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Usability Testing Hardy Heron With a Girlfriend 846

toomin writes "Reviews of the latest Ubuntu version, 8.04 Hardy Heron, are everywhere, but most of them are undertaken by geeks familiar with Linux. This guy sits his girlfriend down at a brand-new Ubuntu installation and asks her to perform some basic tasks. Some of them are surprisingly easy, others frustrate and annoy. There are lots of little usability tweaks he stumbles upon just by seeing the desktop experience from the point of view of the mainstream user."
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Usability Testing Hardy Heron With a Girlfriend

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:10AM (#23222048)
    A Linux geek with a girlfriend?? Yeah right!
  • by BattleCat ( 244240 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:11AM (#23222058)
    Something is surely wrong, when instead of fscking her right proper he sits her down with Ubuntu...
    • by tgd ( 2822 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:14AM (#23222750)
      Woh, I swear I thought you said fscking her right pooper and I wondered what kind of girl this is that has a right and left pooper.
    • Well, what's your definition of foreplay?

      Guy uses remote to start the Barry White

      GF: What's it called again?
      BF: Hardy Heron...
      GF: What er distro is this?
      BF: Ubuntu, baby, which is African for Jungle Love...

      (cue fireplace shot)
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:11AM (#23222062)
    This is Slashdot, not PenthouseDot or PlayboyDot.
    We don't have girlfriends to test the usability of our hardon's with.

    Oh... Hardy Herron, who's that ?
  • Smart move (Score:5, Insightful)

    by caution live frogs ( 1196367 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:11AM (#23222064)
    That's how user testing should be done. It is really much too difficult for someone familiar with the program or OS to see what is not obvious or confusing to a novice user. The people that program the UI don't always think like a user - they usually think like a programmer, and that doesn't always work.
    • Re:Smart move (Score:5, Interesting)

      by MMC Monster ( 602931 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:39AM (#23222322)
      I agree. I expected this article to be a little silly, but it was well thought out.

      The new user was given a bunch of common tasks (play some music, draw a picture, play a video on youtube, use an instant messenger on MSN network, install a commonly used application (skype), edit a photo) and asked to perform them on a default installation of Ubuntu.

      Well done. The Ubuntu team (and other linux distributions) can learn a lot from this article alone. Hopefully it will give a target for other usability testing in the future.

      (And, no, I have nothing to do with the article author or website.)
      • Re:Smart move (Score:5, Insightful)

        by h4rm0ny ( 722443 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:27AM (#23222978) Journal

        It is a good article. But we might be seeing early stages of a conflict between friendliness and elegance. For example, I was annoyed when I upgraded to Hairy Hardon that it had decided I needed folders called Documents, Music, Pictures etc. in my home directory. A couple of the things suggested had less to do with usability than they did to do with familiarity to someone brought up on Windows. I don't think Linux environments should be so keen to emulate the Windows environment. It's a short term benefit with long term consequences. And even the short term benefit is a small one - look at the later iterations of Office: built around the concept that you don't need to read instructions, that everything should immediately be self-explanatory. A noble goal, but not one possible to reconcile with utility. I think I would rather a short, well written Introduction to Ubuntu than try to make everything look like Windows.
        • Re:Smart move (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Bonobo_Unknown ( 925651 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:16AM (#23223712)

          I think I would rather a short, well written Introduction to Ubuntu than try to make everything look like Windows.
          No-one that should read said introduction will read said introduction. You won't either, but I'd hazard a guess that you don't need to.

          Looking like Windows / intuitive operation and user friendliness are distinct concepts but they all meet at a nexus.

          If a metaphor works, is understood, and is in common use, why change it?
        • Re:Smart move (Score:4, Insightful)

          by zappepcs ( 820751 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:23AM (#23223852) Journal
          While I agree with you generally, I have to say that the three non-nerd non-geek members of my family have a problem: they were under the belief that Windows is the computer! They accessed the internet through Windows. They have a little trouble understanding why they have to have permissions to install software. They know what an iPod is but don't understand what a Mac is.

          When they sit down at (first 7.10) Ubuntu 8.04 there are a couple of things I've noticed like the GP. If there is already a folder called photos and the camera automatically downloads pictures to that folder... well, they understand that. If they have to create a folder and tell the software to put the photos... well, it's a pain and they'll just pass. seriously!

          My dad explained it to me like this: If a computer was a hammer it would not be a good one. FerChrisAkes, I want to hit nails, NOT learn how to make hammers. While that analogy only goes so far, it's true. Some just want the 'tool' to work (that's what she said!) and other's want to fiddle with it a lot (no comment).

          IMHO, Ubuntu is giving us a hammer that doesn't need instructions or assembly. It's not perfect, but it IS damned good.
          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by jedidiah ( 1196 )
            Well, that's the problem there.

            A general purpose computer is not a hammer. It was never meant to be a hammer.

            It's a lego mindstorms kit.

            Ignorance of that magnitude keeps the end user from doing simple
            things to protect their data like just making a copy of it. This
            is also what causes PC's to end up on bot nets.

            At that point, systems need to be engineered first with the goal
            of keeping them off of bot nets or otherwise getting infested
            with malware.
            • Re:Smart move (Score:4, Insightful)

              by fbjon ( 692006 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:30AM (#23224942) Homepage Journal
              You're right, and wrong. There's no reason why the mindstorms kit can't be transformed into a hammer, should the user need it, and most people need hammers most of the time, not mindstorms kits. The computer as a tool should be tailored/tailor itself to the users needs and level of mental sophistication. Trying to do it the other way indicates a bad tool, not a bad user.
        • For what it's worth, OSX has the same thing in what is roughly the equivalent place. I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that most users are going to have some content on their computer. Or that they are going to want to keep that content organized. And it's a fairly standard place to put said folders. If you want them somewhere else, feel free.
      • Re:Smart move (Score:4, Insightful)

        by grahamm ( 8844 ) <gmurray@webwayone.co.uk> on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:18AM (#23223738) Homepage
        Maybe a better test would be to have someone who is not familiar with Windows to test it. That way they do not have to unlearn the windows way.

        Probably the best usability test would be to take 2 groups of people, none of which have any computer experience, and give one group computers with (bare bones) Windows installed and the other with a Linux. Let them experiment for a week or so and then give them all the same test tasks and see which group manages the tasks more successfully.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by endemoniada ( 744727 )
        The problem, however, is that not all users are trained Windows users, like this one. Should you implement a dock by default, just so Mac OS X users can feel at home? How about getting rid of that damn GUI for the hardcore UNIX users?

        I can understand the need for Ubuntu to be simple, I just can't see the need for Ubuntu to somehow be Windows. They're two different systems, and a user who doesn't get that needs to learn that first, then move on to the details of Ubuntu in particular, and GNU/Linux in general
    • Re:Smart move (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Bombula ( 670389 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:41AM (#23222336)
      What is positively astonishing is how persistent this problem is. Look back at the thousands of linux threads over the last 10 years, and you will see the SAME complaint again and again, and again. And again. And AGAIN. It is farking ridiculous.

      How hard is it to sit down and run a simple test like the (excellent) one this guy did with his girlfriend for every release?

      To Ubtunu's credit, most of the fault lies with the applications and not with the OS itself. Well-designed apps like Skype make things simple and intuitive for new users. But Ubuntu itself could develop specs for developers that required basic intros, wizards, etc for introducing and explaining the simple but non-obvious stuff to new users. Conversion rates would then skyrocket.

      Again, there is no logical reason why this hasn't been implemented before. The only explanation is therefore stupidity on the part of the developers - both on the OS and the app side. Cue the irony tag, given how clever most of these folks like to think they are. I guess what it shows is that being a math jock or code monkey with a stratospheric IQ doesn't make you a good UI designer any more than it makes you a suave and charming socialite.

      • by ray-auch ( 454705 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:45AM (#23222386)
        > Again, there is no logical reason why this hasn't been implemented before.

        The word "girlfriend" should be a clue...
        • Re:Smart move (Score:4, Informative)

          by PReDiToR ( 687141 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:16AM (#23223716) Homepage Journal
          I did implement this test. With gOS v1.

          I told my GF that I couldn't locate an XP Home OEM CD to use with the sticker on the side of her beige box.
          She had used my openSUSE 10.3 laptop and seen that OpenOffice.org was very similar to MS Office.
          She said that it was OK to put Linux on her computer that she uses for work as long as other people in her large government organisation would be able to read the documents she produced.

          The upshot was, after a week someone couldn't read the OOo format and I showed her how to save as .DOC, since then her experience has been 100% positive. We're even trying to get her sister to use Linux because of the number of times she asks for techsupport after the kids mess up Windows.

          One major convenience for my GF is that it took less than 10 minutes to set NX up on her machine, and now she can sit in the comfy chair downstairs with my laptop and do her work from there instead of spending untold hours in her study in front of a big ol' CRT that does nothing for her eyes over long periods.

          The transition to Linux for her has been very easy. She doesn't have to use a command line, all her apps are in plain view (if you haven't used gOS v1, it is Gutsy with E17) and everything Just Works. She hasn't mentioned going back to Windows since that first document that someone couldn't read.
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Kjella ( 173770 )

        But Ubuntu itself could develop specs for developers that required basic intros, wizards, etc for introducing and explaining the simple but non-obvious stuff to new users.

        Require? Ubuntu got very little power to require upstream to do anything at all. It all depends on how end-user focused they are, some projects are almost "Well, WE know what the application does and how it works, if you want changes to suit new users go ahead but we don't care and won't help." That's why this all keeps coming back, applications change and the developers/power users know the changes so they don't maintain up-to-date intros/wizards. You must realize that to some people what you're talking a

      • Re:Smart move (Score:5, Informative)

        by Cato ( 8296 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:25AM (#23222952)
        Actually usability testing has been going on with Linux for many years - since at least 2001 for GNOME when Sun started doing this ( http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/usertesting.html [gnome.org] ). Here's a good article that talks about usability testing for Linux, also from 2001, and mentioning KDE user testing: http://lwn.net/2001/0614/desktop.php3 [lwn.net]

        GNOME is the way it is today largely because of usability testing, I believe - while many power users and developers whinge about this, it is becoming much closer to Macs in overall usability.

        So the issue is not "stupid developers", it's a matter of taking the time to do the testing - and it helps if you have some expertise at running the tests. Then it's the time to actually make the changes. Many developers aren't that interested in doing the testing, which is why there have been separate usability initiatives that can feed changes into projects.

        Some of the issues logged here are not that easy to solve - e.g. making Firefox pop up an Ubuntu-specific Flash installation prompt, rather than executing the YouTube JavaScript logic that pushes people towards an Adobe plugin site that actually does have a Linux plugin for Flash, but one that's much harder to install than an Ubuntu-packaged Flash plugin.

        Also, the one about finding MP3s on the Windows partition is not that easy - you could simply copy the files across with the Ubuntu migration assistant, but what if they're in a non-standard place? Indexing the Windows filesystem to quickly find these might help, but building the index could take some time. However, it would probably be enough if there was some feature in Ubuntu that scanned for existing partitions and said (based on partition type and a few key directories/files) that 'this looks like a Windows partition, it's available on the desktop through this icon', and ideally did a special symbolic link for the My Documents or similar (though that's tough as it's per-user under Windows - which user should this use).
      • Simple logic (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Alkonaut ( 604183 )
        The logic of it is: with open source, people write software to fix their own problems. Only in rare cases (the big ones: Firefox, Ubuntu, and with commercial OSS) will any developer spend time fixing someone elses problem. And since all developers are geeks (sweeping generalization, but hey) most open source software will not solve any problems for a non-geek.

        This is why the problem is so persistent, it is inherent to the open source way of devoloping software. It won't go away any time soon.

        What could

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by ShieldW0lf ( 601553 )
          The problem is indeed persistent. It's pretty easily summarized:

          The price of ignorance is subject to inflation.

      • The reason is that Linux is designed by developers (and then indirectly, FOR developers).

        You can do anything in Linux, but it's never accepted that the WAY you do a particular thing is too hard to do or remember. A user will go into a Linux forum and ask something like "Um, how do I change the hostname of my computer to something different?" The response will be something like:


        chhost_name -Vxo -d /dev/hda3 -c /etc/hostnameamajig.conf -n "UberLeetometer"


        (For the record, I do know how to change the h
      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Tweenk ( 1274968 )
        There are some obstacles to implementing these changes:
        1. FOSS fundamentalism - "MP3 codecs and DeCSS are unclean, so let's make it harder to use them". I think Medibuntu should be optionally enabled, and the important components (DeCSS, restricted codecs etc.) automatically pulled in, at installation. There could also be a checklist of what the user wants to install (MP3, DVD, encrypted DVD...) with explanation of the legal implications.
        2. Windows users which think Add/Remove programs means Remove programs
  • by Aaron Isotton ( 958761 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:12AM (#23222068)
    In other news, man tests usability of Duke Nukem Forever running on GNU Hurd by making his GIRLFRIEND play it.
  • Exceptionally good. (Score:5, Informative)

    by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:16AM (#23222100) Homepage Journal
    1) Use internet. Successful.
    2) Watch youtube. Unsuccessful. No Flash.
    3) Use torrent. Successful (but this is not a novice user task)
    4) Draw pic. 1/2 Successful. Chose wrong tool.
    5) Burn music. Unsuccessful
    6) Mouse speed change. Successful.
    7) Theme change. Successful.
    8) Desktop background change. Successful.
    9) Scree resolution change. Unsuccessful.
    10) Advanced image manipulation. Successful
    11) MSN. Unsuccessful
    12) Install & Use skype. Successful.

    Note, the problem with 5) burning music was not the actual burning, but finding the mp3s on a windows partition.

    So, 8/12. (maybe 9.5/12)

    To be honest, I've seen experience computer users have more trouble doing the above tasks when switching from windows to OS X.

    Kudos to Ubuntu.
    • by 4D6963 ( 933028 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:27AM (#23222232)

      2) Watch youtube. Unsuccessful. No Flash.
      11) MSN. Unsuccessful

      Yeah well, I have a girlfriend too, and all she ever does on a computer is watch music videos on YouTube, write e-mails and chat on MSN. Maybe you'd like to weight your rating based on how important something is to the person tested (by asking them). Downloading a torrent and changing your mouse speed will probably rate to 0 while MSN will probably rate to "Why the hell would I need a computer if not for MSN?".

      • by Barny ( 103770 ) <bakadamage-slashdot@yahoo.com> on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:36AM (#23222296) Journal
        Yeah, have had that problem with YouTube on ubuntu as well, and it only happens if YouTube is the first site you go to, they fubar their refer to adobe.

        If she had of gone to, say, ANYWHERE else first it would have been fine and just popped up with a bar saying "i can haz plugin?", say yes and bam, its all good.

        Long and short, it should have flash already on it.

        Oh and she was lucky it was the 32bit version, installing and using skype is pretty hard when there ain't a 64bit binary available for the platform (last time I looked anyway).
      • by Whiney Mac Fanboy ( 963289 ) * <whineymacfanboy@gmail.com> on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:52AM (#23222490) Homepage Journal
        Yeah well, I have a girlfriend too, and all she ever does on a computer is watch music videos on YouTube, write e-mails and chat on MSN

        And how well do you think your girlfriend would go on a vanilla windows install with no flash installed, MSN account not setup, etc?

        If the article's author had setup flash / pidgin / explained the difference between GIMP & Open Office draw, his girlfriend would have had few problems.

        I'd suggest to you (honestly) - that if all your gf really does is youtube, mail & chat, then she'd be much better off on Ubuntu than windows.
        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by xtracto ( 837672 ) *
          And how well do you think your girlfriend would go on a vanilla windows install with no flash installed, MSN account not setup, etc?

          Quite fine, there is the Windows Messenger that comes by default in Windows Xp.

          And about Flash? the first time you go to a flash-based site, it tells you you must install Flash and asks you if you want to install it, after there, just clicking YES YES NEXT NEXT ACCEPT YES will take you to a fully working Flash IE.

          If the article's author had setup flash / pidgin / explained the
          • by Spudds ( 860292 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:11AM (#23224620)

            By the time you are telling them "GIMP... which stants for GNU Image Manipulation Program.. GNU is for GNU is not Unix" they lost all interest and just tell you to please resintall Windows.
            Who the hell would do that?
            If you're talking to a novice you're not going to go into tons of detail about acronyms and such, you're going to say "GIMP does stuff that photoshop does"

            I think your argument is silly.
        • by Technician ( 215283 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:25AM (#23223888)
          I'd suggest to you (honestly) - that if all your gf really does is youtube, mail & chat, then she'd be much better off on Ubuntu than windows.

          Maybe. Those who use a computer for those tasks often also use it to play music (MP3 Support) and play movies (DVD support) where Microsoft has paid for the privilage to supply the codecs and the Ubuntu distro is lacking.

          MP3 support isn't bad, but DVD support comes with dire warnings of DMCA violations and it may be illegal where you live.

          Once installed, I like the Ubuntu machine over anything else for playing movies. You put in the DVD and the movie starts.. No previews, no unskippable FBI warning etc. Nice. If I want to watch all the extras, I can watch them later. It's the way a DVD player should work.

          If I travel without a laptop, I carry a copy of Geex box. It's a bootable Linux Media player. Nice.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by gapagos ( 1264716 )
      Personally I find all these issues are sufficiently discouraging for any non-linux-eager person to abandon his efforts and go back to Windows.

      That being said, what's encouraging is how little needs to be done in order to solve all these issues.

      Maybe the Ubuntu community could work on making a pre-installed by default "Tutorial" slideshow guide or something like that to inform Average Joe about some basics in Ubuntu and prevent him from hitting a wall like she did.

      Personally, I'm a Ubuntu user since 6.04, an
  • Girlfriend? (Score:5, Funny)

    by angryfirelord ( 1082111 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:17AM (#23222116)
    This is slashdot! I don't have a girlfriend, you insensitive clod!

  • Arr matey. (Score:5, Funny)

    by grm_wnr ( 781219 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:17AM (#23222118)
    I laughed heartily at the fact that a common user scenario includes how to torrent a Spice Girls album. Not that I think that's not the case; it was just pretty refreshing to see how blatant this guy is about it.
  • ports... (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anoraknid the Sartor ( 9334 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:20AM (#23222152) Homepage
    Where do I get this "with a girlfriend" release? .. of course with my luck, the "girlfriend" will be the openbsd version, and ship with all ports closed by default.
  • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:21AM (#23222154) Homepage
    His note that if you go too small of screen size you cant click on the buttons of the dialog. This happens a LOT in windows with dons of the dialogs and YES even the screen size dialog.

    She would have failed that test under windows.
    • by grm_wnr ( 781219 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:29AM (#23222260)
      Last time I checked Windows still had the 15 second reset countdown when you change screen resolution.
      • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:44AM (#23222380)
        Ubuntu has something similar. From TFA:

        However, she clicked "Keep settings" straight away, and couldn't work out how to get it back...
        This is exactly the same problem you would have in Windows if you changed the resolution and immediately clicked the "Keep these settings" button in that 15-second dialog. After you've done that, you may find it difficult to navigate back and change it to the previous resolution.

        The problem here has a lot to do with new users being inundated with confusing dialog boxes, and just clicking "OK" at the first opportunity. This problem occurs both on Windows and Ubuntu. Not that this excuses Ubuntu: a usability problem should be fixed, even if it occurs on other platforms as well.
        • by CastrTroy ( 595695 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:11AM (#23222710) Homepage
          At least in Linux you could boot up into command line mode and edit your xorg.conf file to change the resolution. Say what you want about the command line and editing the config file, and how users shouldn't have to do it, but at least the option is available. Any idea if the same can be done under windows? It's the same reason why so many forums are filled with directions on how to accomplish stuff over the command line. Sure it's a little more difficult than clicking around in a GUI. But it's much more likely to work across different distros and different versions of the same distro.
          • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

            "Say what you want about the command line and editing the config file, and how users shouldn't have to do it, but at least the option is available. Any idea if the same can be done under windows?"

            Yes. You can boot up into safe mode and get a fully functional GUI at VGA resolution so that you can launch whatever gui / wizard non-command line xorg.conf editing program you need to get your desktop back.

            Granted, only tech-savvy people would know how to boot up into safe mode. But I still give this one to Window
  • Interesting (Score:5, Interesting)

    by chuckymonkey ( 1059244 ) <.charles.d.burton. .at. .gmail.com.> on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:24AM (#23222186) Journal
    That's pretty interesting. On a tangentially related note, a guy I work with just install Ubuntu as his first linux. A friend and I were talking about 8.04 and he overheard us, so he walked up and started asking questions about it which we answered. The next day he shows up to work and says that he installed it and is really liking it. What is this world coming to when a normal guy one day hears about linux and the next successfully installs it without asking the local nerds for help? It was really interesting, he said the hardest thing was burning the ISO, other than that he said it was easier to use and set up than windows. Trust me when I say that this guy is very very average when it comes to computer smarts, this was a huge leap for him and it was no trouble at all. That's how I know linux is heading mainstream.
    • Re:Interesting (Score:5, Insightful)

      by nkh ( 750837 ) <exochicken&gmail,com> on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:45AM (#23222402) Journal
      I can confirm that this is a rather strange world we're living in. My wife wants to switch to Ubuntu (and thus wiping Windows XP from her computer) because of some reasons I had not expected (from my point of view as a hardcore developer):
      • Frozen Bubble is available on Linux, as well as a lot of good games
      • Less viruses than XP, and so no need for an anti-virus
      • Firefox and "MSN" chat are available on Linux
      • Free IT support when I'm available at home
      I know that it may seem redundant but computer noobs switch for very strange reasons and we must listen to their needs if we want Linux to "succeed on the desktop."
  • Test using Kubuntu? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Danathar ( 267989 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:46AM (#23222414) Journal
    I'd like to see the same test with Kubuntu. Not saying that it's better but I'd like to see the results with KDE as well.
  • New user mode (Score:4, Interesting)

    by HangingChad ( 677530 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:46AM (#23222422) Homepage

    I think many of these observations were valid and maybe points up the need for a "New To Ubuntu" mode that provides extra assistance for common transitional tasks. But, please, in consideration for those of us a little more technically inclined, provide a way to turn the new user mode off. Or offer it as a separate distro.

    I'd be willing to bet the larger fraction of Ubuntu users are fairly tech savvy. If the developers try to foist Ubuntu Bob on users that don't want or need it, they'll lose their most loyal users. Bad for all of us. But if there isn't some kind of transitional assistance for new users, that will inhibit getting users from other operating systems into the ark.

    The great thing about Linux is that it doesn't have to be all things to all people. You can shape a distro to the specific needs of particular users.

  • by JustinOpinion ( 1246824 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @08:51AM (#23222484)
    The article several times suggests that the solution to some of these problems is, essentially, user education: having balloons that signal "new item installed" or wizards open the first time you launch a program, telling you how the program works.

    The problem is that this approach often doesn't work. For one thing, it annoys the piss out of experience users. For another thing, new users tend to ignore most of that information... mainly because they are being overwhelmed by new information and can't possibly assimilate it all.

    Take, for instance, the problem that was encountered when changing screen resolution. The tester changed the resolution easily, but then she clicked the "Keep settings" immediately, which locked her into graphic settings that were hard to change back. Part of the problem, I suppose is that the system allowed the user to make a ridiculous change. But part of the problem is also, perhaps, that the user is very used to clicking "OK" on any dialog that gets in the way: there are too many new things to read and learn, and the easiest way to get things done (in the mind of a new user) is to dismiss those annoying boxes as quickly as possible. Would a second popup, that described in detail why this low resolution was a bad idea (and how to undo it when desired), have changed anything? Doubtful. Most users would just click "OK" without reading it.

    All this to say that I'm by no means convinced that adding more balloons, wizards, and dialog boxes will magically make it easier for users to figure out what's going on. I don't know what the solution is: usability is a tough problem. There is a place for helpful information (balloons, tool-tips, etc.), reminders, and wizards. But too much of this becomes decidedly counter-productive.
    • by PeanutButterBreath ( 1224570 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:33AM (#23223090)
      I think a universal "undo" command would go a long way. Most people will just try to guess their way through things as a first resort, either because they assume they know more than they do, or they just don't feel like poring over documentation. In many cases it is difficult to read that stuff while making changes to begin with, so they are unhelpful unless you already know what you are trying to do, a situation that probably comes up more often after something gets screwed up.

      If software adhered to a universal "undo" command, people who follow the first instinct to click whatever button isn't "Cancel" would at least have some way to back out of their mistakes and get it right on a subsequent try. It would also give us some protection against developers who create crap software and crap documentation.
  • One of our sales guys was having problems with his XP pro install, IE bit the dust and wouldn't show images, even the images in the about box for the application. He asked me if there was any decent alternatives to any of this stuff and I mentioned Ubuntu, but with a level of hesitation (becoming his technical support person for the next 6 months didn't appeal to me) I stated that it had some parts which were a little on the technical side and that he couldn't expect everything to work out of the box. It was a 3 year old laptop. Overnight he found the ubuntu site, downloaded the 7.10 ISO and did a full install (after backing everything up). Came in the next day, put the thing on my desk and showed me it running, including using his accounting package under WINE, his printer and scanner installation. I was thoroughly impressed, with the only question he had was how to setup his PCMCIA NextG Telstra card, about 10 minutes installation time. He had even converted his mail from Outlook to Evolution. After this, I have much more confidence in recommending Ubuntu to people who are used to using something else on a regular daily basis. Before this I'd usually install this stuff for other people I knew, get it going and leave them to it, no more virus or spyware phone calls. Nice work Canonical.
  • Use cases (Score:3, Insightful)

    by pzs ( 857406 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:07AM (#23222654)

    Using a list of common tasks to test a piece of software is simple, brilliant, and done all too infrequently. I can't count the number of times I've been using an application and can't work out how to do something that hundreds of other people must also want to do, and yet the developer has not made this task obvious.

    Open source tools often suffer from this because they are so proud of their features. I remember trying to burn a data CD under Linux 3 or 4 years ago and the tool I was using did not make it at all obvious how I drag files into the workspace and then burn them. It did, however, make the SCSI options for me CD drive immediately available.

    Web pages often suffer because they are style over substance. Yes, it looks very pretty, but how do I buy stuff? Well done for having text on the front page that tells me how "obsessed by quality" you are, but where is the contact address so I can ask you questions about your product?

    Software libraries suffer when they are more interested in recruiting developers than serving users. I remember trying to use a Perl tool that required a specific module. The web page for the module had a great deal of links about writing applications using that module but nowhere on the whole page did it tell me how to download and install the module so it could be used with an existing application.

    When designing any piece of software think: what will this be mostly used for? Does it make it easy to do that?

  • by oddesign ( 1280582 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:22AM (#23222872)
    Hi... I'm a girlfriend of a computer geek? Anyway, he helped me get set up on Ubuntu. If you have a girlfriend, show her how to use Ubuntu. Please! Don't leave her stranded on Windoze. Sure, there's a learning curve... but if I didn't have my boyfriend to show me how to get the hang of Ubuntu then I never would have managed it on my own. Just having a computer-savvy guy who could show me the quirks... how to patiently look up fixes on the ubuntu forums rather than sitting here mad at the machine if something breaks... damn that's sexy. Be prepared for your girlfriend being a little confused/frustrated/annoyed at little things that you just didn't even think to be confused/frustrated/annoyed at when you were setting things up on your machine... but once she gets the hang of it, she won't go back. The number of programs freely available to install immediately is fantastic. I agree that Gimp should be set up more like Photoshop. (I hate how each image gets it's own window. What a window-hog. Also, it needs better colour support.)
  • Usability test (Score:4, Informative)

    by mach1980 ( 1114097 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:31AM (#23223044)
    Well here's some more anectodes:

    My wife switched to Ubuntu after her XP-installation trashed the hard drive. When she first tried to recover the OS with the supplied restore-cd from LG neither the WiFi card or sound worked. Then she tried Ubuntu which worked without turning a dial.

    Now she's been running Ubuntu for over six months and she's hooked. She even managed to install Hardy Heron while breastfeeding our 7 week old daughter. - If that isn't usability for the masses then what is?
  • by reallocate ( 142797 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:31AM (#23223062)
    The number of comments in this thread from people who are dismissive of usability tests is indicative of the gap between Linux fans and everyone else.

    Usability is more than checking to see if a user evenrtually figured out how to get something deon. E.g., it's disastrous if they can't figure out how to open a file. But, the fact that they managed to open the file is not necessarily an indicator of a good design.

    Usability is something people pay cash for. Just ask Apple and the Photoshop folks.

  • by beadfulthings ( 975812 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @09:40AM (#23223212) Journal
    Yeah, and it's a huge part. It's the 800 pound gorilla part.

    Testing for useability needs to come in much, much earlier in development, and it needs to involve a much wider cross-section of human beings. And as it's being done, development of adequate documentation and help needs to go hand and hand with it.

    It's so easy to disparage girlfriends, the middle-aged, and the elderly--in short, anyone whose job or study is not technical--that I think it's becoming ingrained in the cultures responsible for developing the various operating-system distributions and open-source software packages. This is going to cause them to suffer over the long haul. It's what makes them such a tough sell to people in business.

    There's an immense population of middle-aged people, for example, still in the work force. And interestingly enough, they've actually now all got 20 or 25 years' experience as end-users of computer systems. They're not stupid. They all have jobs that they need to get done. They're not interested in being part of user communities and forums. They're not interested in the ideals of free and open-source software. They're not interested in sticking it to Microsoft. They're not interested in that warm feeling of accomplishment that until recently accompanied getting your printers hooked up to OpenOffice--after wasting hours of productive time doing it. They're interested in using their computers as tools to accomplish their current day's work.

    Issues of usability and documentation aren't much fun. They're probably the least glamorous and most boring functions of developing the software. That's why they get such short shrift in open-source development. Nobody really wants to take them on, so we're treated to excrescenses like having people guess how to get out to a command line to install their audio player or their scanner or their printer.

    Large-scale developers of proprietary software know precisely where their bread is buttered, and they attend to all this as a matter of course.

    "Girlfriend" articles seem to appear quite regularly every few months, so at least somebody is thinking about this even at a ridiculous level. A lot more people need to be thinking about it at a much more serious level.

  • Wonderful emphasis (Score:5, Insightful)

    by kria ( 126207 ) <roleplayer DOT carrie AT gmail DOT com> on Monday April 28, 2008 @10:42AM (#23224138) Journal
    I'm sorry, but I'm sick of things like this - his girlfriend HAS to be some untutored user who has no clue about computers, tee-hee. As a female computer programmer, should people assume my husband is computer illiterate? No? Then why assume his girlfriend is?

    Isn't it enough to say that the installation was tested with a novice user instead of putting stupid assumptions and implications right in the freaking headline?

    And of course, what kind of replies do I expect to my post around here? People marveling that a woman is posting on slashdot that will be modded up as funny. Given the nature of my post, I also expect some responses telling me to calm down or calling me a feminazi. There, I've taken care of those responses, you can stick to ones that actually address what I've said.
    • by onkelonkel ( 560274 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @11:44AM (#23225170)
      I agree that "girlfriend" shouldn't automatically imply computer illiterate. In fact I'm quite certain the word "girlfriend" was used in the title of the article specifically as an eye catching "hook". i.e. Ubuntu and Girlfriend in the same sentence!!?? WTF???

      However, from TFA - "Erin's intelligent, quick to learn and is reasonably well-acquainted with modern technology." The author makes it clear that his girlfriend is somewhat skilled with computers, can perform a range of normal computer tasks and was methodical and persistent in solving the problems she encountered. Aside from the somewhat unfortunate title, TFA makes it clear that she is a "noob" only in so far as she has never used Ubuntu"
    • by jrob323 ( 931808 ) on Monday April 28, 2008 @12:00PM (#23225446)
      As a female computer programmer, should people assume my husband is computer illiterate? No? Then why assume his girlfriend is?

      Your husband is a female computer programmer? And he has a girlfriend? I admire your honesty, ma'am. -golf clap-

God made the integers; all else is the work of Man. -- Kronecker