I believe that Fedora and Linux in general need to reach and inspire a wider set of users. Free software affords us so many benefits we should strive to share, but there’s still a formidable bar in technical skill required to realize those benefits.
What can we do to help expand the reach of free software? One way is to teach! I’ve taught free software to kids and it was an amazing experience (and I have another Red Hat-sponsored project involving teaching kids how to use free software in the works that I’m excited to talk about in detail soon!) Although interacting with a group of kids or adults in person and teaching them about what free software can do is vitally important, I am afraid it’s not entirely scalable. It’s also entirely bending the user to the software itself, without at all bending the software towards the user. “Yeah, it works a little weird there, here’s a clunky workflow for getting around that” is the sort of phrase I end up using a lot of times while teaching others how to use free software.
I am concerned that bending users to the software, and not bending the software to the users at all really limits the immense impact free software and our community can have on the world. I fear that teaching and evangelizing is not enough to expand the availability of software freedom to folks who need it; we need to improve our offerings to require a bit less of a technical wall to jump in order to enjoy them.
This proposition understandably has made some folks – experienced users who are technically-savvy and long-time free software users – nervous. Free software is a great thing. Is working towards making it more mainstream going to ruin it, just like that awesome indie band you used to love that made it big and now totally sucks? I share the same fear, and yes that’s happened to music artists I loved too…. but I think for us there is little risk, and the rewards – sharing the gifts of software freedom with more people – are totally worth it.
Here’s why I think the proposition to focus more on new Linux users is not that risky for current users:
- If the default setup of a given Linux OS changes, it won’t necessarily prevent you from doing what you need or want to do. If we focus the default experience to cater towards new & casual users, it really should not make a huge difference to power users – it should not exclude them – I think at worst it will necessitate some work-arounds and initial customizations for the power users (but I think many of you are already doing these things today.)
- Making improvements to benefit less-familiar users can benefit everyone, and at worse simply not effect experienced users either way. The way I like to think about this – for me, tidying up the mess in the living room is not really fun and it’s liveable as-is, so there’s little motivation to do it all that often. When we tidy things up for guests coming over, though, we benefit from the organized living room just as much as our guests do! The improvements should help everyone, and not exclude anybody.
Let me provide you with a bit more thinking on each of these points:
1: Changed defaults won’t exclude power users
So here is a little case study, using desktop configuration as an example since the desktop tends to be a visually-rich experience that can be offered up for comparisons relatively easily: I asked around for Fedora users’ screenshots in IRC this past week – actual, working screenshots, not artificially-polished & cleansed screenshots. This is how a slice of Fedora users actually use Fedora, folks. We’ve got GNOME Shell, we’ve got heavily-customized KDE, we’ve got XFCE, even icewm. Panels are moved around, different icon themes and widget themes are installed, folks are using multiple different mail and chat clients in these screenshots:
View a slideshow of all these screenshots
Looking at these, can you understand why someone would argue as vehemently against a new-user friendly change in say the desktop default settings? Do you think a change of the defaults is really going to affect any of these users at all? None of these folks mentioned or seemed to feel excluded by the current desktop defaults, and many readily admitted they love to tweak and customize. It seems many current Fedora power users are quite capable and even happy to customize and change how they use Fedora well beyond the default setup.
2: Why helping new users won’t hurt you, and why ignoring them hurts us
A big part of the reason a lot of us are here in the Linux community is to improve & spread software freedom and free culture. Fedora’s mission in particular is, “to lead the advancement of free and open source software and content as a collaborative community.”
There’s a couple of things you need to realize that goal:
- You need contributors. You need contributors to create and help improve free software, to create and license compelling content under free licenses, to help make your project run.
- You need users. Sure, it’s fun to have the secret navel-gazing treehouse where we proselytize to the already-converted, but that’s not really effective if you want to actually spread your message outside of your circle.
How do you get contributors? You recruit from your pool of users! How do you get users, to widen your potential contributor pool and to spread your free software / free culture message? You reach out to them, providing them a compelling reason to care. Okay, great, that’s easy right? We just get out there and send our message out – it’s a great cause – folks will want to help, right?
Well, no. I believe that trying to convince new folks to get involved based solely on free software / free culture dogma is not going to work. Even if you get them convinced to try to help, you’re going to put them into this dilemma:
Not cool. It’s like you’re getting kids under the drinking age all fired up about a new club, and when they actually show up, they are bounced at the door. How rude! If you’re going to recruit folks like this to help Linux out, Linux needs to be something they can be inspired by – something they can actually use. Otherwise, why will they care? And for the few who either are inspired already and see the potential, or who find out about free software & culture on their own and have some interest in it, it’s not just that they have to gear up just to be able to join your project – there’s alternatives calling out to them that are more welcoming and far easier to get started with:
How often have you seen this problem in your project? Isn’t this something that could be solved and benefit everyone if we could only attract more contributors?
Lowering the bar to enter ‘the ride’ that is Linux is going to mean that more people can use and contribute to it. Lowering the bar won’t exclude folks who are already ‘tall enough’ to get into ‘the ride’ today.
Personally I couldn't care less if Fedora's default desktop was made in every way an easier and a more welcoming experience than even OS X (if that's an apt comparison) because I'll customize it to suit my own habits/tastes anyway.
@ anon: I totally agree with you.
Development must be in all fronts.
Power users can customize their system to suit their needs and other users, who just need computers for basic daily activities such as watching movies, surfing the web and listening to songs, can also use it effectively.
The basic linux system will remain the same for people who really like to learn more about computers. What do you say?
If we need to reach a large amount of people what we need is apps, killer apps. Look at many horrible interfaces people are dealing with on the Windows world and learning them only because they get the features they need… I don't know, a random example being the crap "printing software" from the install CD or 3G connection software or Winamp, the mother of all interface oddities. As long as we can't deliver the toold to get job done, we don't count.
1. i am one of those staying close to the defaults… for many releases i did NOT change the icon theme, the metacity theme, the panel layout… only the wallpaper, because i felt comfortable. if i am forced to change many defaults, then i don't feel welcome any more (there is a reason i use GNOME and not KDE)
2. i think i do a lot of helping new users, but in time i got to think i should focus on the users that want to learn and don't waste my time, there are a lot of other important things to do.
Great post and I agree for the most part with you. I happen like like how Fedora is on the desktop right now – but I am willing to put up with a few customizations that target less advanced users.
Perhaps the experience could be customized by selecting a profile at install time. Just a simple set of radio buttons for Simpletons, Intermediates and Advanced users which could toggle a whole lot of settings and default packages.
Mairin, there is one key point you're missing with changed defaults:
Hear me out. Change means a lot of things. It hopefully represents progress and improvement, for sure, and that's always a good thing. But it also means relearning things. It means having months (or even many years) of experience that's been ingrained into subconscious habits suddenly become incorrect and broken behavior that has to be unlearned while at the same time starting along the path of repeatedly practicing the new correct behavior.
Small changes seem innocuous enough. Move a menu item, rename another, change an icon. There are behaviors that will become obsolete by even these simple changes. The user that has opened that menu 150 times a day and already had her mouse cursor hovered over where the middle of the menu would be before the imperceptible 0.1s it takes to pop-up with a quick nearly-subconscious locality-reference adjustment against the familiar icon will, after such a simple change is made the application design, suddenly find themselves greeted with a bizarre scene. The colorful silhouette is not there. The brain throws an alarm. The user's conscious effort is put into the menu now, looking at what is wrong. She keeps looking for the icon, but it's just not there. A second later, she starts reading the words, and notices that "Adjust Margin" just isn't there, but there's this new "Align Margin" menu. Maybe that is it? … or maybe that does something else, and clicking it is going to break something. … the Adjust Margin must have just gone somewhere else, surely.
Regular users are not power users. They are nowhere NEAR power users. Regular users DO NOT work with the metaphors that UI designers like to pretend that users work with. They don't see an application as a diagram of widgets that encompass functionality. The just memorize things. They memorize that when they click Foo, a dialog pops up that wants them to click Bar. If they click Foo and the dialog comes up and there is no Bar option, they panic.
When you change the entire desktop metaphor, the entire look and feel of the whole affair, and the entire way they are meant to do things, it's a lost game. They aren't interested. You have just taken away their car and replaced it with some kind of hovering bike with one pedal and a joystick. Sure, maybe it's a way cooler and more efficient vehicle… but damned if they know how to use the thing!
And they can get _emotional_ about it. It has nothing to do with Linux power users, either. I have literally seen people throw temper-tantrums over some icons and menus moving around from their old location in Windows XP to new locations in Windows 7. Threw a fit. I, not having really used Windows much at all, thought the new location for the icons made perfect sense and in fact found them in the first place I thought to look. Other people just kept looking in the exact same place, digging through sub-menus and icon panels there, figuring it MUST be nearby because dammit that's what it was supposed to be because that's where it'd always been.
Linux and the Free Desktop has some "advantage" in that it's still new enough and changing enough that there are very few people with nearly a decade of experience using a single desktop environment, as is the case with many XP users finally upgrading to a newer OS. 10 years of habit is a lot harder to break than 1-2 years. However, even a single week of experience is far, far more important than "intuitiveness."
There's the joke about the only intuitive interface, and everything else being learned. Same goes for a computer. Imagine if you had an application, or a desktop, where all the dialogs, buttons, menus, and basic layout were randomized. Every time you started it, it was different. It would be incredibly frustrating, wouldn't it? You can say that only swapping everything up once every six month or so is not nearly as bad — and you're be right — but the fact is that you're still making every single user go through that same level of frustration twice a year, all so that a few new users might just have an easier time of things… maybe… although you're not sure because the mass roll-out to the entire community is the first time you'd actually ever have _tested_ the new UI on new users.
The number of incumbent users is far larger than the number of new users at any given release of a piece of established software, such as Fedora. The Fedora 15 release is not going to see 100,000,000 new users. Let's say Fedora has (as purely hypothetical figures) 10,000,000 users now, and may gain 100,000 new users with the next release. Redesigning the whole desktop so 100,000 new users have a _slightly_ easier time of things while 10,000,000 users get the annoyance of all their learned behaviors being invalidated is a really piss-poor optimization of your users' time and energy.
Users are only "newbies" once, but they (hopefully) stay being experienced users for many years. Optimize for the users you have first, and the users you hope to have second.
On a slightly separate but related topic, think a bit more about all those customized desktops you showed. Those are people who put a lot of time and effort into customizing their desktop. They want it to work a particular way. Think of how many people are using the default settings because (crazy as it sounds) that's the way they want it to work. If you picked your defaults sensibly and skillfully, there will be many more people using the defaults than using something customized. And, just like if you went and changed one of those heavily customized-desktops in some random way, a user who likes the defaults now and suddenly gets a new set of defaults the next time he has to update his OS to get a newer version of OpenOffice (or whatever other app that is, in the Fedora ecosystem, largely locked to a specific configuration of every other package in the entire system via the appliance-model packaging system) is going to be pretty upset.
All those users who _like_ two panels, for instance, would be pretty annoyed if you just removed their second panel, just as much as if every GNOME update reset my one-panel desktop back to the default two-panel configurations.
When a user elects to use the default settings, that does NOT implicitly mean that he is electing to use whatever you tell him to. It just means he likes it the way it is.
Progress is good. Progress is necessary. I'm just as aware as you are that many parts of the Linux dekstop experience are still way too techie and way too little people-y.
The thing to keep in mind, though, is that progress != change. Progress = new benefits that outweigh the deficits. Radical new redesigns are WAY too complex to possibly ever measure the benefits and deficits until long after they're already shoved out to users. gnome-shell is a crap-load of change, and whatever you _think_ might be good about it may or may not _actually_ be good, and the limited techie-oriented testing that's gone on (because let's be honest, regular users aren't installing from git with jhbuild or running nightly liveCDs) are more or less irrelevant in general.
It's a balancing act. At some point you simply have to force users to change behavior to fix a broken or simply inferior design. These decisions have to be made with only the utmost of thought, and you had better be damn sure that the new system is what you want people to stick with for years to come, and not be just a half-complete untested experiment that is likely to radically change in the next 6 month iteration.
Well, I have only few questions:
How do you positioning / define Fedora distribution itself? A beginner friendly, well guided, stable, and highly not problematic distribution? I don't think so. People are love highly changing distribution with 5-6 months development cycle as beginner? I don't think so. You need some basics to drive with this car.
If you're would like to lower the barrels for everyone – well, you must ease the learning curve, and set out people who will support them, I think. I feel that ambassadors are banging the FOSS drums, to gain interest – and their task is partially to know the with-what, also who could lead more deeper in relations of the new contributor knowledge. Here is that point in the flow of new contributors where we have some flaws inside Fedora community. We don't have too many people persons who are capable to teach in quality – and answer every question from beginners. I think at this point we have to create a new role: (Community) Mentors with ONE main task: To TEACH. How? Creating classrooms – creating FAQ's, quick tutorials (about bash, fedora etc.), or questioning hours and teaching as frequently they could. Nothing else. We have an support channel, so we have an good source to locate or transform into them. With this, ambassadors mustn't have to give away an Fedora Manual, or an " Dictionary" as you mentioned at FUDCon. 😉 This brings Fedora more personally, and the users couldn't feel for a minute that we have leaved them alone.
Very few people want to be taught anything about their computer.
Most just want to use it for a particular task, and be done with it.
Sure! Sometimes distribution seem really afraid to set up the slightest default desktop change. While most of users would like.
March 3.0 gnome may force distrib to set up something. I hope we'll see several smart default set up.
I have no problem with this as long as "Changed defaults won’t exclude power users" is enshrined as a guiding principle. I'm skeptical of it, however, because often what happen is:
1) "horrible" (from power-user perspective) change is made to default behavior
2) power users are placated with "you can just change a setting!"
3) in the next version, the setting is relegated to hidden gconf key
4) power users are told: but you can do that, right?
5) in the next version, hidden gconf key is ignored
6) power users are told: what, you didn't expect us to keep supporting that obscure option, did you?
I've seen this happen over and over, and it's one of the reasons there's backlash.
I agree; this is a problem in especially GNOME, but even to a lesser degree even in KDE4. You (the generic you, not specifically you, Mairin) can't have it both ways. You cannot simultaneously make things more dumbed down for the general crowd, and remove configuration while claiming "even well-presented choice confuses people" (never proven by the way, just taken as gospel, ill-fitting supermarket analogies aside), and yet not adversely affect power users.
Simplify all you want by default, but put advanced options *in the UI*, not in gconf, a configuration file, or any other hidden place where devs can ignore them. Newbies won't ever have to click the "Advanced" tab, and it will make it much more friendly for those who used to be newbies who are getting more proficient.
See mizmo I would be interested in this to help and teach FOSS to in particular inner-city urban youth. Personally I feel not enough attention is given to this issue. I mean im coming from US perspective cause my home city Detroit is in dire need of such things. Its not sexy to go to such a place for most people. I see many programs for Women like in GNOME but nothing for low income children. I was trying to get in touch with one Executive in the GNOME project but no response yet. Maybe you have an idea where i can go. Also what about SOAS do they have programs in the US? I would be interested also there?
The upcoming project I hinted at outreaching to kids actually is for the Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. We're going to be working with at-risk girls in the southern area of Boston. It was actually not all that hard to reach out to them, although I had some help from folks at Red Hat in doing so. But I think groups like the Girls Scouts and Boy Scouts these days are making a lot of great efforts at reaching out to inner city youth, so they might be a good start!
What is SOAS? I'm not familiar with the acronym?
I think Tajidin is talking about Sugar on a Stick. I feel it as a really good starting point in example, not just for teaching kids, even grown folks. Actually, after deployment of the Edusol Summit, i want to explore deeply in the possibilities of Sugar as the best UI to start the learning with computers.
Here in Mexico we have even higher barriers to ICT literacy, so, i'm completely agree with your standing position about lowing the barriers at any area is blocking us from reaching more users and contributors.
In example, i know lot of people wanting to contribute more pleasant guides of learning free software apps, courses about free culture and apps, everything about freedom! But when they approach to us, we are not actually ready for letting them join so easily as writing a wiki page, but letting us take their contributions for making "real documentation".
However, i disagree is a lack of real shocking apps: we have actually lot of apps aimed to collaboration and our infrastructure as contributors is the envy of other projects (really). I'm not sure how to define my feeling about the mistreatment of power geeks to non-literate folks (i'm just a wannabe geek :p)
I'll continue thinking about this and i'll try to make a contribution this week in my blog.
Just as note, I was really disappointed by some of the comments on this on Reddit:
"It's just going to be another shit head telling us what he thinks GNU/Linux needs to do to meet his stupid fucking expectations of it, possibly including discouraging use of the command line."
"For starters, the author's fairly clearly just another dipshit who believes that market share is the most important metric for success. It's not."
"If you can't be bothered to learn about the software you're using, fuck off. You're not wanted here. You're part of the problem, not the solution."
"I hate to say it, but when the percentage of idiot users substantially eclipses the ones who actually choose to give a fuck, the linux desktop will have lost because the people developing it will have given up and moved elsewhere."
"People who aren't interested in learning, and refuse good will gestures to help are the problem. I don't care how easy to use a distro is, but I refuse to encourage carelessness and willful ignorance."
How can we reach out to these folks? Does anyone have any ideas? I was really hoping to reach folks with this viewpoint 🙁
("How can we reach out to these folks? Does anyone have any ideas? I was really hoping to reach folks with this viewpoint :("
“It’s just going to be another shit head telling us what he thinks GNU/Linux needs to do to meet his stupid fucking expectations of it, possibly including discouraging use of the command line.”
“For starters, the author’s fairly clearly just another dipshit who believes that market share is the most important metric for success. It’s not.”
“If you can’t be bothered to learn about the software you’re using, fuck off. You’re not wanted here. You’re part of the problem, not the solution.”
“I hate to say it, but when the percentage of idiot users substantially eclipses the ones who actually choose to give a fuck, the linux desktop will have lost because the people developing it will have given up and moved elsewhere.”
“People who aren’t interested in learning, and refuse good will gestures to help are the problem. I don’t care how easy to use a distro is, but I refuse to encourage carelessness and willful ignorance.”)
Mairin, you can't "reach out" to people with minds that closed. Its quite obvious they have a very narrow minded negative viewpoint and all the positive effort in the world won't break through to them. Unfortunately its that type of person who tends to post more on the Internet so while there are a larger number of positive people in the Linux community who believe in working in a positive manner towards helping spread Linux its those few with bad attitudes who tend to be pointed out as generally representing Linux.
Don't feel too bad about it. This kind of thing is much worse in the Windows "community".
Better to spend your efforts on those who aren't as closed minded as the examples you mentioned.
These views are common among the core users of OSS. We don't want incompetent users life made easier. We have seen were that leads. A large part of what makes Linux what it is, would be the much higher expected technical competence of the user. End of the day though, really a pre-installed Linux box is not harder to use than a pre-installed, Windows or Mac box. They just have a different set of quirks.
You are not going to reach these people, me included, with less than perfect arguments. For example your argument based around screen shots is taken from an self selected elite level of user, those that are happy with IRC. the majority of my Linux based users for example are all running pretty stock setups. Changes to a default color palate are not a big deal, but changes to _how_ you customize the desktop are going to get very very heavy resistance from the people you got the screen shots from.
Second point you have is also flawed. It is based on an assumption that "A big part of the reason a lot of us are here in the Linux community is to improve & spread software freedom and free culture". This is an often made and often wrong assumption, for much of the development and hardcore user base the big part of the reason they are in the Linux community is becuase it works better for them. We like the Linux and F/OSS community becuase the current default culture base is made up of competent users. That is a very very different culture base from Windows or even Apple.
Third thing in your article that is going to get people's dander up is that you are implying an expectation that _over_people_ should be supporting the under competent users that _your_ miss targeted promotional efforts have dragged in to our community.
"We don’t want incompetent users life made easier. We have seen were that leads."
Where does that lead? I don't understand the point you are trying to make here.
"For example your argument based around screen shots is taken from an self selected elite level of user, those that are happy with IRC"
Can you explain your second paragraph a bit more? I'm a little lost as to the point you're trying to make unfortunately. Would you mind explaining it a bit more?
"We like the Linux and F/OSS community becuase the current default culture base is made up of competent users."
How does that affect the community for you, the assumption that the base is made up of competent users? How does that affect you directly? How would that base changing affect you?
"Third thing in your article that is going to get people’s dander up is that you are implying an expectation that _over_people_ should be supporting the under competent users that _your_ miss targeted promotional efforts have dragged in to our community."
What do you mean by "over people"? I don't understand what you mean by this sentence at all. Can you explain?
"_over_people_ " is good example of my poor proof reading. It should be "_other_ people".
“We don’t want incompetent users life made easier. We have seen were that leads.” Perhaps this was a little terse. Making life easier for incompetent users will by, the nature of the act, increase the number of incompetent users.
In the windows environment, the increase in the number incompetent computer users, the ones that ask "where is the Any key" on the keyboard, greatly increases the support load on the software developers and people tasked to support the end users. In response the developers make the software less agile and overly burdened with dialogs asking are you sure you want to do something, or trying to be overly helpful, remember Microsoft's "Clippy the paperclip", that the program gets in the way of getting work done
The point about the screen shots was that the very high level user that wants to customize everything may not notice the changes in the default desktop, but the types that just want to sit down in front of a system that just works and gets out of the way so that they can work, will notice and be very very against things that change this. The advanced users that have a few tweaks they like to do will often be against changes to the default system to make things easier for low competency users becuase it by it's nature has a habit for making things harder for them
I have spent over a decade an half from front line help desk to help desk manager, the "Any Key" user is far more common than I would have ever guessed.
Evan, where you see 'incompetence', I see 'have other things they'd rather do with their time than mastering a computer.' Many folks whom I think you'd classify as 'incompetent' computers, were quite competent and invested a great deal of time and money into applications in the 1980s which are no longer in use today. One thing about computing which I think will always be true, if you focus on individual (proprietary) applications, it's like investing in a car rather than a house. In 20 years, your house will still be around, but your car probably won't. After being burnt once or twice by this (Macromedia Director, why did you die?), I have complete sympathy for these folks and there are a lot of them out there. There are also a lot of folks who would rather minimize their time with computers – they don't focus on computing in their day jobs, and would rather spend their off-time with family. This isn't incompetence, Evan. This is different priorities. Computing is not everyone in the world's top priority, and I think that is a wonderful thing, not a mark of 'incompetence.'
Clippy the paperclip is such an old and tired point of reference, isn't it? People have been railing against this little character for years. He neither makes life easier for new or inexperienced users nor technical or experienced users. He helps no one. This is established in numerous human-computer interaction textbooks and has been well understood for a number of years now. Microsoft's bad design decisions in order to salvage some of the investment they put into the failboat that was Microsoft Bob do not justify your position against inexperienced Linux users. To be fair, back then a lot less was understood about human-computer interaction principles than is understood now. Let's move on from that mistake.
"The types that just want to sit down in front of a system that just works and gets out of the way so that they can work, will notice and be very very against things that change this. "
Who are these types? Are these types the 'competent,' highly-technical users you're advocating for?
"I have spent over a decade an half from front line help desk to help desk manager, the “Any Key” user is far more common than I would have ever guessed."
What is "the 'Any Key' user?"
"What is “the ‘Any Key’ user?” Needing to answer that question defiantly proves we are in different parts of the computer industry. The "Any Key" user is standard reference in IT support circles. The reference comes from the fact that even today, with computers being so much a part of our daily lives help desk still get calls like this:
Helpdesk: What is your problem?
User: Where is the Any key?
Helpdesk: excuse me?
User: My computer keeps asking me to press the any key and I don't know were it is.
A competent user is somebody that understands that a computer is a complicated technical device, understands that they have to open a manual to understand how to properly use features, that understands that reading comprehension is not an optional skill when using computers. I consider technically competent as being able to actually program a VCR.
The type of user that you appear to be advocating for and the type of individual that triggers a reflex venomous response from the highly technical crowd is the one that won't open the manual, refuses to accept that reading comprehension is need skill and thinks a computer should be as simple as a toaster.
As you are an interaction designer, thus this is your expert area not mine, I would like to see a real concrete example of how to do you proposals:
" If the default setup of a given Linux OS changes, it won’t necessarily prevent you from doing what you need or want to do.'
"Making improvements to benefit less-familiar users can benefit everyone, and at worse simply not effect experienced users either way"
It has been my experience, and I would guess the experience of most of the people that have reacted negatively to your suggestions, that every time this comprise has been tried it causes more headaches for the current user base than it solves.
I believe actually putting really implementable solutions to what you see as problems in front of people to accept modify or reject will make your arguments much more likely to have the desired effect.
Wow, I've never heard of this "any key" user. Sounds like something one might read about in a technical magazine cartoon.
"A competent user is somebody that understands that a computer is a complicated technical device, understands that they have to open a manual to understand how to properly use features,"
Do you open / read manuals for all of the applications you use? I think the only man pages I've read in order to use an application are for command line tools when I was trying to do something I don't normally do. Like a recent debacle I had with a git merge. I've never read the manual for Evolution, gnome-terminal, Gnote, Xchat, Evince, Firefox, NetworkManager, or Pino. These are all the apps I have open right now. I would certainly be quite upset if these applications evolved to be so complicated as to require the reading of a manul.
" The type of user that you appear to be advocating for and the type of individual that triggers a reflex venomous response from the highly technical crowd is the one that won’t open the manual, refuses to accept that reading comprehension is need skill and thinks a computer should be as simple as a toaster."
s/The type of user that you appear to be advocating for/The type of user I assume you are advocating for without fully reading or considering what you've written
As you are an interaction designer, thus this is your expert area not mine, I would like to see a real concrete example of how to do you proposals:
” If the default setup of a given Linux OS changes, it won’t necessarily prevent you from doing what you need or want to do.’
It is really hard to state this outside of a specific context, but generally if a default is changed there should be a Gconf key or a config file available to switch it back to its previous default state.
“Making improvements to benefit less-familiar users can benefit everyone, and at worse simply not effect experienced users either way”
Did you miss the metaphor of the basic requirements to get on an amusement park ride? Allowing more users in doesn't prevent experienced users from staying in.
"It has been my experience, and I would guess the experience of most of the people that have reacted negatively to your suggestions, that every time this comprise has been tried it causes more headaches for the current user base than it solves. "
It has been my experience conversing with folks that appear to share your attitudes that every time I have asked for a specific example of when "this compromise has been tried" I haven't actually been given any. Can you break that trend?
"It has been my experience conversing with folks that appear to share your attitudes that every time I have asked for a specific example of when “this compromise has been tried” I haven’t actually been given any. Can you break that trend?" Touche'
Actually yes I can. I has happened several times with Gnome. The first that comes to mind was the introduction of Spatial mode in Nautilus. When it was first introduced it was supposed to be to make things easier for the new user but not make things harder on the power user that preferred the older, and now coming back in popularity, 2 pane folder mode. Sounded good on paper, but in practice if you did not want the new Spatial mode you had to dig deep in to Gconf to find away to revert it back to 2 Pane mode.
This quote "if a default is changed there should be a Gconf key or a config file available to switch it back to its previous default state." is an incredible technical method of resolving something that should not be that hard. See my example of Nautilus above.
The Elementary projects are good examples of how somebody made these kinds of proposals done right. I do not necessarily like or think that these projects are actual improvements, just my opinion, but I do think they went about getting people on board for the ideas in effective ways.
You have to dig deep into gconf to turn off spatial? Really? When I started using Fedora in 2004 (I used Debian stable before then, the GNOME was so old there was no spatial nautilus) and since then I can't remember a time there wasn't a checkbox to put nautilus in browser mode. Edit > Preferences > Behavior > Always open in browser mode. Is your objection to it being hidden in Gconf (which afaik it never was) and are you okay with it if there is a GUI option to turn it of?
"This quote “if a default is changed there should be a Gconf key or a config file available to switch it back to its previous default state.” is an incredible technical method of resolving something that should not be that hard. See my example of Nautilus above. "
Your Nautilus example is quite a poor one since there is an easily-discovered GUI option for that preference.
"The Elementary projects are good examples of how somebody made these kinds of proposals done right. I do not necessarily like or think that these projects are actual improvements, just my opinion, but I do think they went about getting people on board for the ideas in effective ways."
I'm not familiar with the project. How specifically do they get folks on board? What kinds of things do they do?
"Wow, I’ve never heard of this “any key” user. Sounds like something one might read about in a technical magazine cartoon."
You do, You do.
Same with the user that has the broken "coffee cup holder". When CD-ROM drives first got introduced as standard equipment on computers we got this one on a regular basis. In a Desktop or Tower case the tray of the CD-ROM drive looked like the cup holder in a car, so people used it to hold their coffee cup. Inevitable since it was not really strong enough to support the cup it the drive mechanism would break.
Yes, I've heard one anecdote that is likely not very believable about the coffee cup holder. I'm not really impressed by these anecdotes to be honest. They sound a little spiteful.
I am sure you have heard them most people have. I, unfortunately have the person on the the phone with them or standing across the counter from that person, and the one that thought a 5 1/4 drive was a CD-Rom drive, and could not figure out why it did not read the disk.
Isn't the endgame to your argument a bit depressing? If we are to conclude from a couple of (in some cases admittedly, urban legend) anecdotes that the 'average computer user' (note i don't think such a thing exists) isn't competent enough to operate a computer and will stick peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the DVD drive, then computers in general can't improve people's lives, nevermind software freedom.
I prefer to think more positively. I believe software freedom is worth it.
You're absolutely right, of course. Most people will switch to your software because it is better for them, not out of ideological considerations. And one thing we've made a lot of great strides on (and have many more to make) is actually creating a simple, hassle-free do-what-I-want computing experience for people who just want to get things done.
Did you have some particular set of changes in mind while writing this?
What about the existing contributing you lose due to alienation?
Why would existing contributors feel alienated? Can you help me understand this?
Changes are made to long existing functionality under the banner of making things easier for new users. The new Updates policy for Fedora has ratified the push to slow package updates in Fedora, so that they are more new user friendly — breaking less often.
Which changes specifically are you thinking of when you say they are being made for new users? E.g., off the top of my head, some of the big changes in Fedora that we've worked on as of late – plymouth, pulseaudio, systemd, anaconda multipath support – have nothing to do with making things easier for new users. Which features are you thinking of?
The new updates policy for Fedora is not specifically under the banner of making things easier for new users. It's to make things easier for ALL users.
> Which changes specifically are you thinking of when you say they are being made for new users?
mapping Ctrl+alt+Backspace is one of those changes which at the time was argued as being safer for new users
I'm not sure that made anything easier for anyone… just became yet another thing that some people had to disable
I'm not sure that this is a good example since it had such a rocky start and now has a bad reputation among some (many?) older users. However when it works, it does really make things easier for everyone.
I still don't understand the motivations behind this, so I will skip it.
> The new updates policy for Fedora is not specifically under the banner of making things easier for new users
But it is a large part of the rationale.Users in Fedora since FC1 are/were familiar with the quirks, so anyone around till now is either happy with things, or has some responsibilities that they need to fulfil. New users are the ones coming in not knowing what to expect from Fedora, and are the ones who freak out as soon as one app starts malfunctioning after an update.
When you say "new" users, do you mean:
– New to Fedora (but perhaps familiar with another *nix OS)
– New to Linux
– New to computers
I ask because you seem to be speaking in terms of "New to Fedora". There are certainly a lot of very technically-competent folks out there who don't use Fedora today.
New to Linux.
I'm afraid if that's the case your argument isn't very compelling.
>I’m not sure that made anything easier for anyone… just became yet another thing that >some people had to disable
This was mostly a showcase of how we became capable of doing things right. Being do more with the less – being able to render graphics at native resolution and depth while not fighting for a graphics adapter with the x11 server; not scaring user needlessly with boot messages.
Seriously — could you imagine your phone flickering like hell and spitting tons of messages while being booted up? Or your washing machine? The boot status daemon was just fixing the old mistakes.
By the way, there was probably no valid reason for turning plymouth off. It could not really cause any harm.
>I’m not sure that this is a good example since it had such a rocky start and now has a >bad reputation among some (many?) older users. However when it works, it does >really make things easier for everyone.
Is that the same user that would like to retain the vt220 emulator in kernel forever and never ever update anything? Do they run 4.2BSD on VAXen? 🙂
In all seriousness, if there's anything to blame on PulseAudio, it's being ahead of its time. Relying on ALSA before it was capable to be reasonably bug-free. On the other hand, the sound stack would probably remain in the sad state were it not for the pulseaudio stress test :] Experience shows us that this was a good idea.
Sorry the end of the article falls on it's face. Lowering the bar is not going to increase the number of contributers. It may increase the number of users, but not much else. “Yeah, it works a little weird there, here’s a clunky workflow for getting around that” is a phrase I use all the to explain both Windows and Mac workflows for a lot. Users have to bend to match any software from any vendor. The question becomes really is an acceptable adjustment to make. Some software like most of MS products all need you to bend in roughly the same weird workflow patterns. That is why it is so hard for Windows user to go to a MAc work flow and for Mac users to convert to Windows work flow, or both to adapt to Linux.
Users become contributors. It's difficult to get someone to contribute who doesn't use. Therefore, if you expand your pool of users, you expand your pool of potential contributors.
I thought I made that point quite clearly but I apologize if not.
You almost do. But that is also the fallacy of your point. Simply expanding your user base will not provide a larger pool of users to pull contributors from it is only guaranteed to the number of users that must be supported. By maintaining a higher technical bar to entry, and I am not saying that the current bar to use Linux is all that high, you increase the likelihood of new users being competent enough and willing enough to actual contribute back to the project.
When you lower the bar you are both decreasing the likelihood that the new user will be technically able to be a contributor and have the willingness to actual contribute something back to the project.
Having a willingness to achieve a certain level of technical competence to use a piece of software you were not previous able to use, is a very strong indicator of willingness to _learn_ how to contribute back to the community. The key point here is willingness to learn.
Evan, where do contributors come from if not from your pool of users? Please tell me.
Are there contributors important to a Linux distribution who are not technical? Yes. The problem is, you're talking about keeping the barrier to entry high so only technical users may be recruited. However, I believe strongly this has lead to the current dearth of designers and usability experts in the entire free software community. I am an interaction designer. I have a computer science degree. Most interaction designers don't. Just to throw some numbers out, let's say 20% of interaction designers have a computer science degree (I think that's an overly hopeful estimate.) How many of those interaction designers use Linux? (applying the general trends based on web browser statistics, less than 1%.) So we have 1% of 20% of interaction designers as potential contributors to free software, but then how many don't have the time or luxury to volunteer? Keep in mind for these folks it's more volunteer time required than a typical deisgn project because of the amount of training / study required to be involved?
Developers aren't the only folks making free software happen, Evan.
Never said developers were the only ones making free software. I would say that the only ones making free software are people that have cultivated a drive and willingness to learn, be it document writers, interaction/usability designers, graphic editors etc. An increased pool of users that do not have a drive to learn will not in crease the number of available contributors. It will simply increase the support load on those that are able to contribute.
You most certainly do not need a CS degree to use Linux as it stands now. I do not have a Cs degree or even a Bachelor of Science, I am a proud holder of BA and been Linux user since the very early days becuase I was willing to sit down and learn how to use a system that was not Windows.
As to the dearth of Interaction and Usability designers in F/OSS,, I would say that is more an industry wide problem based on the current software available for all computing platforms.
You ask the question "how many don’t have the time or luxury to volunteer", which I believe is really at the heart of the debate. I would say this is a very good question and I would counter it with, if they don't have the time to learn to use a new or different system, how can they have the time or luxury to be able to volunteer to improve it?
"I would say that the only ones making free software are people that have cultivated a drive and willingness to learn, be it document writers, interaction/usability designers, graphic editors etc."
The technical barrier effects technical contributors a whole lot less than folks with writing and design skills. It truly, honestly does. I failed for 5 years to contribute to free software in any meaningful way, and was only able to break through the barrier by landing an internship at Red Hat where there were lots of people I could bug *in person* to help me when something stopped working or I couldn't figure something out.
The technical barrier is enough for designers, for example, to understand the technology in order to design properly for it. To pile on top of that a technical barrier to simply get day-to-day computer usage done in order to actually complete the design work – it is too much. It truly is. I suppose it might be difficult for you to understand this position coming from a position of technical prowess. It's not a matter of willingness to learn. The resources to learn are really poor and are extremely oriented towards technical users. Willingness to learn, sure, willingness to commit a large portion of your life, a little less reasonable to expect.
I commend your willingness and tenacity to learn Linux. Do you contribute to Linux? The barrier from user to contributor is quite high aside from the technical challenges in simply using the system.
"if they don’t have the time to learn to use a new or different system, how can they have the time or luxury to be able to volunteer to improve it?"
Like I just said, it's not just learning how to use the system. It's learning how to be an effective contributor. Learning the very different tools involved in the workflow of putting together free software. Learning IRC. It's not just learning how to use an OS, it is so much more than that. It's a huge challenge.
Between this and the other thread we have going you will see that we may not be that far apart in views, but have very different angles on it.
By the way, I think this comment is a much better statement of your position on the issue and the really heart of your intention behind the original post. May I suggest you expand this comment more as a full blog post. I think you would get better responses to it than you have to this one.
I do contribute to F/OSS projects in many ways ranging from documentation, wiki contributions and software patches to one on one discussion with others about how or why to improve something.
"It’s not a matter of willingness to learn. The resources to learn are really poor and are extremely oriented towards technical users. Willingness to learn, sure, willingness to commit a large portion of your life, a little less reasonable to expect. "
I am willing to admit this and to a great degree agree with it. I really would like see to a better blog on this position from you. It has real and definitely addressable concerns. Us technical types like to deal with things this way and maybe some of those that at http://www.reddit.com/r/linux/comments/dlkng/you_… will instead of deriding your proposals give you constructive feed back.
The different world views between the more geeky technical of users and those that do the equally important but less geeky technical, I won't call interactions design non-technical no matter what you say, stuff can be hard to bridge in this type of discussion.
Sorry, interaction design is very much a non-technical discipline. As the honorary 'tech support guru' for an entire team of them, I really can't change my position on this.
To total derail the thread, What I have seen come out of interaction design teams and documentation is very technical, just not necessarily very computer technical. That is why a lot programmers suck at it.
Have you ever read the book "The Inmates are running the Ayslum"? It is good read on the why and the how of the current state of computer interfaces.
I have a master's degree in human-computer interaction. Yes, I have read the inmates are running the asylum.
There are plenty of 'technical' users who aren't 'computer technical' who can't make heads or tails of Linux. Seriously.
I started using computers in 1978, at age 12 (starting out on UNIX). Microsoft was a 3 year old company and Apple did not yet exist. I've used every version of Windows ever made from 1.01 through the 3x series, 9x series and the NT series (NT,XP, Vista, 7) and all server versions too. (NT, 2000, 2003 and 2008). I've ran Mac System 6-9, OS X versions, and many distros of Linux. Point being? in 32 years and counting, I've bee around the block a bit when it comes to computers.
Back when I started, everyone was inquisitive, helped each other out, and we all learned/taught ourselves and each other at the same time, dumbed-down OSes and skript kiddiez didn't exist.
I miss those days.
Windows/Mac brought the masses and much is possible with computers now, and that's all fine and good, but Linux is not meant for the masses. It never was, and it never will be. If the masses want to use it, fine. If the developers want to make it customizable (in ease, GUI, etc) for beginner, intermediate and experienced/advanced users, fine, but not at the cost of making Linux into a another dumbed-down OS like Mac OS X or Windows are.
It's been said that Linux is for geeks, coded by geeks, and that is largely true. I LIKE the technical barrier to keep people out. We don't need Linux being another clone of Windows/Mac OS X just for the sake of market share.
I started using computers at the age of 3 or so, starting with the Coleco Adam and the IBM XT. I learned how to read playing text-parser adventure games.
I really do not miss those days. The days of having to manually switch DMA and IRQ and reboot and reboot to be able to play a game (I did this at age 10!) Having to manually enter modem commands to dial out.All other sorts of voodoo that is completely useless to me now. Remember those days? They SUCKED. I do not miss them at all.
It sounds like you miss the community. I feel like a community with the attitude you espouse, though, is an extremely unfriendly community not welcoming to outsiders. How do newbies go from newbies to experienced users? This happens when experienced users reach out to them and help them. It sounds to me like that's something you don't want to do. I believe communities that don't reach out to newcomers will eventually dwindle and die – a necessary consequence of being unwelcome to newcomers. I don't want that to happen to the free software community.
"I feel like a community with the attitude you espouse, though, is an extremely unfriendly community not welcoming to outsiders. How do newbies go from newbies to experienced users? This happens when experienced users reach out to them and help them."
Clearly you were not computing in 1978, or you'd understand that what you aspire to see in the F/LOSS community existed before such a community even had a name for it.
I wasn't born in 1978, Ron.
"you’d understand that what you aspire to see in the F/LOSS community existed before such a community even had a name for it."
If you are so nostalgic for the good old days, then why are you seemingly against that spirit today?
I'm not against the spirit at all, but as I said, unless you were around back then, you truly can't understand unless you experienced it. Back them, there wasn't the cyber-egos, there wasn't the OS wars and technical pis*ing contests, but most of all, there wasn't the mass of general public users who treated the computer like a kitchen appliance. It was accepted back then that you had to figure it out, had to tinerk with it, but now, *most* people, the aforementioned masses, just "want to make it go" without understanding why it goes, how it goes, or what it's really doing to make their result happen. they just want the results. they have that 140 character Twitter-mindset.
Too many people do not think anymore. they use rote memorization and habit in most (dar I say if not all?) of their lives – even outside of computers. Regardless of what it is, computers or otherwise, they just want to (metaphorically-speaking) "push this button, pull this level, and X happens." If X doesn't happen, then "It's broken. I don't know. Can you fix it? I don't know. It's broken. I need help."
I can't change when I was born so I suppose I'm doomed to never understand?
I certainly remember as a child the OS/2 (we used OS/2 when it first came out) vs Windows wars. And the Mac users vs PC users. Are you so sure there weren't OS wars and technical pissing contests back then?
Geez, I remember huge flame wars when Sierra Online changed their text-parser adventure games to mouse-only input. Actually, I was involved in those flame wars on the Prodigy.net bulletin boards and I actually got my family's account suspended until my father called up customer service and told them I was only 11 years old…
"I can’t change when I was born so I suppose I’m doomed to never understand?"
Exactly. Intellectually you may understand the concept, but to match that intellectual knowledge to the actual experience? No. Can';t be done unless you were there. Heck, I can intellectually and conceptually understand WW2, but I'll never experience it, so in that way, I'm in the same boat on that subject.
What a way to 'win' an argument! I wonder if that'll work when I have kids.
I wasn't trying to "win", nor was I "arguing" at all.
I'd love to hear how you can fully experience something that happened before your time.
"I’d love to hear how you can fully experience something that happened before your time."
Ron, I am not arguing that point nor do I think that's a useful or productive 'point' to discuss. Obviously you can't fully experience something you couldn't have experienced first-hand – why would I ever argue such a point to you?
I would rather understand how closing the community today will revive the old days of folks being open and helping each other out. It seems as if you would rather discuss your experience of the days of 1978, which I certainly respect, but I also don't believe that discussion is helpful. It has completely shut down the productivity of this thread of conversation.
I tried to bring up counter-examples to 'the good old days', including PC vs. Mac, OS/2 vs. Windows, text-parser vs. mouse control – but you chose to ignore them and instead focus on 1978. Live and let live, I suppose.
I don't think he's won anything. I think instead he's trying to invalidate your opinion using some arbitrary qualification.
Sorry, but in 1978 there were (proportional) just as many unfriendly experienced users of technology as there are today. The difference is of scale, not type. They just apparently weren't that way to a 12 year old, who wasn't exactly a world traveller interacting with enough (or even a sufficiently representative number) of the hobbyist and professional computer people of the time.
Besides, things always seemed so much nicer "way back when"…
Let me guess… you weren't around back then either eh?
In the context of the conversation of enabling less computer-technical users to benefit from software freedom, why does this matter?
I miss the days when there weren't hospitals, and you had to know first aid in order to mend your wounds. In this day and age it's "Help me doctor, I'm sick!" and "I need X-Rays, I'm hurt." People today don't want to learn surgery, they don't want to spend their lives becoming medical specialists. This is what you get in the age of "Pharmacies" and "Hospitals". People waste their time mastering Unix or Windows or whatever, and then when they get hurt they go crying to medical professionals to help them.
You wouldn't understand this unless you were born before 1751.
I admire your passion for passion for bringing Linux to the masses, ease of use and all of that, but let's face it: NONE of the people you are trying to help are reading this thread, just as none of them are coding programs for Linux, nor are they on Slashdot, Usenet, IRC, etc and the list goes on.
Windows has a huge market share and he vast majority of people don't contribute there, even with the little bit of Windows that you CAN have access to; so why would be it any different with Linux (even though it's completely open)? We really have 2 distinct groups of users: The general public who just want to use it; and the other group us the tinkerers, the programmers, the developers, power users, network/sys admins, etc. These 2 groups aren't mutually exclusive to computers/technology though; there are end-users vs geeks in all areas. car geeks vs those who want to know the very basics and just want to drive, for example. the person who just wants to drive, doesn't care that it has a 455 Hemi and a Nitrous Tank, they just want it to get them from point A to point B, whereas the car geek would mull over the 455 hemi vs XYZ, etc.
When it comes to cars, I'm an end-user. When it comes to computers, I'm a geek. I think that there too is a valid point: priorities: The geek (of any subject) looks at (said subject) differently than an end-user will. In terms of computing, no programmer is the average end-user. They don't think, act, work like one, so for them to program the GUI or whatnot, is really insane. Ask Grandma to draw the picture on how it should work, then let the geekheads code it. Until that happens, ……………..
Anyway, these 2 camps will always be at odds. Let the "appliance crowd" use Mac OS X and Windows; let the geeks use Linux. Everyone will be happy then.
"NONE of the people you are trying to help are reading this thread,"
You have a refrigerator. Do you read trade industry magazines on home appliances? You own a house. Do you read carpentry and home contracting industry magazines? Do you have a right to own and use a refrigerator? Do you have a right to own and live in a house?
"Ask Grandma to draw the picture on how it should work, then let the geekheads code it. Until that happens, …………….."
Every time someone uses "Grandma" as an example of an inexperienced, clueless new user, I die a little inside. The elderly and the female have no less potential competence in computers than any younger or male person, I am sorry.
“NONE of the people you are trying to help are reading this thread,”
You have a refrigerator. Do you read trade industry magazines on home appliances?
You own a house. Do you read carpentry and home contracting industry magazines?
>> I have in the past, yes, but not a regular basis, no. Often times though you find knowledge there that cannot be found in non-commercial outlets.
Do you have a right to own and use a refrigerator?
>> Owning such things is not a right… I never read that in the Constitution or in the Bill of Rights. It's a privledge, not a right.
Do you have a right to own and live in a house?
>> Absolutely not. See the above. If it were a right, then I would be given a house, correct? "Rights" are not bought with money, nor are they given at birth, but rather they are bought and paid for by the blood of many.
“Ask Grandma to draw the picture on how it should work, then let the geekheads code it. Until that happens, ……………..”
Every time someone uses “Grandma” as an example of an inexperienced, clueless new user, I die a little inside. The elderly and the female have no less potential competence in computers than any younger or male person, I am sorry.
>> Here we will have to agree to disagree. While there are always exceptions to the rule, in my experience, this is not the case with the people I've dealt with. Most people just aren't that technical to begin with, elderly or otherwise.
There's a lot you have to learn.
Or I do. If it's me, please help me fit into one of the two kinds of users: I'm a desktop user. I enjoy Linux on my desktop. I use GNOME in a pretty much default setting and am happy with that. Ocassionally I fire up Inkscape to draw a dick, expect a printer to work out of box, so I can print it out and annoy my neighbors. Then I open rhythmbox to play fanfare for how awesome thing have I just done. And tweet about it. Things just work and I'm happy. Nothing particularly geeky.
If something malfunctions, I'm usually not afraid (unless it's python) to fire up a debugger and fix a thing. All in all, that's mostly my $dayjob. For some reason that starts to fit with your "geek" definition. I don't think I'm much of a geek, still I believe I maintain a rather solid understanding of the software I use (if you bother googling for my free software contributions, you'd probably find shit ranging from to Linux kernel patches to fixes to Perl interpreter). I probably am not alone with this. Most of my friends don't really have an idea how did cairo lay out that dick drawing on a paper, still they are "tinkerers" when it comes to Java, networking or probably virtualization or whatever. The rest draws nicer dicks than I do.
If you're able to to fit us into your two categories now, you can stop reading now and I probably made an useless comment. Otherwise, please grow up. Rethink your attitude towards computer users. There are no more creators and consumers. It's long gone. There's no reason a hacker would not want the software he does not understand to work and make his work more productive. There's no solemn reason the Linux desktop would be better than Windows one (I still maintain that it's the community, both user and developer one that makes Windows attractive for masses.)
I feel offended by your idea of leaving Linux to "geeks," just as I am of your stereotype of "grandma" being incapable. Nowadays, Linux users probably enjoy having a most usable desktop compared to OSX and NT and they're usually the easiest ones to exchange data with. I wish more people were that "interoperable." I fail to understand why do you exclude your "appliance crowd" from this. I am probably part of that crowd myself.
(By the way, I do not have a smallest idea about how the heck does reading Slashdot relate to this.)