Linus on Gnome Usability (Shallow Thoughts)

Akkana's Musings on Open Source, Science, and Nature.

Tue, 13 Dec 2005

Linus on Gnome Usability

I spent an entertaining morning reading the thread on Gnome-usability that Linus Torvalds started with his posting beginning, "I personally just encourage people to switch to KDE."

The whole thread is interesting reading for anyone who's been frustrated with the lack of usability and missing features in recent Gnome user interface redesigns.

Linus continues:

This "users are idiots, and are confused by functionality" mentality of Gnome is a disease. If you think your users are idiots, only idiots will use it. I don't use Gnome, because in striving to be simple, it has long since reached the point where it simply doesn't do what I need it to do.

Naturally, various Gnome people speak up to defend Gnome. Linus clarifies his position in a followup posting:

No. I've talked to people, and often your "fixes" are actually removing capabilities that you had, because they were "too confusing to the user".

That's _not_ like any other open source project I know about. Gnome seems to be developed by interface nazis, where consistently the excuse for not doign something is not "it's too complicated to do", but "it would confuse users".
He gives several examples of functionality the Gnome team has removed which every competing project still allows, such as binding mouse buttons to functions in the window manager, and typing a filename in the file selection dialog.

A few messages later, Jeff Waugh defends the file selection dialog, calling it "top stuff". Carl Worth responds to that with a nice summary of long-standing and long-ignored bugs on file selection dialog usability. Several other posters follow up with additional issues not yet fixed.

Somewhere along the line, the spectre of Mac OS is raised (of course). Michael Bernstein posts the obligatory "I gave my mom Mac OS X and she loved it" message, adding the novel but unlikely suggestion that the cure for Linux usability issues is to draft non Linux programmers to develop the UI. (No one points out in the Mac OS subthread that Mac OS X itself includes quite a few of the options which have been dropped by the Gnome usability team, such as readline key bindings in every text field, or a typable text field in the file selection dialog, yet no one seems to be complaining about OS X's lack of usability.)

The thread eventually peters out without a conclusion. It's fairly clear that neither side is convinced by the other. Gnome has chosen their path, and "dumbing down" the UI and removing features needed by users such as Linus is part of that choice. Too bad for the users, though: especially users for whom switching entirely to KDE/Qt apps is not a viable choice.

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[ 17:40 Dec 13, 2005    More linux | permalink to this entry ]