User friendly Free Software Desktops

Alex Hudson home at
Wed Jul 18 20:53:11 UTC 2001

On Wed, Jul 18, 2001 at 05:08:59PM +0100, MJ Ray wrote:
> They probably won't, but do Microsoft help files recommend particular
> reviews magazines?

Microsoft generally do only one product of each type (word processor..
database .. web server .. etc.). What do you need the review for? To tell
you how good it is?

(half-sarcasm, half-serious :( )

> > [...]  I can install Win2000 in a couple of hours, then configure it
> > to my tastes within days.
> How did you learn to do that?

I personally think the Win2k install is very easy, esp. compared to Debian.
I would rate the Debian install as marginally harder than Win95. Certainly,
the Debian installer has had a problem on every machine I've installed at
work, and seems to still have some bugs to work out (no, I haven't reported
them, yes, I know I should, I have them written down somewhere.. :( )

> The plethora of documentation sources comes of previous attempts to
> solve this problem by creating yet another way to provide
> documentation, I believe.  If someone has a bright idea on how to
> resolve this...

Goal-based rather than learning based. Alan Cooper (interaction guru, IMHO
:) differentiates computer users into roughly two categories - 'Homo
Sapiens' and 'Homo Logicus' :). Homo Sapiens is the 'normal' user - the user
using the computer to get a job done. They willingly trade knowledge of the
system off to achieve a goal (i.e., Give me a wizard to do this task, I
don't want to know how the computer goes about its work). Homo Logicus is
the opposite - they value knowledge of how the system works very highly, and
are willing to invest the time in learning how to achieve their goal

It seems to me that man pages, info pages, etc., are all perfect for Homo
Logicus (who is willing to lose productivity in the short term for long-term
control and knowledge), but absolutely inappropriate for Homo Sapiens (who
wants to be able to do roughly what they want now, and doesn't really care
how the computer does it). I'm not sure what proportion of the population is
in each, but I would guess it would be roughly 90%:10% (conservatively) in
favour of normal people (Homo Sapiens :).

> I'm not so sure that they have.  In fact, I think they've got even
> less clue about it than most free software developers.

I think some MS products are good in this respect (Word, possibly Access,
but most of Office, definitely Windows), and some are very bad (mostly
server software). Generally, their goal-oriented interfaces are pretty good,
their task-oriented interfaces pretty poor.

I think Free Software developers (who are, by nature, mostly Homo Logicus, I
would guess) need to understand the nature of software use a lot better.
Most believe that by adding features for 'newbies' (i.e., making it easy for
a person to use the program in the beginning), and by making sure the
program is very powerful (keeping tools small, orthogonal and task-oriented,
with generally a small problem domain and large amount of configuration
potential to suit the power user) that the program somehow becomes 'easy to
use'. Programs are only easy to use when common tasks (i.e., those things
that 90% of users do 90% of the time) are easy - which means not necessarily
pampering the complete newbie, and not pandering the power user: an idea
usually counter-intuitive to most developers.



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