EOF - Bringing Usability to Open Source
During the past year, we at Novell have conducted hundreds of usability tests on different parts of the Linux desktop. We use two video cameras—one on the face, one on the hands—and a frame grabber to record everything the user does. We ask our subjects to perform five or six simple tasks with Linux, and we burn the result to a DVD.
This month, we've released our test results to the Linux community at openSUSE.org. Linux developers have access to more than 200 user tests and analysis. You can watch real users encounter real design problems and get a sense of their thought process.
We've all read about the benefits of usability testing, but until you actually try to sit through two hours of these videos, you don't viscerally understand why it's so important. Watching these videos is exciting and emotionally exhausting. You squirm. And it focuses you like a laser.
For example, we asked a woman to send mail to a friend. Against all odds, she started Evolution (nothing in the menus indicates that it's a mail program; something we hadn't realized before, but it was immediately obvious after watching her stalk one by one through the menu items muttering to herself along the way).
The correct next step would have been for her to click on the New button that's in the upper left-hand corner of the window. This button didn't even register for her, however. Instead, because she wanted to “send” a mail, she clicked repeatedly on the “Send” part of the Send / Receive button just to the right. For about a minute.
This is easy to fix; we just need to change the labels to be more sensible (and then test again on 5–6 people to be statistically comfortable that we changed them appropriately). It was interesting to watch this video and instantly realize that the Send / Receive button is all about how Evolution works and not about what the user wants to do. I've been staring at that button for five years, and I never realized it was wrong until I saw that video.
Most industrial usability testing labs are impressive facilities: a one-way mirror separates the test subject from a video processing/observation room, where the video footage is recorded and where engineers and product managers can watch the test subjects in real time. The observation room usually has to be sound-proofed to muffle the anguished shouts of the engineers. These facilities are impressive, but they are also very expensive and somewhat intimidating to test subjects, who often feel like their abilities are being scrutinized in the stark light.
We built our labs for less than $1,000 US each with a couple of cheap Webcams, a video mixer, a DVD recorder and a small TV used as a monitor. It is feasible to get this cost down to $200 if the frame grabbing and video recording are implemented entirely in software. At these prices, this introduces a new way for people to contribute to open-source projects: perform some usability testing and send the results to the authors.
In one test, we asked a woman to find a document she had created earlier and make some changes to it. There are a couple of ways to do this: she could use Beagle to search for the file, she could open the file manager and step through her directory structure until she found the file or she could use the recent-documents facility in the OpenOffice.org File menu to find the document.
She paused briefly with a blank desktop in front of her, looking to see if the document she had created might be there. She opened the file manager and poked around a little bit. And then, finally, she ran OpenOffice.org and went directly to the File menu. “I know I'm doing this wrong”, she said, selecting the file by name from the menu, “but at least this will work.”
Technically, she succeeded in achieving her goal: she opened the file, and it didn't take her very long to do it. But she tried a few different avenues before finding one that worked. And she wasn't comfortable about it.
There's a difference between software that is usable and software that is a pleasure to use. Until you watch people using your software, it's hard to know how well you're doing.
Nat Friedman is vice president of Linux desktop engineering at Novell. Both a hacker and an entrepreneur, he co-founded Ximian, which was acquired by Novell. Nat started the Beagle, Hula and Better Desktop projects and served as chairman of the GNOME Foundation for two years.
|Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development||May 20, 2013|
|Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)||May 16, 2013|
|Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This||May 15, 2013|
|Home, My Backup Data Center||May 13, 2013|
|Non-Linux FOSS: Seashore||May 10, 2013|
|Trying to Tame the Tablet||May 08, 2013|
- RSS Feeds
- Making Linux and Android Get Along (It's Not as Hard as It Sounds)
- Using Salt Stack and Vagrant for Drupal Development
- New Products
- Validate an E-Mail Address with PHP, the Right Way
- Drupal Is a Framework: Why Everyone Needs to Understand This
- A Topic for Discussion - Open Source Feature-Richness?
- Download the Free Red Hat White Paper "Using an Open Source Framework to Catch the Bad Guy"
- Home, My Backup Data Center
- Tech Tip: Really Simple HTTP Server with Python
- Please correct the URL for Salt Stack's web site
47 min 21 sec ago
- Android is Linux -- why no better inter-operation
3 hours 2 min ago
- Connecting Android device to desktop Linux via USB
3 hours 31 min ago
- Find new cell phone and tablet pc
4 hours 29 min ago
5 hours 58 min ago
- Automatically updating Guest Additions
7 hours 6 min ago
- I like your topic on android
7 hours 53 min ago
- Reply to comment | Linux Journal
8 hours 14 min ago
- This is the easiest tutorial
14 hours 28 min ago
- Ahh, the Koolaid.
20 hours 7 min ago
Enter to Win an Adafruit Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi
It's Raspberry Pi month at Linux Journal. Each week in May, Adafruit will be giving away a Pi-related prize to a lucky, randomly drawn LJ reader. Winners will be announced weekly.
Fill out the fields below to enter to win this week's prize-- a Pi Cobbler Breakout Kit for Raspberry Pi.
Congratulations to our winners so far:
- 5-8-13, Pi Starter Pack: Jack Davis
- 5-15-13, Pi Model B 512MB RAM: Patrick Dunn
- 5-21-13, Prototyping Pi Plate Kit: Philip Kirby
- Next winner announced on 5-27-13!
Free Webinar: Hadoop
How to Build an Optimal Hadoop Cluster to Store and Maintain Unlimited Amounts of Data Using Microservers
Realizing the promise of Apache® Hadoop® requires the effective deployment of compute, memory, storage and networking to achieve optimal results. With its flexibility and multitude of options, it is easy to over or under provision the server infrastructure, resulting in poor performance and high TCO. Join us for an in depth, technical discussion with industry experts from leading Hadoop and server companies who will provide insights into the key considerations for designing and deploying an optimal Hadoop cluster.
Some of key questions to be discussed are:
- What is the “typical” Hadoop cluster and what should be installed on the different machine types?
- Why should you consider the typical workload patterns when making your hardware decisions?
- Are all microservers created equal for Hadoop deployments?
- How do I plan for expansion if I require more compute, memory, storage or networking?