User friendly Free Software Desktops

Bernhard Reiter bernhard at
Thu Jul 19 10:26:53 UTC 2001

On Wed, Jul 18, 2001 at 05:46:44PM -0400, Havoc Pennington wrote:
> Alistair Davidson <lord_inh at> writes: 

> > I wonder igf you  could describe for us what "a comprehensive user
> > testing setup" would comprise? Is there any feasible way for the FSFE to
> > create such a setup, given the limited amount of funding we possess?
> It's not that expensive, it just involves a couple video cameras, some
> computers, etc. The hard part is having someone with the expertise
> available to set it up and run it. 

Right now it is hard for the FSFE do organise real usability tests.
They are not expensive compared to the value, but gain good results
which can be used by coders is hard.

> My point is basically that a) desktops are very nontrivial things b)
> mailing lists to talk about UI are always in my experience a disaster
> c) both the first two points are amplified dramatically by trying to
> write a desktop with a nontraditional GUI.
> You can choose not to believe me, but I have seen enough empirical
> evidence of the above that I believe myself nonetheless. ;-)
> Especially since even the fairly traditional free desktops in use
> today have a long way to go from a UI standpoint.

I have to agree with Havoc here.

On Wed, Jul 18, 2001 at 11:52:44PM +0100, MJ Ray wrote:
> Havoc Pennington <hp at> writes:
> > > Mailing list generates ideas.
> > > Coders implement ideas.
> > This is your fatal flaw. Free software doesn't work that way; it won't
> > work. I've never seen it work. 
> Need it be so?
> My subject line is something that is often levelled at Free Software
> as a criticism, but are we sure it has to be this way?  

Free Software can lead.
It is done completly different as with propietory systems.

"Software is a communication problem." 
(I start calling this my = Reiter's hypothesis.)

One result of the freedom of software is that the status of the 
traditional testers and users is raised. They get important roles in
the development process.  Communication also is a lot easier.

It explains some of the phenomenons you are describing:

> Now, to take that one step further and be a bit more precise on your
> point: do the mailing lists generate ideas for the coders and they are
> implemented.  Well, yes, that happens sometimes.  I've been watching
> two mailing lists today where the coders are asking "so, what do you
> want us to do now?" and the users are knocking ideas about.  They're
> very much niche projects, but it is happening.  The coders in one case
> aren't even major users of that project's output.
> So, Free software does sometimes work this way.  Interesting, huh?
> Can we take this innovations style of development to more projects?
> Almost certainly.  How can we make it happen?  We need something to
> make people realise the value of developing in this way.  The days of
> the arrogant developer-princes (they exist in some projects) must end
> and we must start to listen to our user community more and better.
> Not to everything they say, but we should consider how we're doing
> this when we develop.  I'd welcome more investigation on that ;-)

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