Wednesday, September 12, 2012

GNOME usability

When I proposed this study of usability in open source software, I was somewhat aware of usability studies of GNOME. Specifically, I knew that Sun Microsystems had once commissioned a usability study of an early version of GNOME (I think in the version 1.x series) as Sun incorporated the free GNOME desktop into Sun's Solaris operating system.

However, I didn't realize that the GNOME project continued this usability effort, and set up a GNOME Usability Project. From the website:
The Usability Project strives to make the GNOME experience as pleasant and efficient as possible. The project aims both to aid developers in their efforts to create intuitive applications, and to lead by creating designs and detailed mockups toward a cohesive and beautiful new generation of the GNOME desktop.

The Usability Project achieves these goals through the creation of an interface guide defining and evolving the GNOME user interface, working with maintainers to find existing interaction problems through user testing, and the visual design and interaction engineering of new desktop components.
In addition, the GNOME Usability Project sponsors occasional "usability hackfests" like the 2010 hackfest in London. Looking at the list of attendees, the GNOME usability hackfests include a wide array of contributors, both corporate and general users. A few corporate attendees you may recognize:


Over the next few days, I'll dive into the findings from the GNOME Usability Project and share some thoughts here. I tried to find the original GNOME usability study (from 2001) but that link no longer works.
It's important to keep in mind, however, that while the results of GNOME's usability study will be generally interesting as background material, a desktop environment such as GNOME would be too complex to use as a case study for my project. But the GNOME Usability Project can provide some feedback on my independent study. Certainly it is a rare case of an open source software project that considers usability in its program design.
Update (9/13/12):

Thanks to a link from Colin Walters's blog, I found the GNOME usability study: https://live.gnome.org/UsabilityProject/UsabilityTests

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