Usability, user-friendliness and the Linux desktop

A point I’ve been trying to convey about the Linux desktop through my reviews and tutorials is that distribution developers are doing a bad job of giving users all the goodness of what’s available in Linux and GNU software in a manner where the system just works.

So that in most cases, users get a system that, from a broad perspective, looks good, but disappoints when put through the paces. In some cases, in line with the ideology and philosophical stance of the developers, users get a bare-bone system that takes a lot of effort to use.

In Developers: Give us sane and sensible default system and application settings, I pointed out a few of the mistakes that distribution developers are making. And that article followed I quit using Linux because…, which is a direct response to an article by Denis Koryavov, a former GUI Development Lead for ROSA Laboratory, the publisher of the ROSA line of Linux distributions.

In his article, Denis wrote that in terms of usability, “GNU/Linux distros are still not rivals for the MacOS X and Microsoft Windows on desktops and laptops.” My response to that has nothing to do with whether he’s right or wrong, but that he failed to do something about that as the GUI Development Lead for ROSA Laboratory.

If I criticize something, I don’t do so just to mock or deride, but in a constructive manner. So I not only say that something is bad, or not good, but here’s how to make it better. I also like to listen to people that critique what I do. If they have a valid point, I take that into consideration and make the necessary adjustments. Otherwise, I just ignore them.

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That’s why I’m keeping track of what Denis has to say about the Linux desktop and why I encourage others to do the same. Especially distribution developers. If he makes a good point, we should take it into consideration. Else, we just ignore him.

Writing about usability and user-friendliness in his latest article on this subject, Denis wrote that:

This is a difference between “user friendly” and “usability”: “user friendly” it is always “personal” characteristic (how operating system is satisfies to the your requirements) when “usability” is a common word which means how easy people can use an operating system. Please look at this difference.

If you will look at it carefully you will see an obvious corollary: having regard the fact that we have several billions of users it is practically impossible to create an “user friendly” operating system for all of them (maximum that you can do here – to make an OS for some group of people, for example – for system administrators), but we can create an “usable” operating system (operating system which all of them could use).

He makes a somewhat valid point, but he’s attempting to draw a hard boundary between usability and user-friendliness, forgetting that one derives from the other. If you build a “usable” system, people will tend to say that it is “user-friendly,” regardless of the technical capabilities of the users.

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He does make some very valid points. Here’s one of them:

As a result of this politic of KDE Team I can cite one very significant example: some time ago (in 2010) we had experiment in Russian schools – we tried to migrate all schools in one very big Russian town (more than million of people) to a distro based on Plasma Desktop (KDE). The project had to be abandoned because students and teachers were confused by its various settings.

You may read the rest at Why GNU/Linux distros are still not rivals for OS X and Windows on desktops.

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