a company, it was to start an Open Source project. Bart surprised me when he came back to me, a month or two later, and he said, 'I figured out what I want to do, I want to start an Open Source company with you.' That was around April of 1999, so we started putting together a plan, and what really made Eazel happen was the realization that in order to create ease-of-use on the desktop in a broad way, we needed something to fund it. We wanted to do Free software, but we needed some sort of business model.

Slashdot: Someone's gotta pay the bills.

Andy: Yeah, so the real 'eureka' moment was when we realized that the GUI is only part of the problem. The real problem vexing users is system management, as well as lack of coverage on the GUI, and lack of fit-and-finish and all of that, as well as the lack of innovation. We had ideas for years that have just not made their way into the main platforms because things had stagnated. Anyway, the system management problem seemed to be the real opportunity that it would take a company to address, and it could have a potential business model behind it because of the ongoing nature of system management. What needed to be done was to create a service that could manage people's systems for them, and that we could charge people a subscription-based fee for and use that revenue to fund our efforts at making the GUI really great on the desktop. So, that's what happened. That all came together in the summer of last year, we got an office in August, or early September.

Slashdot: Tell us about the technical aspects of what you're doing. I don't know how much time you're spending in front of a compiler everyday.

Andy: Oh, I'm in there programming every day and every night, like I always do.

Slashdot: Well, tell us what you did this morning.

Andy: Well, the very first thing I do when I come into work after I put my backpack down is to go get a Diet Coke. Usually, I read the Web, I read my E-mail. The first thing I did this morning was work on our test database. We're using Bugzilla to manage all the various tests that need to be done with the project, so I go over that to close some out from the previous night, write some new ones, and then look over which ones I should work on today. Most recently I've been working on what I call the 'novice home' directory, which is the place where novice users go and there's a nice set of links for them to access the functionality of the program.

Slashdot: Tell us what excites you about Eazel.

Andy: One of the really exciting things to me about Eazel is the great team that we've built and are continuing to build here. One of the very best things is getting to work with Bud Tribble again, who was my boss on the original Macintosh project.

Slashdot: The original Macintosh project is usually defined as a cult of personality led by Steve Jobs.

Andy: Well, it varied over time. The Mac group got a reputation for being really spoiled, but that was in the very late stages of the project. The Mac team was paid less than the average people working at Apple initially, because we were pretty young and out of the mainstream. We had a tiny little office above a gas station, that's the place where the Mac project really took root, we called it Texaco Towers, and we weren't spoiled at all really, compared to the rest of Apple. In mid-83, we moved into a fancy building, then they put the piano in ...

Slashdot: You had the piano, you had Defender ...

Andy: Yeah, Defender was actually partially due to me. Burl loved it. Burl was the hardware designer of the Macintosh, and he just loved Defender. We always used to go to Cicero's Pizza, which was across the street, to play Defender in the afternoon. When we had the opportunity to buy a Defender game, we sprung for it. Joust was the other video game we had there.

Slashdot: How closely are you working with Helix Code, and how does that affect the hacking you do everyday?

Andy: Well, I'm not sure it affects the hacking we do every day very much, but we closely coordinate with them to make sure that the Gnome platform is coherent, and we try to avoid reduplication of efforts, so we have a process where the folks at Eazel have a conference call with Miguel and Nat usually every other week. It's really fun. We almost became one company last summer. We had a lot of natural synergies, but there were enough differences that we decided to go separate ways, but we consider ourselves, I think both sides consider the companies to be siblings, so we each try to help each other wherever we can.

Slashdot: How much of your original Apple Macintosh design influence is finding its way into Eazel?

Andy: What I would say is that our design values have remained pretty consistent.What we think is important is the same. Essentially, making the user happy. Bill Atkinson, who is really the person I learned the most from on how to do good user interface, his one rule of user interface design is 'make the user happy.' What you do is put yourself in the shoes of the user, look through their eyes, and try to make things work from their perspective. That being said, one of the things we didn't know how to do on the Macintosh, that we learned subsequently, is that it's very important to user test. So, to make usable software, you have to take your best shot with your own empathy with the user, seeing the way the user sees, but then you have to test that against real users. You put them down in front of it with a video camera running, and you see where they 'get it' and where they don't.

Slashdot: When a wirehead designs an interface for wireheads, that's fine. The Linux command line works fine for wireheads. For that reason, it's why the popular Linux interfaces don't work well with people coming right from Windows.

Andy: One of the big problems in terms of usability and Open Source software is that no systematic user testing has ever been done. That's one of the things we're trying to change at Eazel.

The personal computer has come a long way since 1984. Microsoft has a vast marketshare of the desktop computer market, and most people are content with machines that don't perform nearly as well as they could. With new ideology and a team of experienced developers, Eazel is helping to build something that Open Source and Free Software advocates have been waiting for. A computer industry for the rest of us.

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Making Linux Easy

Comments Filter:
  • Well, to me the underlying assumption that ease of use eliminates power is a flawed one. I think that a more complex model for a system other than just (UI) xor (text config) would make it possible to keep the power and configurability of Linux while allowing more users to actually use it. Give newbies a nice set of click-driven menu boxes and wizards that present them with a sub-set of the available options. Let power users dig down, fiddle with text-based configuration scripts and recompile to their hearts delight.

    As to why Linux should go to the trouble of being more user-friendly, or free software generally. . . to me, a lot of the promise of this movement, and something that is present in the rhetoric of people that are advocates(just look at sections of this article) is the potential for free software to aid in the digital divide that is disenfranchising people who can't afford to stay current in modern software and hardware. Free software is a great solution for that; but, not if they can't use it. People who can't afford to buy a Win98 computer probably also cannot afford the traininga nd familiarity necesary to use free software/Linux as it stands now. I have friends who work in international development who know of schools in the third world and impoverished areas of the developed world that would love to be running a free software setup, but the technical knowledge isn't available for them. And while slapping a better GUI wouldn't do enough to fix this problem, it would be a useful step in lowering the bar for people who might not otherwise have access to computers.

  • MacOS X


  • I believe ... that the Mac and Windows interfaces are still too difficult to use. That is why things like ... hierarchical directory structures will eventually have to go.

    Huh? This is getting rather off-topic, but please explain to me how putting everything in one big mess will make things easier? People don't store all of their documents in one file folder; why should they have to use one file folder on the computer? You're talking about a giant step backwards here.

    Did I mis-understand you, or what? :)
  • While I'd admit the system shutdown on Linux could still do with more work, it's really as easy as Ctrl-Alt-F1 (to exit X) and Ctrl-Alt-Del (to reboot). Or in Gnome, Menu->Logout, Menu->shutdown. Why it can't be one step in Gnome I don't know.
  • <RANT>
    I'd love to be able to use tools such as XConfigurator. It'd be great, if only they supported my monitor. They sort of support it -- RedHat's tool, for example, let's me select my monitor (an Apple Performa Plus Display), but then there are no valid modeliens in the config file for it... what a lot of help. Maybe most of the world doesn't use 640x480 66.7Hz vsync monitors.

    The tools need some serious improvement. Especially since XFree86's FBDev should be able to figure out some acceptable parameters to at least get something on screen; the kernel, open firmware, and the MacOS can.

    That's not all. For some reason, even once I write a proper modeline by hand, it won't run in anything more than 8bit color. The X server just crashes whenever I try to start gnome or gimp or who knows what else. Wonderfull. I'm sure a beginning user will be real happy with this. Even 8-bit is a PITA to get the gamma correction right. Maybe 4.0 will be better.

    The Xpmac X server, which can autodetect all the settings, and even get the gamma correction reasonable, dose not like anything but 8-bit color. Sure, it can be told to use 16 or 24-bit, but it does not pass that info along to the hardware. And if one DARES to use vmode on the console to set it to 16 or 24-bit color, Xpmac decides that a 66.7Hz refresh rate is far to low, and tries to smoke my hardware. How nice. Only way to get sanity back is to hit the reboot key.

    Speaking of vmode, mine starts up at ``0 8''. I'm not even going to try and guess what that 0 means; 6 is the correct value. Attempting to set the vmode to 0 8 give an error (of course). I bet the beginner will be real happy with this.

    RPM today decided to install (as a upgrade) a half-downloaded package. You'd think it'd sanity check before installing, no? Of course, you can't even use rpm --verify on an uninstalled package, AFAICT.

    gmc croaks every upgrade unless you delete the previous version's config files. And today after an upgrade I have not been able to get it to keep the positions of icons on my desktop (and yes, I checked the preferences. Auto-positioning is off). I even deleted every configuration file remotely related to GNOME. No help.


    And I've used Linux for a while. A computer newbie would puke. Linux has a long way to go.


  • Invented by Ted Nelson. Get your hands on the classic "Computer Lib/Dream Machines".
  • This is simply not true. A lot of windows programs follow a guideline, but many do not. Think of even MS's programs. Bookshelf 97 (98?) looks COMPLETELY different from any other windows program I have seen. Look at programs like quicktime, and winamp, and others (that really funkily shaped mp3 player).
    The UI is only as good (or compliant) as the programmer makes it. Sure, there are more toolkits in use for X than I care to name (compared to windows), but most new programs are being developed in QT or GTK+ (I believe).

    He who knows not, and knows he knows not is a wise man
  • While Apple systems are much to easy for me and do not have very many adaptable features or coustomizations, they are very easy to use. On the other hand, Linux is very easy to hack and modify, yet it is quite difficult if coming from Winblows with little compiler programming knowledge. I think this project could mediate between many advanced features and coustomiztions and the famous ease of use MacOS has. This mediation would have the user-friendlyness of (oh dang!) Windows, but would go on to be much better in terms of both hackability and usability. after all, system 7 was never called HackOS :->
  • oh my god. this is so offtopic but if you are sitting there reading the threads above with everyone bitching each other out and you then come along the scrotum dedication post it is amazingly funny! i wish I had mod points to mod that to funny

    heh heh. maybe i am just really tired ;-)
  • Actually, I had heard they were working on system admin tools. I was hoping for an easy way to change color depths and virtual desktop size without having to edit XF86Config. But then I read that they would be doing the system admin for you. That kinda sucks, from my perspective.

    I will also admit to being in a bad mood when I made that post. :-)

    However, I count myself in the camp of people who don't want linux 'dumbed down' so Joe A User can have his way. But then, with Open Source, there will always be an alternative desktop, and of course, the command line, so I guess we're safe.
  • You see, I can't stand windows any more. That crufty and annoyingly long cut-and-paste standard that windows uses, for example. And there is no safe operating system which allows any user to shut down. If you really want to run as root (win9x), just log in as root to your Linux box all the time.

    NT makes you switch users to log out (or should, maybe it assumes that console users should be able to kill the system since they can always hit the power switch).

    And the X thing isn't an ease of use issue. It's vendors not releasing their proprietary specs in most cases. Otherwise it is drivers which simply need to be fixed. I have never had problems with getting X up on supported video cards, it's the 1/2 supported video cards that give problems.

    Anyhow, the fact that windows doesn't have a security model (9x) or that it is a half-baked OS (NT) that forces users to be at the console and thus assumes that they are is not a good thing. Eventually those things should go away.

    Oh, and the X cut-and-paste model is better than the windows one. I only highlight things for one reason: to copy. Why on earth should I have to hit a key to enable me to copy after I've highlighted? Of course, that just goes to show that we're different people. But please don't take UI preferences as easier/harder. They are just different.

    Oh, and have you seen Xconfigurator lately? It makes setting X up pretty damn easy. The list goes on.

    Have you not looked into a project like gnome or an installer like redhat's in the last three years? Noone thinks that normal users are hackers. They're being designed for, things just take time. As it is, for me, using windows is torture. I feel like I've had my arms cut off when I have to use it. It's weak, tempermental, badly designed, and when you get down to it, the people who designed it must not believe that its users were going to actually try to get work done. What sort of idiocy is make the windowing buttons dependent on the application? What dolt didn't provide a kill -9 option? When I say that I want a window dead, I want it dead now, not 30 seconds from now.

    Yes, unix requires work. At least where hardware support permits, it allows you to do work, too.

    So, in conclusion, unix requires work to use. Windows requires much more patience to endure it. Personally, I'd rather work than endure. And there are always the issues of freedom, but that's off topic. At least to the point is that I will generally always take power of enslavement. Maybe you prefer bondage. your choice. You are right that being a slave is easier.
  • Just one minor gripe:

    The gui is also consistent, by the use of a standard toolkit.

    Ok, so CTRL-C / CTRL-V copies/pastes in every gtk application? So I can consistently get help by pressing F1? And so on...

    Of course while sharing a common toolkit helps a lot in getting consistency, it is often only skin deep. Just because something looks the same doesn't mean it works the same. A GUI is about much more than how things look (In that case it would just be a 'G' :) - it is a means of interacting with the system visually (which people often find easier since it is much less abstract than the cmd line). It is the -UI part in GUI that programmers need to try and standardise on and improve.
  • by jacoplane ( 78110 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @02:30PM (#1070939) Homepage Journal
    I agree.

    If anyone's interested in the theory behind usability, I recommend this book [] on Human Computer Interaction as an introduction.

    Also, here are some web-sites I found useful:

    - Cooper design []
    Excellent collection of articles, case studies and, for students who want bullet-point summaries for ease of recall, a nice list of HCI design axioms. See in particular [] where there is a series of articles, including one entitled "The myth of metaphor". Cooper is also the author of two excellent books on interface design.

    - Ask Tog Design []
    Bruce "Tog" Tognazzini developed the first version of the Apple Human Interface Guidelines in 1978, moved to Sun, and is currently lead designer at Healtheon. He has published two excellent books on interface and software design and at this web site, he answers questions and discusses interface issues with wit and insight.

    - Jacob Nielsen's website []
    Nielsen produces a bi-weekly column on web usability and has also just published a book called Designing Web Usability: The Practice of Simplicity which is getting rave reviews. He is widely regarded as a leader in the field of web site design and usability testing.

    - Interface Hall of Shame []
    An excellent collection of scathing but accurate reviews of user interface disasters of one sort or another. The ultimate depressing experience for any interface designer must be to end up here.

    - HCI Reading List []
    If you want an exhaustive list of HCI reading materials, this is a good place to look. It is reasonably up-to-date (Feb 98) and has useful comments on the majority of textbooks in this area.

    - University of Maryland Human-Computer Interaction Lab []
    The Human-Computer Interaction Lab (HCIL) at the University of Maryland conducts research on advanced user interfaces and their development processes. They study areas such as new approaches to information visualization, interfaces for digital libraries, multimedia resources for learning communities, zooming user interfaces (ZUIs), technology design methods with and for children, and instruments for evaluating user interface technologies. The director is Ben Schneiderman, author of the book [] "Designing the user interface".

  • Doug Englebart invented the mouse at Stanford Research Institute (SRI).

    Credit for hypertext belongs to Vannevar Bush (As we may think) and Ted Nelson (project Xanadu []).


  • I question the need to mess with the environment variables in the first place.
    When your app gets started argv[0] tells you the directory it got launched from and you should be able to figure out where everything else is from there.

    It gets trickier when you want a fine degree of control over who gets to mess which files though. The reason people put conf files in /etc is because it's world readable but only root writeable. This seems like a reasonable place to put config files. In your scenario the user will need to further mess with permissions in order for the app to work properly (that is securely).
  • IANAL (but I start all my posts like that) - Sorry, had to get that out of my system :>) Seriously, I don't know if eazel are aiming at that kind of user base for cash-in. In the corporate world it matters little about the ins and outs of most of the libraries. There they'll be looking to create a new config and roll it out to a large number of users (all or a sub-set of the company) at one time. Preferably all at once and preferably without any hitches. At the moment this is an expensive task for which large departments are allocated in v.large companies to do almost constantly. Having been at the receiving end of many of these rollouts its never a happy experience. Many attempts in the Windows arena have been made to get round this and much expensive technology has been brought in. If Eazel can step into this area and offer company wide desktop maintenance and rollouts then I think they'll make a lot of in-roads. Expand this idea to supporting the desktop as well and they might end up with outsourcing contracts worth a lot.
  • While Windows is easier to use than some interfaces for some things, it's still not particularly easy. The main thing that makes Windows look leaps and bounds ahead in usability is that almosts everyone knows how to use Windows. Because Windows is so widespread, most people get exposed to Windows, and know the Windows paradigm. So we get the illusion that Windows is super easy to use, whereas in fact, it's not that easy but many people are very experienced with it.

    This will be a significant obstacle for Eazel and similar projects, and also possibly one reason why KDE is windows-like - unless you leverage peoples knowledge of previous interfaces they've used (eg *dows), any new interface is hard, no matter how well designed.

    tangent - art and creation are a higher purpose
  • So has anyone here actually tried Nautilus, the file/other stuff manager from Eazel? I've only seen screen shots, and they look OK, but not revolutionary, but maybe the revolution is in the using.
  • I think the UI Designers and the Hackers do a fair amount of self-selection, and the programs they create are popular in their own circles. I use mpg123; Joe A. User can use XMMS.

    I change my 'display settings' by hitting CTRL+ALT+'+' and CTRL+ALT+'-'. And really, why would I want 8-bit color? :)

    But seriously, it would be cool to have a box that could do this in GNOME or KDE, but I'd appreciate it if it didn't have to be integrated into X. Just being root and rewriting XF86Config while showing a pretty dialog to the user and saying "Now Restarting X..." would be good enough, IMO.

    (don't listen to me, though, I'm one of those "hackers" that your design teacher warned you about! :)

    I *do* appreciate it when programs support multiple ways to get help. For 'Joe A. User', it sounds like it should be "The Help Menu". (Command line? What's that?) However, it should *always* be "man prog". I don't *care* if there is alternate documentation available, there should always always ALWAYS be a man page for it, too.

    Source and a configure script, or a package for the right platform, or both, is pretty standard these days. And your distro can probably find packages for anything that "Joe A. User" would ever find out about. ("for everything else, there's"... :)

    Would you consider "crashing" to impede ease-of-use? I wouldn't consider Netscape terribly easy to use on Linux because sometimes it just plain doesn't work. But even if Netscape gets a 5/10 on Linux, IE gets a 0/10 on Linux, and bringing down the whole OS on Windows is even more serious in my book... IE 3.0 under Wine is reasonable; it has some Wine-related glitches, and doesn't support some things because it's old... but it's fast. Probably like running Netscape 3.0 on Linux. :)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • Yeah, I was thinking that redhat had a similar tool... I just set everything up nice and pretty in my config file, and cycle through with ctrl-alt- + -, like you said, but I have seen X utilities that will let you do this graphically, just like windows/mac.
  • by Junks Jerzey ( 54586 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:08PM (#1070947)
    Once again, I see at least one legitimate response claiming that Linux should remain difficult to use, as it keeps away people without enough knowledge. There's one fundamental flaw to this line of thinking:

    It's also keeping away people that *have* enough knowledge.

    I've done my share of assembly coding. I spend my day job immersed in C++ code. I've used UNIX as my primary operating system on the job. I've written tens of thousands of lines of production code using vi on a Sun workstation. I also have both Windows and Linux installed on my machine at home, and, more often than not, I find myself using Windows.

    Most of the reason is that Linux is just too tempermental and fussy. I admire the work that's gone into the kernel, but twiddling with Xwindows settings and getting my video card to work properly and having to deal with weird X cut and paste standards is just too much. And there are little things no one thinks about, too, like having to login as root in order to shut down, or remembering how to set it up so any user can shut down. Crusty.

    Yes, you can respond with "You dolt! Here's how you can get around that problem!". But the bottom line is that some people have gotten tired of the attitude that getting to play 1970s system administrator is a wonderful thing. Some people don't mind, like people who passionately hate Microsoft and love to start email campaigns about getting game ABC ported over, and people who equate snagging MP3s and constantly upgrading different parts of their systems with "using a computer." It's almost cultish how these people will deny that Linux is hard to use. Get over it!
  • You are absolutely right. Many 'gamers' like to play around with the system... but not if it's for the sake of crashes. Linux/BSD needs a lot of more PORTS. I wonder if it's more advantageous to the FSM if more hobbyists join in instead of businesses. My proposals are: 1. Full-fledged database as a replacement for the traditional hierarchical file system. Complete and reliable databases would presumably much better fit into a GUI. Ever wondered why local disk browsing is _that_ boring? Or why file searching is relatively inefficient? This could also remove one layer for database systems - they could run directly within partitions without the file system layer in between. Another advantage would be that all configuration data could be stored directly on disk. There would be no need for configuration files anymore. Instead all configuration data could be stored along with each application and/or user (see next point). 2. A combined application/user security system. If you run an application inside your userspace, it can do there everything. That's s small leak that could be dangerous to viruses even on a Linux/BSD system. And being restricted to the standard packages of a specific distribution is not what I call _freedom_. That way you could even install multiple versions of the same application without any complications or install packages from totally different ditributions sharing the same files or dirs between different packages. And viruses could only delete themselves - if at all. Those who don't like could disable it anyway, but I don't see a reason. Proprietary products (and all others) could be denied to read user's data... so no spionage/trojan horses would be possible. 3. Defining a standard for GUI and/or system configuration. There are already some packages that can configure whole clusters, but I think we need to agree upon a standard. If I had the time, I would do it. But years may go by before that will happen. What do You think?
  • Exactly!

    My wife gets furious with Win 98's instability, but refuses to switch to Linux because she can't play The Sims or EverQuest under Linux.

    Can't say that I blame her. I had my machine dual-booting Win 98/Red Hat 6.0 for the longest time, but then realized that 99% of my off-line time was spent on Torment, Baldur's Gate, X-Wing Alliance, etc. It wasn't worth rebooting just to run Linux to web surf and even then, I had to boot back into Win 98 to play EverQuest.

    Solution: Goodbye Linux partition...
  • It would have been nice to be able to open the folder I was in the CLI in the GUI, and vice versa

    >gmc `pwd`

    All things are possible with a good desktop interface, but your point is taken. If we could point and type w/o hands reorienting all the time that would be a lot more powerful.

  • by pb ( 1020 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:14PM (#1070951)
    Well, any of the X configuration programs do this, but...

    Please explain to me how [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[+/-] is not easy. What could be easier? Is [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Del] particularly difficult for you under Windows? Or is [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[Backspace] hard to remember under X?

    I agree that it has somewhat different effects than resizing the desktop under Windows or Macintosh, but it's still *incredibly* easy!

    Also, I don't see how it's that easy on Windows/Mac. For the average user, it goes something like this (realize there are many inconsistent ways to do the same task, too):

    "First, go to the Control Panel."
    "What's the Control Panel?"
    "Okay, click on the menu. (Start / Apple / Whatever)"
    "Now go to Controls."
    "Now go to Display. (preferences / monitor / whatever)"
    "Now pick your resolution."
    "So is 800x600 bigger? How many colors do I need? Why would I want 32 colors instead of 256?"

    For a novice user, they have to learn *something* first, but navigating a maze of menus seems rather harder than pressing a key combination, at least to me... And remember, once you learn it, it's easy! You must have learned the wrong 'easy' way to do things first...
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    Ah, no...Hypertext was invented by Ted Neilson, inventor of Xanadu, great-grandfather of what would become the world wide web.
  • I agree, at least to a point. Linux still isnt user friendly enough for the masses. But its alot better than even two years ago. However, I fear that linux could become that fat, bloated cow of an OS we call Windows.

    At least in the desltop market. Thankfully package management has various advantages, so a server can still be nice and sleek. What worries me is the Desktop. Yes, thats the place to make kinux user-friendly, yet at the same time, that is the place linux seems to be bloating at now.

    I've used Afterstep, Enlightment/Gnome, blackbox, OpenWin, CDE and a few others. Some of them just suck (CDE), and some are really cool (blackbox). Yes, I suppose to some degree I like a minamalist's approach, as I abhor the whole IE-Explorer BS of windows. My fear here lies in that these window managers are getting too bloated. Yea, I know i can easily go change mine, edit a few rc files and have a different faster desktop. But does Joe User? No, but, Joe User can use whatever config tool that comes with KDE, Gnome, Enlightment and poof!

    Yes, eye candy is nice ;) but at what cost does it become too much? Frankly, I finaly got sick of how sluggish the Enlightment/Gnome setup is, and went to blackbox. Sure I dont have all those handy things from the gnome bar, yet my desktop is soo much faster.

    Microsoft has proven a point, avrage users use what is pushed infront of them (IE, Office, ect). Needless to say, if the desktop-masses were to use Linux, such would be the case again. I think we need to figure out what makes a good window manager vs eye candy. If for no other reason, one must realize that us slashdotters may have the latest and greatest hardware, but many companys dont keep all their emploeeys on the the cutting edge. Hence eye candy becomes bloatware.

  • Yes, you learn many powerful things in the documentation.

    In this case, I think "easy to learn" and "easy to use" is the same thing here. It's just a keypress. Sure, if you don't know it, you'd have to look it up. But isn't that always true? Hey, here's a thought, Mr. Joe A. User: "If you don't know how to do it, maybe you should look it up."

    I remember when the Joe Users of my time knew this fact...

    In any case, if they (the Joe Users of the world) instead called tech support, and were told how to do it, then they'd know. If they forgot, well, there are always Post-It notes, or (God Forbid!) documentation.

    And there are real applications which let you pick one bitdepth and one resolution as well, which many people seem to want to do.

    Ewwey GUI stuff. So go have a Fig Newton. (bonus points if you catch the references...)
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • by Anonymous Coward
    The fundamental problem imho is that GUI is not about graphics. GUI is about active (as opposed to passive) interfaces. 'ls' is passive, we type it, it tells us stuff. The mac finger is active, it shows us what's in a folder, when it is updated somehow, it shows us. UNIX has no real support for notification. This means that you cannot reasonably construct active interfaces. You can poll, or you can install specific os hacks, like the IRIX famd which does file-system event notification to interested parties. However, how do I write an active interface to look at my firewall configuration? Oops, another hack. If you keep to the 'everything is a file' paradigm, then you might look at extending poll() to notify on changes to a file or directory. This would require some fairly extensive vfs level changes, but more importantly it would have to work with devices via the /proc directory. Directories would have to be able to request files to notify the directory on change, so that they can notify a client which is selecting on the directory. Now our spooling gets simple, drop a file into a directory, and the daemon wakes up. We can select to see when a kernel statistic/setting/option changes. What do people think?
  • Ah, Defender. We have one at my workplace. Another fellow who works here and myself have been battling each other for high score.

    It's starting to get pointless, I think we could both go forever now. :)

    Defender is still one of the most intense games I've ever played. You just get so "in the zone" when playing it. Everything else disappears except for that ship on the screen. Your hands become extensions of your mental state.

    I guess its a similiar experience to "deep hack mode" as described in the Jargon file.

    I know I just can't get enough of the intensity of Defender. I just finished playing it about twenty minutes before I posted this message. :)

    I also find it strangely comforting that Andy likes Defender as well. Defender may have been a daunting user interface when people first encounter it--but its prefect in its design once you learn it.

    Also, Defender was five buttons on a two-way joystick. Stargate added the sixth button for Inviso--temporary invulnerbility for those people who couldn't dodge in Defender. :)

  • Huh? This is getting rather off-topic, but please explain to me how putting everything in one big mess will make things easier? People don't store all of their documents in one file folder; why should they have to use one file folder on the computer?

    Well, I don't know what the original poster had in mind, but I would point out that the opposite of hierarchy isn't necessarily anarchy. I've recently wondered whether it wouldn't be better to arrange (at least a view of) the filesystem along a relational model.

    Of course, that might not be an easier sell to a novice unless you did it right.

  • Hey, Bruce. A lot of people probably think we're bitter and angry at each other now, because a lot of people like to stir up controversy where there's none to be had. I bet we'll be a Register headline tomorrow morning. Wanna blow this up into a nuclear knock-down drag-out, sell tickets and donate the proceeds to Software in the Public Interest?

    Yeah. Sometimes I think their median age is 12 and this is the most important thing going on in their sad little lives [that should stir them up :-)].

    Naah, I'm not going to drum up controversy with you. You guys don't follow through on that stuff. Remember when I publicly promised to pop out of the sunroof of Robin's limo in front of the Javitz Conference Center and make a spectacle of myself promoting your release if you would just release the Slashcode as Open Source? You even said you'd videotape it, Emmett. And Robin could never get it together to even pull up his darned car during the conference. You guys are wet noodles.

    Well, at least I got to send Robin teasing emails about when to pick me up at the airport :-)


  • True, but it's possible to provide alternate ways of arriving at that constant. For example: if I use a CLI, I can do anything. Make a simple GUI to the same CLI, and allow me to do some things easily. This is being done by RedHat, KDE, GNOME, linuxconf, etc.

    The one suggestion I would make, and this would make Linux more powerful than just the sum of the two interfaces, is not to lock people in to the GUI. The problem with linuxconf, for example, is that when I use it to make changes, I have no idea what files it edited. Now I have to use linuxconf forever. A simple "Behind the Scenes" button on linuxconf et al could show what files are being edited, and a little explanation. That was, a new user can "grow up" from the GUI to the underlying stuff, and more importantly, when things go wrong, you can debug them by bypassing the GUI.

  • No, it is not intuative. Intuative means "Obvious without having to be taught" not "what you have come to expect for no particular reason"... Users Don't care about how many hard disks, or partitions they have in their system, and while UNIX isn't perfect (/var is full, but /home has plenty of space!), it is better than C: and D:. Removable disks are different, users do care about which drive is which then, but in that case using /cdrom and /floppy (or even /mnt/cdrom and /mnt/floppy) is better than "Your drive will be assigned a semi-random drive letter at boot". And anything is better than "Oh, you just installed a zip drive, now all of your applications which have hard coded a CD drive letter will fail to start"

    Knowledge transfer is good, and should be a major goal, but lets not repeat the shortcomings of Mac the way windows has.

    That said, wrt. to the root of this thread, I think Linux installers are the best availabe. Compare someone clicking throgh 5-10 screens of meaningless nonsense in a standard InstallShield install vs. running 1 install command to install an RPM, which displays a single, simple progress bar, then completes. Yes, .rpm, .deb, and .tgz all coexist, but a novice user probably want's to stick with packages for their version anyway (which are generally widely available). A novice user shouldn't (and usually doesn't) have to build from source.

    UNIX has enough novice usability issues already, lets not add more on from Windows!
  • Just consider the audience an interview is tailored for also. Some people may not know the obvious questions and all.
  • au contraire, you CAN change the resolution in X, other than by using ctrl-alt-+ and ctrl-alt--. I run Corel Linux 1.1, (no flames, please, it's just the first distro I've found to run Samba perfectly) and it has a nice little monitor logo in the system tray, which when I double click it gives me the display properties. For all of you that have been jumping out of windows these days, display properties is basically a fancy name for Xconfigurator or XF86Config. There's a little slider for choosing resolutions, and two drop-down menus for color-depth and refresh rates. It even has a handy dandy test button to make sure nothing goes wrong. I don't know if you can get this utility for any other distro other than Corel (Debian?), but it would be great if you could, it's very helpful.

  • Actually, I know MacOS *and* Windows pretty well. I believed I mentioned that there are multiple, different ways to do the same thing.

    In Windows, you'd right-click the background and go to "Properties", and it magically gives you the Display Properties. Is this "Intuitive"? Maybe if you knew to right-click.

    On the Macintosh, *if* you see a Control Strip in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen (if it's there), or a little tab, and you click on it, and it zooms out to the right, and you figure out what the little pictures represent, then yes, you can change the resolution there, too. I believe they first included that thing on laptops, and it wormed its way into regular MacOS on the desktop. But you can't rely on it always being there, *or* in the same place, because it's "customizable". If you put it wherever it is, that's fine. Otherwise, well, you'll have to figure it out...

    The mechanism I described in my post is fairly consistent on *two* platforms, which is impressive. (or shows just how much Windows copied MacOS... :)

    I never mentioned that a MacOS user should resort to keyboard controls, although often they have to. Many's the time when I've had to force-quit a program, yea even the Finder, and had MacOS hang on me. More's the pity.

    Here's something non-intuitive for you: how do you turn off a Mac? I was *so* confused when I first found a Mac that didn't have a power button. It was even worse when I got it into DOS mode (it had a separate Pentium chip in it, to run Windows) and couldn't get info on how to get back. The "Quick Reference Guide" wasn't any help. I pulled the plug on it, and it bitched at me. Later, I found out that that particular Mac powers down by pressing the power button on the keyboard, and only if it wants to!!! (therefore, even knowing that button *was* the power button wouldn't have helped me any in DOS-mode...)

    To this day, I hate soft power buttons on any computer, and power buttons on the keyboard triply so. The Macintosh is a tribute to inconsistent design and marketing, at both the hardware and the software level. The software sucks, the hardware configuration is funky, the actual hardware is pretty good, and the package is overpriced. Yay, Apple.

    Darwin even has some Open-Source licensing. I would rather have something Unix-y than MacOS any day. Segmented memory architectures should already have gone the way of the Dodo, when better alternatives have been available for so long.

    Now... next time, before you flame someone, do a little research. Please, don't make assumptions outside of the information in the post! It would be hard to defame the name "Anonymous Coward" much more, but you're not helping...
    pb Reply or e-mail; don't vaguely moderate [].
  • I have thought this for a while, although I couldn't think of how it could easily be fixed.
    If such a thing is ever implemented, though, don't make it brain-damaged like Windows' console app support is: some programmes just disappear if they don't produce any output, which is silly.
  • Speaking of which, let's get a slashdot interview with Dr. Donald Norman. I've been curious what he and Dr. Jakob Nielsen have been up to since starting their own company.

  • I don't think that phrase fits linux very well. If anything, it would be "Think Fast!" With the kernel internals and libraries shifting faster than the sands in the sahara desert, programmers need to keep on their toes if they want to stay compatible. That isn't to say linux is hard to keep current with - it's usually a compile away, but upgrading from libc to glibc, from the 2.0 to 2.2 kernels, from a.out to ELF, etc., it can certainly be a challenge!
  • by gammatron ( 120978 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:17AM (#1070967)
    It would be nice if you guys could do an interview with someone where you get to ask you questions, like this one, and in addition you have user-submitted questions. If I were you I'd ask your questions first, which would let you get the obvious stuff out of the way, and would also give us a chance to ask questions based on the interviewee's answers.

  • There is at least one good reason to copy the interface of a successful program - to leverage peoples existing knowledge of it. As I state in this comment [] Eazel will have the problem that even with the best of interface design, it will be an unfamiliar interface (not Windows), and therefore not appear as easy to use as known interfaces. By making elements of your interface Photoshop like (for example) you can make your graphic interface easier to use for those graphic designers whom have used Photoshop-like products before. This may not be a good reason to copy an existing interface, but it certainly is one that motivates people.

    tangent - art and creation are a higher purpose
  • Things are definately looking up in terms of GUI. It would be nice to have the functionality of linux with a sleek front end like a Mac.
  • Linux UIs need to be more than a few applets, a file manager, and a window manager. To make it useful it has to be pervasive, with defined motifs that are pervasive in all third party software. Apple has essentially achieved this. Windows isn't far behind. Linux? HA! Some programs are KDE-compliant, some GNOME, and now Eazel. You may call that diversity folks, but its also known as a MESS.

    Gorgeous design usually rests upon draconian guidelines. Linux has no guidelines at all, and no one to enforce them if there were, so you can forget about a UI for linux that makes sense.

    I agree with previous posters who cite this as a waste of time. Leave this type of thing to Apple, who is more willing to make ISV's tow the line.

  • And don't get me started on the 30,000 tiny buttons sitting along the toolbar(s) in MS Word. If it takes a "tooltip" to explain what the icon represents, then the icon is a failure.

    Correction: if it takes a "tooltip" to understand an icon the second time, then the icon is a failure.

    An icon on a toolbar is an abbrev. Abbrevs are impossible to understand unless 1) you understand the underlying concept, and 2)you've had the abbrev explained at least once.

    Why does a floppy disk icon mean SAVE? It could mean LOAD. It could mean millions of things. If you had never seen that icon before, would you know what it did (without a tooltip)?

    A picture is worth a thousand words. An icon is worth about two.

  • Earlier today I was sitting here thinking about some stuff and it dawned on me that I had never ever seen a "Windows to Linux" guide for newbies.

    The two arguments I hear all the time are 1) There are no applications in Linux and 2) Linux is too hard.

    Well, I can say with 100% conviction that neither of those are true. But, we all know that!

    But nobody that I know of has ever written a document that says "This is a comparison of Windows to Linux." Something I had in mind:

    W: to launch a program you double click it
    L: to launch a program you double click it

    W: To get a listing of a directory, type dir
    L: To get a listing of a directory, type dir

    W: To log out of the system, select Start|Logoff
    L: To log out of the system, type "logoff"

    If you can show people that Linux IS as easy as Windows on the user level, a lot of the rest of the stuff will come easy. Another thing that REALLY needs to be done is to get away from some of these "must have a doctorate in comp sci" HOWTOs out there. Admit it, some of them are really horrid. Yeah, there is stuff that needs to be said, but does it need to be said in end user documentation? You and I might enjoy reading about how a serial port works or how a sound card turns electrical impulses into beautiful music, but for the average Joe, he just wants his damn modem to work or his mp3s to play.

  • That stands for "Bash is Not Linux"...after remaking Unix, I don't know why there is any particular reason to still use the Bash Shell (besides it usually works). But the Bash shell is not Linux, and neither are any of the others. The only reason it is added into Linux is by default, but it is only a matter of preference.

    A GUI, or even an Olfactory User Interface, whatever, is no less "true" to the Kernel. The ideal shell for the Linux kernel for many users would probably be the MacIntosh shell, the best, or at least most elegant, UI ever developed.

  • 99% of my off-line time was spent on Torment, Baldur's Gate, X-Wing Alliance, etc. It wasn't worth rebooting just to run Linux to web surf and even then, I had to boot back into Win 98 to play EverQuest. Solution: Goodbye Linux partition...

    You could have also tried VM Ware - it works like a dream.
  • Look, people. Get over this intuitive crap will you? No computer will ever be intuitive, in the true sense of innate understanding and comprehension. We can approximate this through a few techniques, but 'intuitive' is a cop-out for really thinking about what's going on.

    Go read Don Norman. Think about affordance theory - this is as close to intuitive as we will probably get. Applying affordances to interfaces makes the small details melt away, leaving the user with the higher level things to work on.

    What the Mac had right way back when, was that things were consistent. Remember when documents were upright rectangles with a dog-ear, and applications were diamond-shaped, with a little writing-hand badge? That was consistency. That was beautiful. Applying these rules consistently means that people leverage the small rules they have learned (NOT intuitively!) in millions of places. This is knowledge reuse - make it work for your users.

    New Interfaces
    It's too easy to just duplicate Windows Explorer and call it gmc. We need to really think about what we can do with all these spare cycles. Check out Lifestreams [] and let's think about making a Linux version of that. We need integration of services for that kind of handling of heterogeneous information, but it can be done. I, for one, would dearly love to have a Lifestreams computer. Let's see what we can do here.

    OK, ranting over, but let's really work at the interfaces and not just make a better Windows or better MacOS. We can take it to another level because we have the resources.
  • Call me crazy, but I'm not sure I want someone who loved Defender in charge of making a user interface. :)

    (Defender, of course, being the one arcade game with the easy to use six-button controls and a maddeningly steep learning curve)



  • One of the points, though, is it's not even easy to learn. Where is Joe A. User going to go to find this out? How long is it going to take him? How many HOW-TO's does he have to read, each being filled with the aforementioned un-needed info.

    Windows and Mac OS are intuitive. For most people, you don't even have to read anything once you get past the basics of mouse clicking and menu reading. Most people don't have to read a manual or go to a class to figure out how to use Outlook or .. change their display settings. Everything you want is in the control panel, and there are even shorter-short cuts. Right click on the desktop and choose properties to change anything having to do with the desktop, including display settings. Possible to guess. Ctrl-Alt-+? That's Impossible to guess. A plus sign has nothing to do with display settings, that I can see. Right-clicking the desktop does. And if you miss-guess (if right-clicking the desktop was a BAD answer) you aren't going to break anything. Personally I'd be afraid to go randomly hitting ctrl-alt-key combinations in Linux.

    Linux was a big step out of the world of Windows. It was incredibly anti-intuitive. I'm used to sitting down to new software and guessing my way through it. With Linux, I was asking people questions, frustratedly reading how-tos and websites and newsgroups. Joe A. User doesn't want to do this. He will not do this. I did it because I'm a geek and all my geek friends were using/had used Linux. Joe A. User has a different kind of peer pressure, and doesn't want to take the time.

    It's the path of least resistance, and Windows, at this time, is that path.
  • True, most everything you'd want to configure on a Windows box is collected together into the Control Panel.

    The applets themselves are hard to use. The display control panel is a particularly bad thing - unless you've got proprietary vendor-specific extensions. You can't resize the picture. The refresh rate (which can be very important for those people who are sensitive to it) is buried in the Adapter section of the Advanced Settings. That's wrong. Refresh rate is a Monitor thing. Even better would be for the system to *automatically* use the best possible refresh rate for a given resolution. Of course this would need a monitor that can report such information to the PC.

    I'm not saying that at the moment Linux is any better. What I am saying is that Windows is a bad example to follow because it's a case of ticklist features being shoehorned into the product by the marketing department and the engineering and UI teams having to pick up the bits afterwards.

    The Mac is better, but someone at Apple needs to sign a Control Panel Non-Proliferation Treaty. There's millions of the buggers and it's confusing for a user.

    Maybe things need to be grouped together by task - "Getting On The Internet", "Changing Screen Size".
  • Sure, if you try and do an NFS install of Slack 3.5, you're gonna come away with the impression that it's all a bit hackish.

    But we're past that now.

    Let's assume, for a moment, that you have a PC which has supported hardware.

    Let's drop a Mandrake 7 CD in the drive and boot off it.

    Let's install using the nice graphical installer which will pick sensible defaults when we don't know the answer to the question. (But then, most of the questions are of the "Where do you live?" variety)

    Let's watch as the installer copies the files.

    We hit a bummer. Linux has no support for PnP monitors yet and so we have to know what kind of monitor we have.

    X setup runs just dandy. Because our hardware is *supported*, right?

    We reboot and we are away.

    And we log in and we see the KDE desktop and we are happy people.

    We use kppp to get on the internet (cunningly hidden behind an "Internet" icon on the desktop) and we use Netscape.

    We haven't seen a command-line yet, either.

    Please, valid criticism is welcome. Your article is sheer mythology.

    Let's get some facts straight.

    (X cut and paste : highlight marks, middle button pastes. End of discussion)

    Fer chrissakes, there's a SHUT DOWN button on the KDM chooser. You don't need to be root. That's by default.

    "Twiddling with XWindows settings"? WTF? Just set it up (with the nice graphical XF86Setup tool, if your installer didn't do it for you) and use it. And it's X, or The X Window System. Not XWindows. Ever.

    Either you're trolling or times have changed since you last checked Linux out.
  • I use Linux because I can type things like:

    dvips -o doc|psbook|psnup -2|psselect -o|lpr

    (turn paper around)

    dvips -o doc|psbook|psnup -2|psselect -e|lpr

    and get a booklet of my documents. That's user friendly. GUI's just don't cut it after the first three to six months of use. Once a user has got the hang of a machine the command line starts to out-strip the friendlyness of a GUI

    People need to realise that a friendly-interface of a machine is like the wave/particle duality of matter: it's a GUI when measured with a newbie, and its a command line when measured with an experienced user.

    So all this GUI Vs CLI guff is pointless, a system with only one or the other is crippled. That's what Linux really has over Windross 2000(BC).

    The issue is experience, not "geekness", by the way. I know of typists who have become experts on their systems and started writing (very) complex TeX macros with no background in programming or any of the geek-arts.

    the reason for all this seems to be that people eventually "outgrow" the GUI metaphor. Once a person groks what the icons etc are a metaphor for, they no longer need it and they want to be able to deal with the "real" things (programs, files, pipes, filters) for themselves.


  • by Guy Harris ( 3803 ) <> on Monday May 15, 2000 @04:05PM (#1071007)
    yah yah I could use
    netscape's copy and paste functionality, but that's skipping my argument that the x-style copy and paste is lame.

    I think Netscape's copy-and-paste functionality is X-style copy-and-paste, in the sense that Alt+C copies to the X CLIPBOARD selection and Alt+V pastes that selection; I've copied-and-pasted between a GTK+-based application and Netscape.

    When people think of "X-style copy and paste", however, they often are, in fact, referring not to copy-and-paste, but what I call "paste-current-selection", which is what the middle mouse button does.

    As you note, paste-current-selection doesn't support pasting as replacement of a selection, given that selecting, well, changes what the current selection is.

    However, there are a couple of ways of using paste-current-selection to copy a URL to Netscape:

    1. highlight the URL, click in the Location: field, type control-U to erase the Location: field, and then paste the URL to the now-empty Location: field with the middle mouse button;
    2. paste the selection to the HTML window, which appears to be interpreted as "go to that URL".

    Copy-and-paste requires that the application from which you're copying support "copy to clipboard"; I don't know if xterm, for example, supports "copy to clipboard" by default (although you can probably configure it to do so by setting the appropriate translations for it).

    (Now, if only a certain X toolkit whose name begins with the letter "Q" would use the X CLIPBOARD selection, as the ICCCM suggests; I couldn't see any use of it in either the 1.42 or 2.0 source for said toolkit, and its non-use of CLIPBOARD may explain why I've seen a couple of complaints in Slashdot threads about problems with cut-and-paste between KDE applications and Netscape.)

  • There's been much posted here about why people don't move to linux, so I thought I'd post my personal reasons. Let me stress that I know Linux. I study Computer Science, I program using Linux - I've developed my own projects and helped on AbiWord, so I'm not exactly a regular user. Nevertheless I think my reason will be a familiar one to many people.

    The reason I'm not using Linux right now is font handling. I want anti-aliased scalable fonts. They look nice, and they're easier to read.

    It's a bit of a shalow reason perhaps, but it's important to me and, I'm sure, many others. Ask yourself, why do web pages look nicer in IE than Netscape (assuming they're both formatting them in the correct way). I'd be willing to bet the difference is the Windows vs. X font handling.



  • by ceswiedler ( 165311 ) <> on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:34PM (#1071013)
    To paraphrase Larry Niven, "User-friendliess times power is a constant."

    Niven was quick to point out, however, that the "constant" can change-- that 'K' is different for different environments. The idea is really that "user-friendliness and power are inversely related." Increasing one decreases the other.

    For example, the mouse increases user-friendliness, while the keyboard increases power. Making a small, isolated change from a keyboard shortcut to a mouse shortcut results in a decrease in power and an increase in usability. We can tinker with the left-hand numbers all we want, but we're not going to make signifigant changes in the overall system.

    It takes a massive restructuring, along the lines of the 'paradigm shift,' to change the 'K' value. This is exactly what a 'killer app' does--it increases the usability and the power of the computer. Visicalc, WordStar, the Macintosh, Netscape. Microsoft can tweak IE all they want, but their effors can't change the basic 'K' constant of the Web.

    Linux needs a killer app to make it really worthwhile. Usability testing is great, kernel speed is great, but they fall out in the wash.

  • by miguel ( 7116 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:34PM (#1071014) Homepage
    Indeed. You need to use Nautilus and see a demostration of a normal person using Nautilus to appreciate the ease of use.

    Andy did a demostration at the Guadec [] conference a few months ago of Nautilus and people were pretty impressed.

    We saw his prototype last summer, and back then it was already very interesting, it already was a testbed for new ideas (things that I had not seen before). Describing them is hard, as they were very smoothly integrated into the system, things just "worked".


  • If you had ever seen and used NeXTSTEP, of which Bud Tribble of Eazel was the key architect, you would know that power and usability don't have to be at cross purposes when they are united by strong design work. NeXTSTEP featured a beautifully designed GUI with a cohesive OO architecture running on top of BSD with a Mach kernel. It also had the best software development environment that has ever existed. If only Steve "These are my toys and you can't have them" Jobs had given back to the GNUSTEP project after taking heavily from GNU for NeXT's utilities, tools and compilers, we would not have to be doing this again. GNUSTEP has never had a chance because it looks backward toward a NeXT future that almost was but never will be (The sense of pathos that pervades the dedicated OpenStep / Cocoa developer community is truly heartbreaking). Last year, despite a healthy market for WebObjects development, I quit my involvment with NeXT/OpenStep/MacOS X Server because I felt that it was time to look to the real future of computing, which for me is Free Software / Open Source / Linux. Although the new environment and its tools are a lot more chaotic, their potential is becoming clearer to me every day. The presence of this team of people working on a breakthrough user interface for Linux fills me with hope. I'm rejoicing - you should be too.
  • by hatless ( 8275 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:44PM (#1071019)
    Having tried the recent Helix Code tweaks of GNOME and the beta of KDE 2, it's clear we're getting there fast. KDE 1.x still has GNOME beat hands-down on ease of use, but the UI changes Helix has been putting out lately are closing the gap. Dialog boxes are starting to look clean and rational, and menus are more consistent than before. They're on the right track.

    KDE 1.x is still far ahead of GNOME on the usability side of things, if not its internals--and it's rock solid. I could give a KDE 1.1.x machine to a genuine novice, and with an hour of coaching they'd be able to do everything they need with minimal help from a "Dummies" book. Software installation remains the big barrier between *nix and the mainstream of personal computing. With KDE, everyday computer use is no longer a problem.

    However, last week's KDE 2 beta was a real eye-opener. The icons are prettier, the design cleaner and warmer. They've moved on from aping their benchmark, Windows 98, to making something easier for novices and power users alike to use. The "first use" user-settings wizard absolutely blew me away, as did the context-sensitivity and embedding capabilities of the new file manager/browser. KDE 2 beta 1 is unstable as all hell, not yet usable by any stretch, mind you. But for the curious and hardy techie, it's worth looking at. Unix desktop environments are coming into their own.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday May 15, 2000 @01:26PM (#1071023)
    I just want to chime in with a couple of points.
    First, the design of Linux (and BSD, too) from kernel to GUI, is so totally modular that apprehensions based on Linux becoming a new Windows border on an irrational morbid fantasy. Linux is composed of separable pieces in a way unknown to any other system running on commodity hardware. Comaprisons to Windows and MacOS are empty. This makes it simply unthinkable that your command line/ text file configuration will be taken away from you.
    What power--I'd like to ask of the Cassandras--what irresistable authority do you fear will force you to use the GUI to configure your Linux systems? Tell me a little more detail from this dream you have, and I'll show you an impossible boogeyman.

    None of the essential services running on Linux or BSD today require GUI only, unreadable configuration files. Therefore to go from "none" to "all" would be a jarring, tree-forking break with the past. Especially since the head of the Linux project is adamantly opposed to the configuration of the OS ever migrating to human illegible formats. And there is no move of which I'm aware within the critical services projects to deviate from tradition on this point. I can't think of any such project which has even included GUI configuratiuon tools as an official part of their main distribution.

    Supposing there were forces pushing for the gui-only, binary-only configuration of the OS and services, what power will enforce this on the million Linux distributuions? Say there was ad hoc agreement among the major commercial distros to do this (supposing for a moment they can agree on anything) wouldn't there be a dozen or more new distros launched later that afternoon with opposition to this move as their reason for being?

    I never want Linux to become a desktop centric OS, governed by concepts appropriate to GUI and binary configuration. I never want it to happen that one cannot install Linux from a couple of floppies in text mode to a old, lowpower PC and expertly administer a headless server by remote shell. I also want Linux to swarm the desktops of the world with complete, consistent and easy to use GUI shells and applications--for ideological reasons, to make the server-side safer for open standards based computing, and because it will vastly simplify the lives of network administrators, and save tons and tons of money in the process. There's nothing at odds in those two desirable outcomes.

    If Gnome/Eazel or KDE together with enduser oriented distributions bring about a future of perloaded Linux systems and widespread adoption, then more power to them. The problems of that kind of success will be preferable to the problems we face today: eg. proprietary systems getting vendor lock on customers, subverting important interop standards, tying platform or application ownership to network infrastructure access...

    In short, worry about the Sun expiring next week-end, or comets crashing into the Earth if you must fear unlikely & terrifying events--let's get desktop Linux out to the masses ASAP.

  • A lot of people indicate that Linux is so difficult to use that the average John Doe can't use it. They indicate that Windows is more intuitive.

    This is not true.

    I won't argue that Linux is easy to use, but I will argue that Windows has a learning curve. Linux still has a larger curve (longer time to learn) but they are in the same territory.

    A few major reasons why Linux isn't being picked up like windows is:
    • Lack of teaching
    • Lack of face to face support
    • Lack of bundling
    • Lack of vender support
    • Lack of business support
    The majority of people learning to use a computer still learn to do so in school. There is NOT a computer in every home, nor does John Doe have a desire to fiddle with the computer unless they are bound for geekdom (in which case this post doesn't apply).

    Schools use systems and programs which the student is most likely to encounter in their career. These are systems businesses use. Businesses won't give the accountant/secretary/marketing/field service people Linux without training and support. Right now training and support for Linux is less than optimal, AND the boss who selects the systems -bing!- went through business school suckling on Windows. They are unlikely to choose something they are unfamiliar with especially if they know windows will do what they need to do. Also they know that they'll have to train ALL the employees under them if they choose a different system.

    So, while I agree that the user interface needs a lot of work to make Linux easier to adopt, I believe there are other things which the Linux community can (and should) focus on which will bring a more rapid adoption than simply focusing on the user experience. Perhaps my point could be more easily summarized this way: Microsoft developed an 'improved' user experience AND they 'effectively' marketed their product to schools/businesses. Ask yourself: Would they have gone further with just the improved UI (and not the marketing/strategy), or just the marketing/strategy (and not the improved UI)?

    I would say that their success hinges almost entirely on their successful thrust into their market despite their UI.


    With computers, every morning is the dawn of a new error.
  • XFree86 4.0 xf86cfg still has a long way to go.

    It took me several hours to work out how to get it to recognise my PS/2 mouse and give me something more than 8 bits on my G400 Max video card (and I got that card because I was told it was well supported under XFree86 4.x - bah!)


  • And don't get me started on the 30,000 tiny buttons sitting along the toolbar(s) in MS Word

    Please do get started and provide us all with an alternative. I take it you would really prefer all these umm... call 'em 'one-click-commands' to be buried four layers deep in menus?

    Besides it's not like you cannot get rid of all these toolbars if they annoy you. And if you think you can do a better job of menu organization -- be my guest. IIRC, on MS Word you can almost completely reconfigure the menus (and the toolbars as well).

  • I agree completely; this is the root of the problem with Linux right now. Fortunately, there seems to be hope and even the possibility that Linux will grow out of its infancy, as iterate into something much more beautiful than what we can possibly have now. Some might say, "possibly have in the Microsoft paradigm", and they might be right, I couldn't say, but I do know that the potential for Linux is great enough to make something good.

    The issue of user interface is a good one, but and that is where Linux lacks. But only so much potential exists on the front end; it is on the back end, on the interoperability that Linux can excel, through networks and wireless and all the gadgets that speak a common language.

  • X setup runs just dandy. Because our hardware is *supported*, right?

    Under Windows, any video card is supported.

    And we log in and we see the KDE desktop and we are happy people.

    KDE is a weird jumble of features. Ditto for Windows. But KDE is less polished and runs much less software.

    (X cut and paste : highlight marks, middle button pastes. End of discussion)

    For the standard 3-button mouse that ships with all PCs right? Oh, I'm supposed to use chords to mimic the third button? What are the standard keyboars shortcuts for copy, cut, and paste?

    "Twiddling with XWindows settings"? WTF? Just set it up (with the nice graphical XF86Setup tool, if your installer didn't do it for you) and use it.

    If it doesn't recognize your video card then, yes, you have to muck with X windows settings.

    Listen, Linux is harder to configure and the UIs are less polished than Windows. There's nothing to argue there. Hopefully the Eazel folks will address these issues in a way other than (1) blind zealotry, and (2) a group of college students who design GUIs out of spite for Microsoft rather than from a human interface point of view.
  • It is based on this law:

    Keep one hand on the keyboard, and one hand on the mouse.

    And as such, it kicks serious ass. Yes, it is confusing initially, and yes, it is frustrating if you've been weaned on the fat of other GUI's, but trust me: get the tutorial, spend an hour doing it, and you will have an epiphany about Blender.

    I'd be very surprised if, after learning the interface (buy the book! support NaN! Get the tutorial CD!), you do *not* become a Blender GUI Zealot, such as I find myself becoming more and more these days...

    BTW, this is off topic, but I caught up with the Blender team at E3 over the weekend - great bunch of guys! They were handing out free CD's with Blender and the tutorial guide, and I have to say - I think these guys are a great example of how Free Software can work.
  • by Vanders ( 110092 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @12:52PM (#1071050) Homepage
    In fact, it's not as obvious as that. [Ctrl]+[Alt]+[-/+] only cycles you through pre-defined display settings. How do you change the settings? You need a tool such as XConfigurator or xf86config. How do you set the default display settings? It isn't obvious that XConfigurator sets the default display settings to the first selection you make.

    X simply can't change resolution on the fly. Is it a limitiation of X? Joe A. User couldn't care less...
  • Another point could be the directory names, what they mean and how they work in relation to the OS and other programs. It can seem a bit intimidating at first ("What the &*$# is a /var? /proc? didn't I already see that doctor?) I know that you couldn't just go and change them, but maybe in the newbie version there could be symlinks to them? This may not be an issue for some people but I know it was for me the first time I saw unix.

    I think that C: isn't very intuitive, and people learned how to use Windows after all. Come on, the problem with these guys is that Linux is different, and they don't want to learn something new.

    Well, this is my opinion. People usually don't like new stuff (except for geeks, but that's how we learned).


  • by be-fan ( 61476 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @01:38PM (#1071053)
    Half you people have no clue whatsoever about what makes Windows easy to use. People could care less if the Windows interface is simple, or intuitive. It's easy to use because everyone uses it! The vast majority of people with any semblance of computer background are used to windows. Thus, KDE 1.x is easy mainly because it seems to be a Windows clone. Then you have the segment of the market that is totally new to computers. In that case, UNIX is way out of their ballpark. Sure they can wordprocess or whatever once everything is set up, but not everyone has a sysadmin. It is irrelevant on how easy to use the interface is in most cases. What matters is how easy to use the system is as a whole. Take something simple as adding new fonts. Even iMac people can do it, just drag it into the directory. In Linux, you have to put it into the directory, rerun mkfdir, do cp fonts.dir fonts.scale, and if your adding a truetype font, go to XF86Config and change the fontpath. Or take the example of somebody getting DSL or such. People aren't stupid, at least 50% of users can handle clicking on preferences and changing their IP and gateway. Would you like to walk the same user through doing that in Linux?
  • Also, once the Windows or Mac user has figured out how to change the display resultion. He or she will be able to configure most other aspecs of the computer using the same metaphores and procedures.
  • You'll note that I agree with you -- I don't fear that my CLI or that my lightweight GUI's like WindowMaker and AfterStep will be "taken away." As I said, anyone with reasonable computing ability can configure Linux to be anything they want or need.

    My concern is that the "average users" being targeted by hyper-simple interfaces may never see the power and flexibility that makes Linux so great. To them, it will just be another OS, and the only advantage they see will be cost. Unless, of course, care is taken to design these interfaces in such a manner that they do not hog resources or cause instabilities.

    I guess what I'm saying is that I don't want Linux to become a "MS-Windows, unless you know what you're doing" OS.


  • by Vanders ( 110092 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:26AM (#1071059) Homepage
    If you want to make Linux easier to use, there are some pretty obvious things that could be done straight away:

    1. Seperate UI designers from the hackers. Hackers make interfaces for hackers. Joe A. User doesn't want to use a hacker interface.

    2. Integrate X more for those who want it. Ask yourself this, how do you change the display settings in X? How do you change the display settings in Windows/Mac OS? Which is easier for Joe A. User to do?

    3. Make the documentation easier to read. Avoid acronyms, hacker-ish speak, obscure references, in jokes etc. etc. Joe A. User doesn't want to slog through a load of unrelated documentation to find what he needs.

    4. Standardise. Want help on a command program? Is it prog -h, prog --help, or just prog? Wanna guess? Joe A. User doesn't.

    5. Instalation & configuartion. Most programs are either source & a makefile, or an RPM/Deb. Some arn't, and use non standard installation routines. Stop it. Try to keep the config files in one standard place (/etc for example).

    I'm sure there are more, these are the most obvious. Work on these first, then shine it all up nice & purdy. Remember, Joe A. User will still use Windows, if it's easier to use.
  • the underlying assumption that ease of use eliminates power is a flawed one

    I couldn't agree more. I feel I must clarify - I don't believe that ease of use necessarily decreases performance: however, I have noticed a disturbing trend towards that relationship. It would seem that when ease-of-use (especially hyper-simple interfaces [HsI]) becomes the priority, performance suffers. I think it is wise to observe a balance between performance and usability.

    I simply hope that we are not so short-sighted as to give up the things that make Linux so very useful to Geeks when making it useful for the less-savvy.


  • by EvlPenguin ( 168738 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:28AM (#1071063) Homepage
    Well, the main response I get when telling some Windows-using friends of mine about the advantages of Linux, the only reason they're sticking with it isn't because they think linux is to complicated, but rather so they can play games (like Half-Life Counterstrike in particular). This may sound childish, but I bet this is why thousands of others are holding back. To reach the mainstream users, WE NEED MORE PORTS!!!

  • Let the people who are good at UI do the UI thing, and the low-level systems people do theirs!

    What an idea... that way stability and power will be retained, with a nice layer of easiness over it

    EXACTLY! That is a very concise way of putting it! Keep easy-to-use stuff as its own layer, so that it can easily be disabled or replaced. The moment we start incorporating ease-of-use into the guts of the OS, we become MS.


  • by InfoVore ( 98438 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @05:41PM (#1071066) Homepage
    "To be honest, I think the idea of the GUI has been tied to tightly to the misnomer 'user-friendly', and 'ease of use'. When in fact, a GUI isn't anymore easy to use the a command line its just easy to learn. You get to see all the options available to you, instead of needing to memorize commands. But in a lot of ways, what you learn ends up being weaker."

    It is not that it is weaker, it that it lacks the terse complexity of a CLI.

    Much of the so-called learning advantage of consistent GUIs over CLIs is due to a funny little aspect of cognitive ability. CLIs are fully dependent on Recall Memory. To use a CLI you must remember the commands and use them within the correct context and with the correct options. A fairly simple Unix command can involve four or more points of seperate recall. A complex command (say one involving multiple commands, pipes, and redirection) can involve a dozen or more seperate recollections. This is a complex recall activity, and one reason why CLIs are considered hard for most people to learn.

    However, a GUI command will present the user with an explicit listing of options and potentials. Instead of recall, the user is presented with a context which reminds them of their desired choice. The user thus relies on recognition memory for most GUI operations. Complex GUI commands lead the user through nested recognition levels. If the GUI is a consistent interface, then the user gets to leverage their experience and thus reduce the number of recollections required.

    Why is this a "ease of use" or "learning" advantage? Simply, recognition memory is faster and frequently more reliable than recall memory.

    GUI's frequently result in much less powerful interfaces to the machine. However, a GUI allows the user to wade in, poke around, and discover (recognize) how to accomplish a task. This is not possible with a CLI.

    Why do people (power users and programmers in particular) still use CLIs? A CLI allows an expert user to rapidly execute powerful commands. Frequent exposure and repetition build up a more recognition-like facility with the commands. It ceases to be a recall task and becomes a recognition task. Add to this the "pianist effect", the ability of the hands to "learn" the character patterns associated with commands (this happens with GUI mouse movements too). This turns what once was a time-consuming recall activity into a virtually automatic "playing" of the command line.

    Which is better? My opinion is that GUIs are much better for infrequent operations and casual users. CLIs are much better for experts and power users.

    That there are more casual users than power users explains why GUIs "won" the interface wars.


  • by EvlPenguin ( 168738 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:35AM (#1071069) Homepage
    Another point could be the directory names, what they mean and how they work in relation to the OS and other programs. It can seem a bit intimidating at first ("What the &*$# is a /var? /proc? didn't I already see that doctor?) I know that you couldn't just go and change them, but maybe in the newbie version there could be symlinks to them? This may not be an issue for some people but I know it was for me the first time I saw unix.

  • Why is there so much emphasis on "friendly" Linux? Granted, there are some ease-of-use items that need work on Linux if it is to be "the Desktop of the masses" so-to-speak. However, I'm concerned that ease-of-use will yank the power and configurability that makes Linux such an ideal OS, IMHO.

    I know that users who know enough can turn off (or just not install) usability features, but my concern is for those who -don't- know enough. I am of the opinion that the fault is less in the hands of developers and more in the hands of educators. I think it would serve the community best to concentrate on educating users and providing better, clearer, easy-to-find documentation.

    I guess my fear is that Linux will become -- to the non-techsavvy -- another Windows: slow, unreliable, frustrating. We've seen the ease-of-use channel explored. Let's keep our priorities straight: power and flexibility first, ease-of-use second.

    That said, I must say that the work described by this article is of high quality... I just hope that it doesn't come at too much of a price.


  • ---
    What a profoundly clueless person.

    I'll say.

    Guess what Eazel is working on? GNOME.

    Right, but you totally misread what he was saying. The fact that it's Gnome-centric means that running apps developed without the same widget sets and user interface guidelines will remain problematic.

    Even know - with Gnome, no less - I see a multitude of different help systems, button layouts, open/save dialog boxes, etc. Eazel is great, but it's not going to solve everything. You still need to get coders give a damn about usability and UI consistancy (while projects like Mozilla are completely throwing it away).

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • You raise good points. I believe (and most UI experts would probably agree) that the Mac and Windows interfaces are still too difficult to use. That is why things like double-clicking and hierarchical directory structures will eventually have to go.

    However, the statement that linux is much more difficult to use is certainly true. When designing software, we all need to figure out how people are supposed to know to use the software, and not assume they have read the manual beforehand (no one does this). So, to change resolution, how can the user figure this out:

    1) Guess (unlikely)
    2) Read the relevant HOWTO
    but to do this the user needs to
    2a) Be aware that HOWTO's exist
    (certainly these are not prominent)
    2b) Figure out what the HOWTO dictory is

    2c) Figure out how to get to to and read the
    HOWTO file
    and possibly
    2d) How to search through the HOWTO file to
    find what they are looking for.
    So if they can do that, they now know how to change the resolution. But wait! That was just for the resolution! The bit depth is completely different!

    Compare that to the windows users - who has to
    1) Be aware of a thing called Control Center
    2) Know how to get to the Control Center
    3) Figure out that they want to choose the "Display" icon
    4) Select from the tab menu

    My recommendation, which is possible to do (may require restart), is to put the resolution / bit depth in the Gnome Control Box (or whatever that thing is called).
  • by tuffy ( 10202 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @01:06PM (#1071082) Homepage Journal
    I think how easy a system is to use depends largely on the sorts of systems one has already used. In my case, I went directly from an Apple][ to a Sparc Solaris box and never used the DOS/Win3.1 interface until I'd already learned X and FVWM (& friends). For me, the notion of using key combos for copying and pasting was completely counterintuitive versus mouse button presses. Windows felt weird, DOS felt brain-dead compared to tcsh and to this day I still don't like having to point & click my way through Windows.

    Is Linux hard to use? For me, no. For most people, probably. Conversely, is Windows hard to use? Probably! Just look at all the odd little conventions, icons and little "rules" people learn to get around Windows most efficiently. The fact is, it's not as easy to use as it's made out to be and therein lies the problem.

    We need a system that's truly easy to use and not Yet Another Mac/Windows Derivative. I'm hopeful that Eazal can bring us there and give us real ease of use without alienating the power users.

  • I'm pretty sure that is actually what they are TRYING to say, even if they aren't saying it. Look at it this way: the end user's desktop PC is the consummate "production system" -- so why haven't SCM techniques for other production environments trickled down to them? In particular, "Think Diffident!" -- be afraid, be very afraid, of making changes on production systems where you haven't verified compatibility.

    If they can build a system that can determine: "We can't upgrade gFunkyLib on User X933101's PC from version 3.0.14 to 3.1.99, because User X933101 has SmarmySoft's SmarmyMediaPlayer 2.14 installed, and the gFunkyLib upgrade breaks SmarmyMediaPlayer," then they will have achieved the Holy Grail of remote administration for end users -- namely, remote SCM. User X933101 is happy (his SmarmyMediaPlayer still works), or at the very least has the choice: upgrade gFunkyLib as required by LinKongPhooey, the hot new game you were trying to install, or don't and keep SmarmyMediaPlayer running -- and we'll notify you when SmarmyMediaPlayer is supported by the new version of gFunkyLib.

    It's not an easy problem -- but it is a key problem in trying to build better systems for people who aren't "the rest of us" (where "the rest of us" are people who dream in awk). It has the added side effect of helping "the rest of us" because newbies with well-configured systems AREN'T going to be the ones getting exploited by script kiddies hell-bent on DDoSing "the rest of us". Again, it's a matter of proper SCM -- "This change is a necessary security fix, and won't break compatibility with anything, so we're installing it for you...."

    I'm really fond of eazel. I wish them the best. I wish they weren't in "The Valley that Cost Controls Forgot" -- it would be a very interesting project to work on... but that's another discussion topic entirely.

    My opinion only, IANAL.
  • by PerlDiver ( 17534 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @02:05PM (#1071093) Homepage
    I agree with you that, for experienced users of each, a CLI is just as easy to use as a GUI. But the fact that GUI's are easier to learn is what enables new applications to come along. Every command-line program has a new command-line interface (Emacs vs. vi, for example) that can take months to learn to use fluently (for some users and some programs, years).

    The glory of the GUI is that it enables faster adoption of new programs. A GUI user who knows how to click buttons, drag menus, etc., is 75% of the way to using any new GUI program that is introduced. A CLI user coming to a new program knows how to type (if that), and is only a tiny fraction of the way to learning to use the new program powerfully.

    Standardization between programs, as Vanders mentioned, speeds user learning of new programs as well, by increasing what users already know that is applicable to whatever new program they encounter. Apple's "interface police" made it possible for the Mac to do this very well; Windows does it poorly, and Un*x does it not at all.

    The power of GUI's comes from the quirk of human memory that it is easier for humans to recognize something (such as, picking an item from a drop-down menu) than to recall something (such as, typing tar xvf foo.tar ). The GUI also enables the human/computer interaction to take advantage of the fact that human memory is spatially based; the user can use their physical memory to assist their symbolic memory (we don't even need to consciously think, "I know that button is over here someplace," we just go there). The ability to memorize not-very-mnemonic command names is not widely distributed in the general population. You and I can do it, but why would we want to when the computer can remind us? I have other uses for my neurons than memorizing all the command-line switches for ls (or worse, the permissions codes for chmod ).

  • by Andrew Dvorak ( 95538 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:43AM (#1071095)
    Debian [] provides its own "apt" tool. examples:
    • apt-get update - Updates package lists
    • apt-get upgrade - Upgrades _all_ packages to the latest version (if available)
    • apt-get install foo - Installs package "foo" and all packages it depends on
    As you can see, this certainly allows joe-user to install or upgrade anything, without much knowledge of the system compatibility specifics. Debian's packaging system takes care of checking the dependancies. There are even many frontends such as gnome-apt [] and console-apt.
  • Ah, in that case you would be, sysadmining? My point exactly.
  • by miguel ( 7116 )
    I loved this interview with Andy. Everytime I have had the opportunity to talk to him, I have learned something new.

  • Perhaps you need to look here:

    Bear in mind that *very little of this has changed at all in the past five years*.

    KDE isn't perfect. In fact I don't use it - I've been using E since DR0.13. But it's only a couple of years old - and it's getting better all the time.

    Eazel should do good stuff - and I too hope that they do it in a "what do people actually want to *do*?"-oriented manner, rather than the "check out the cool pixmap themes"-oriented manner I think we see t0o much of.

    ("Under Windows, any video card is supported"? Doubt it. Try getting decent 3D on Windows 2000 - which is the *current* version. Or working with a very old card. Hell, even XF86 4.0 is better at the moment.)
  • "I see a multitude of different help systems, button layouts, open/save dialog boxes, etc."

    AFAIK, both GNOME and KDE offer common file open/save dialogues. It's just that they suck. The GNOME one has a confusing layout, while the KDE one is too big and has too many buttons.

    As for help... there are too many help files for both KDE and GNOME apps that say simply "under construction".

    As for Mozilla... Ack. Great browser. Terminally sucky interface.
  • Have them go to bash when they exit. That way the user can read any output they leave behind, and the close button still works.
  • > to launch a program you double click it
    Except that so many unix programs have no GUI's. Double clicking those will do nothing.

    One way of coding in a fix for this would be to insert code into the graphical shell so that if an app isn't linked against libX11, it gets an rxvt. This would be similar to the terminal window that DOS programs and some Windows programs pull up.

  • >>Schools use systems and programs which the student is most likely to encounter in their career.

    Schools use systems and programs which vendors/manufacturers have either given them, or given them the best deal on.

  • >There have been a few Unix-based desktop OS's that emphasized ease of use (BeOS

    beOS isnt unix even if it can run many unix-like progs (bash, gnu-utils....)
  • That's the problem, though - you're judging interface design on what it is currently. Yes, right now Windows is an imperfect user interface (even MacOS has its problems).

    However, I can tell you this: Both are easier to grok for the average person after an hour or two of sitting down and playing. The original Mac was extremely good about this - but it has become somewhat bloated in the race to achieve feature-parity with Windows.

    Just because something sucks from a UI perspective doesn't mean you should give up and simply hand the user a 3 inch thick book that they have to keep propped open next to their computer. The trick is to make it easy enough that referring to a manual is an unfortunate and rare occurance.

    (And yes, I worked for a couple years on a help desk - answering calls and doing field work.)

    - Jeff A. Campbell
    - VelociNews ( [])
  • Seems strange to me to read Handy discussing interface problems these days. When I was a very very young hacker back in ... -err.. time frame was early mac plus maybe (funny how our time frames are more related to our machine's resources at certain time than to the common y2k-n notation :-)) - I saw Handy's aborted project "Servant 0.95" wich provided a bunch of very cool new features, like multitasking, "transparent" icons, aliases and a lot more. years later "System 6.0" appeared, and it was Servant, without the cool features.
    Today MacOS still carries bits of Servant behaviour in the form of it's cooperative multitasking.
    I also tried myself all the packages discussed (ie gnome/kde) and even if this needs to start a war, I must give my opinion on this.
    Most of what I've seen on gnome/kde and the myriad of window managers around are based on the fact that they are "customisable".
    Face it, it's bullshit. It works for the geek. It's totaly incompatible with the end user.
    Handy half says it, and doesn't, because I suspect it is the buisiness model he speaks about but doesn't describe that much...
    The end user wants consistency, and his boss wants it too, it cuts on courses budget.
    Having a spreadsheet and a word processor will not change this.

    Oh, flame away, this is my first post :)
  • I'm really glad you got a chance to interview Andy. I went to visit with him a few months ago, and was so excited by what he had to say that I immediately invited him to keynote at our upcoming Open Source Conference [] in Monterey July 17-20.

    He really is a very cool guy, with a great view of the future, and an incredibly engaging thinker. I went down to see him wanting to evangelize him not just to recreate the old Mac desktop on Linux, but to think about how the web, and web-based services, was changing what user interface means in delivering applications today, and discovered that he was way ahead of me.

    Andy has so much to share...lots of great experience with a previous revolutionary product, lots of great ideas about the future, and a real passion for open source. I can't wait to see what he and his team come up with. There's a really good chance that we're going to see something that's a real advance, not just playing catchup to stuff that Andy was part of designing 15 years ago.

  • You definately have a point. Someone is yet to do ease-of-use correctly- that is, in such a way that it preserves the power and robustness of an OS. A lot of the bastardized results of earlier attempts come out harder to use and less powerful. And there is the related issue of how easy it is to do powerful things. That's the place where Windows really dies for me. But one of the advantages that Linux has right now is that there is a big community pushing to keep the power in the system, while there are commercial developers feeling the market pressure to make it easier to use. I think that's where the best chance of finding a balance lies.
  • by n8willis ( 54297 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:58AM (#1071127) Homepage Journal
    Man, am I glad to see that Eazel is concerned with actually testing their products with real users. This is something I give dearly for other people to do. Take NaN for instance: Blender is a great program, but it's interface is mind-bogglingly indecipherable.

    And every time someone (for instance certain DE teams) talks of copying the interface of a successful program to use as the starting point for their OSS version, I have to roll my eyes. What for? Do we think that the UI teams at Microsoft and Adobe are infallible?

    I mean, take a look at the tool icons in Photoshop: half of them are references to wet darkroom printing, something that in a few years it will be nigh-impossible to find experience with among their customers. A little testing would reveal in a matter of minutes that the majority of Photoshop users don't know why there are two tools shaped like a human hand, and two tools that look like magnifying glasses, nor why one of the hands is labelled "Burn" and one of the magnifying glasses "Dodge."

    And don't get me started on the 30,000 tiny buttons sitting along the toolbar(s) in MS Word. If it takes a "tooltip" to explain what the icon represents, then the icon is a failure.

    Last week's discussion about how programmers don't make good UI designers could take a lesson from this: if all else fails, you test it and see what works. That isn't rocket science. I happen to believe that the major impediment to good interface design in Open Source software isn't an inherent incapacity in the programmer mindset, or a matter of different "personality types", but simply not remembering to think about the interface. Two chapters into Norman's The Design of Everyday Things will convince even the most self-depreciating hacker among us that he already knows a lot about interface design, he just doesn't know that he knows. You're a user every day, after all.


  • I would say a tablet is a lot more useful than a mouse for image editing. The combination of a tablet and a keyboard yield a lot of control...

    The only reason why a mouse is thought of as user friendly is that people (meaning OS and application developers, not end users) haven't figured out how to make a keyboard do what they need.

    For instance, consider your question of stepping through links to follow a URL. Stepping would be slow and annoying, sure... but what if you could type a command like "follow link" (really Alt-L or whatever) and then a few letters to identify the link you wanted to follow, all only within the current visible area of the page? I personally think that would be a far quicker way to navigate. that wielding a cumbersome mouse and hitting a link.
  • by delmoi ( 26744 ) on Monday May 15, 2000 @11:59AM (#1071129) Homepage
    A while ago, someone here posted a link to an interview with Douglas Egglebart (I'm sorry, there's no way I'm going to be spelling his name right), the man who came up with the GUI. (A long with a little thing called Hypertext, I believe). To solve a problem, he also invented the mouse. A long with another device, a one handed keyboard.

    From the tone of the article, it seemed almost that he was pissed that it had taken so long for his ideas to become reality. When Job's showed him an early Macintosh interface, he said he was upset that it didn't have networking, one of the key components of Egglebart's vision.

    One other thing that the story mentioned was the computer he ran at home. It wasn't a Mac, or a Windows box, or even a Linux or other UNIX. He was running his own software, something called Augment. And he was using his one-handed keyboard (you hit 'chords' of a few keys to enter a letter).

    A lot of 'hard-core' really seem to prefer a command line to anything else. I don't really believe its just nostalgia that makes us what to do it ether. Using the command line is just a faster way to interact with the machine. And there's a simple reason for that. With the keyboard, you have an infinite number of verbs that you can use to communicate. With the mouse, you only really have 3, 2, or 1 verb on UNIX(with X), windows, and the Mac respectively. This typically means ether "CLICK" or "CONTEXT MENU", where the context menu is another list of items you can "CLICK" on. While looking for a particular file that you forgot about (along with the filename (?)) might be speed up, just about every other type of file operation is slowed down. A lot.

    When the interviewer saw the one-handed keyboard he said (something like) "They'd have to make it more user-friendly in order for me to want to use one". At witch point (and I wish I had the quote) Egglebart said that 'user-friendliness' was over-rated. If you weren't willing to learn anything new, you couldn't really use the computer to its full potential.

    To be honest, I think the idea of the GUI has been tied to tightly to the misnomer 'user-friendly', and 'ease of use'. When in fact, a GUI isn't anymore easy to use the a command line its just easy to learn. You get to see all the options available to you, instead of needing to memorize commands. But in a lot of ways, what you learn ends up being weaker.

    This gets me back to the one-handed keyboard. If you had a device like that, you could have the best of worlds, infinite data entry, and graphical layout. Imagine you wanted to copy a file to another directory. You could click on it and type "cp /wherever" directly into the icon. You could open any folder on the system (just click the desktop and type "open /bla/openthis". (One of the things that bugged me about BeOS was the lack of integration of the GUI and the CLI. It would have been nice to be able to open the folder I was in the CLI in the GUI, and vice versa. You can do this in Windows for god sakes.)

    Unfortunately, in keeping with our two fisted keyboard design, we've really, really, limited what we can do with the GUI. Its my opinion that the current CLI/GUI combo is a horrible hack, inflicted on the world by the original Mac, Microsoft, for blindly following Apple, and the Linux Crowd for blindly following them both.

Federal grants are offered for... research into the recreation potential of interplanetary space travel for the culturally disadvantaged.