[OT] Blowing my mind about Linux

Richard Gaskin ambassador at fourthworld.com
Sat May 12 15:48:43 EDT 2012

Richmond wrote:
> On 05/12/2012 04:33 AM, Richard Gaskin wrote:
>> Alejandro Tejada wrote:
>>> Last time I checked, most Linux developers
>>> EXPECT that most of their users are
>>> Software Developers.
>> Looking for Linux for human beings?:
>> <https://www.google.com/search?q=Linux+for++human+beings>
> Ubuntu WAS, but with the advent of Unity I am no longer sure that it IS.

The situation with Unity is very much like the transition in the Mac 
world from what is now called "Classic" to OS X.  Many people didn't 
like the changes; I know at least one member of this list who still 
prefers OS 9 to this day.

While it's true that Mark Shuttleworth wears the unofficial title of 
Self-Appointed Benevolent Dictator For Life (his Launchpad account is 
"sabdfl" <g>) for a reason, it's also true that the initiatives finding 
expression in Unity are often driven by usability research.

Before embarking on the design, the team at Canonical requested screen 
shots from the user base, and they reviewed those thousands of screen 
shots to find similarities, looking for commonalities they could build 
right into the desktop environment without requiring post-install 

For example, a great many people had been installing Docky, Conky, and 
other launcher/dock UIs.  Now that's taken care of with Unity's 
Launcher, just as OS X introduced it for the Mac world, as had other 
OSes before it.   Most folks spend their day using about a half-dozen 
apps, only occasionally using anything else, and it's no accident that 
that's number of icons that fit very comfortably in a launcher pane even 
at 768p.

Moreover, we know from research going back to Apple's earliest days, and 
reinforced with a lot of research at universities and private companies 
since, that hierarchical menus are physically difficult to use.   In 
earlier Linux desktop UIs, accessing apps meant mousing carefully 
through nested hierarchical menus; now, with both Unity in Ubuntu and 
Gnome Shell in most other distros, the most commonly-used apps are just 
one click away in a launcher.

While the UI team has published results from only a handful of their 
user tests, Mr. Shuttleworth noted in a reply to me on a discussion list 
that the team does much more testing than what they can afford to take 
the time to publish.

I had the opportunity at UDS this week to discuss user testing with 
Charline Poirier, one of the design leads at Canonical, and she 
impressed me with a largely agnostic attitude about details in the 
current Unity UI that have no yet been user-tested.  She indicated that 
more tests were to be done in the Q (12.10) cycle, and indeed it seems 
user testing is an ongoing passion there across the team.

In fact, early version of Unity's Launcher included a "smart hide" 
option which left the Launcher visible and hid only when windows were 
maximized.  This is different from most other launcher/dock 
implementations which offer only "always shown" or "always hidden until 
mouseover", and it was an innovation Shuttleworth was initially quite 
proud of.  But user testing showed that the hiding behavior was too much 
of a "sometimes" rule to be easily understood by new users, so despite 
his early pride with the design Shuttleworth acknowledged the test 
results and directed the team to remove that behavior from 12.04.

Like all desktops, Unity is far from perfect.  But with Canonical's 
funding it has arguably more user testing behind it than any other Linux 
desktop environment, and the teams responsible for it are committed to 
ongoing refinement going forward.

> As a part-time human being I am now using XFCE.

That's the beautiful distinction of Linux over all other operating 
systems:  We have so many choices that everyone gets exactly what they want.

I used XFCE on one of my very old machines before I converted it to a 
faceless server, and it's quite nice for what it does.

  Richard Gaskin
  Fourth World
  LiveCode training and consulting: http://www.fourthworld.com
  Webzine for LiveCode developers: http://www.LiveCodeJournal.com
  LiveCode Journal blog: http://LiveCodejournal.com/blog.irv

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