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Matthew Thomas' Ubuntu thoughts
Last April, Matthew Thomas wrote up some thoughts on the usability of Ubuntu while he was using it. Sadly, he doesn't have a contact form on his site, and comments are closed, so I'll have to comment on this in my blog and hope I one day find out how to let him know in person:
7. Many controls change their appearance when the mouse pointer is over them, which is misleading because they’re not changing their state, and distracting if the pointer is just passing over the control on the way to something else.
It's something I can't point out often enough. Mouse-overs are generally a sign of bad design and too much eye-candy. Clickable hot spots should be obvious right away, so there's no use using mouse-overs to indicate clickable areas in general. When used as eye-candy they're usually distracting and confuse users. Just say "No".
10. … A foot icon? What’s that about, anyway? Ubuntu’s logo isn’t a foot.
This is one of the main reasons why I think desktop Linux has such big problems: It's made of oodles of heterogeneous projects, and there's still not enough infrastructure in place to allow easily customising each component to integrate into a coherent whole. But they're working on it. I hope it's at all possible...
18. Ubuntu supports the annoying and near-useless Insert and Caps Lock keys, with no obvious way to deactivate them. (Windows and Mac OS also make the mistake of supporting Caps Lock. I mention it here because Ubuntu — unlike Windows or Mac OS — offers no fewer than five options for “CapsLock [sic] key behavior”, but none of them are “Off”.)
This is something that's been annoying me more and more recently. I find myself constantly switching between several keyboards: A smaller one at work, my ergonomic one at home and the regular full-size ones at Uni, and thus it happens that I accidentally hit caps lock and get half a sentence in ALL CAPS before I even notice... Caps Lock is a typewriter key. Nobody uses it anymore. Those that want this feature would be just as well served with "Capitals" and "Small Caps" text styles and corresponding menu items in their word processors. Sadly, OS X, too, only lets me exchange caps lock with control. I can't turn it off completely. If there's one legacy thing I'd remove from future keyboards, it'd be caps-lock.
28. When returning after locking the screen, the interface for logging in again is completely different from that for logging in normally, for no apparent reason.
This is something Windows gets beautifully right. When you leave your computer, it switches you back to the login screen, though displaying some info under your user name (# of unread e-mails and running applications). This is nice, because if there are other users they can log in the same way they would when starting the machine, while it's still obvious your stuff is still running.
The same interface shows the current time, for no apparent reason. (Perhaps it should show the current temperature too.)
I actually think that time display is something every device with a display should be able to do. And they should do it constantly, in a consistent location. It's very annoying, for example that my MP3 player, that I carry around with me all day long, within easy reach, doesn't show the time on its display. I'd say that, maybe with the exception of when the screen saver is on or the screen is in energy saving mode, or you're doing a fullscreen game or so, the OS should display the time in the same location. So, if the task bar has the time in the lower right, the login screen should show the time there as well.
31. It also features a fuel gauge indicating how much time you have left to type your password. Not only is this unnerving to slow typists with nice long passphrases, it is only necessary because of another design flaw: the screensaver resumes a fixed time after the first key you press, rather than being postponed with every key you press.
While I agree, I think a timer showing you it's going to revert to screen saving in a little while is a nice touch. OTOH, a text display "Re-activating screen saver in 20s..." would be nice if they don't have that in addition to the gauge.
37. By default, when opening a folder window, the parent window closes automatically. This surprises (...) people (...). It is unfixably inconsistent (...) And it (...) is extremely difficult to get source and destination folders open simultaneously.
This is actually a huge problem with Windows Explorer as well, since at least some versions of it have no "New Window" menu item and the only way to get a second window to move a file from one folder to another further up is to either turn on the old Win311-style folder view, or to double-click the My Computer icon to get a second window... not too intuitive.
46. Clicking once in the address field does not do what people want 99 percent of the time, which is selecting the address so it can be replaced by typing a new one.
I'm not sure I'd want this behaviour for all text fields, though, and having this just for the address field is inconsistent. I'd like to hear more from Matt about this, since I don't think he'd overlook the inconsistency.
47. The icons for all available toolbar buttons in Firefox face directly towards you, except for the Home button, making it look out of place.
If done on purpose, this might be rather smart, though. "Home" is an important place for the user to get back to, and finding that icon faster because it stands out would be great.
51. By default, the arrangement of the Bookmarks window is such that the name of every bookmarks folder is truncated.
That's a pet peeve of mine with many Windows and open-source apps, like FileZilla, MPlayer, VLC... even the Mac versions show excessively wide "author" columns for movies even when no movie in the list has an author, show the duration with oodles of whitespace and truncate the file name to the first word... Dynamically adjusting column widths to match the size of data displayed would be really handy here.
57. Evolution’s Preferences dialog, and its “Account Editor”, both fall off the bottom of the screen by default.
The Mac has a fun variation on this: The Print Panel (using the HP DeskJet print driver) remembers its position on screen based on the lower left corner, it appears. It starts out centered. When you change to a different tab, it enlarges in size, moving down a tad. Next time, it starts out that much lower. Now you go to that larger tab again, and after a while it will move down so far that the OK button is *always* underneath the dock.
61. Chat windows have a “Send” button, which will slow some people down by misleading them into thinking that they need to click the button every time they type something, instead of pressing Enter.
Here I disagree strongly. I constantly have to remind web browser users that they have to type return to actually view the page whose address they just typed in the address field. If there was a "Go!" button like in old versions of CompuServe, they'd just click that and be self-sufficient, but with no indication you have to hit return, and no other way to call up the address's page, they are bound to fail.
A great read, and lots of food for thoughts, this list of Matt's thoughts on Ubuntu. I hope he'll be writing more... there's been not much more in the last four months, I hope Matt is just busy and will soon have some time to blog again.
Created: 2006-06-16 @055 Last change: 2018-04-25 @568 | Home | Admin | Edit|
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