Gruber on software usability

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Macintosh
April 9th, 2004 • 1:35 am

If you are interested in software usability issues and the computer industry as a whole (included Windows, Linux, etc.), then the recent debate about the usability of Linux — triggered by “The Luxury of Ignorance: An Open-Source Horror Story“, an article by open source guru Eric Raymond (who obviously still thinks that Helvetica is a nice, readable screen font), and rendered Mac-relevant by a two-part response written by Mac pundit John Gruber’s response to it — provides a worthy, entertaining read.

If, however, you are, like me, mostly concerned with things like the fact that the “mouse over” effect for the Mac OS X window controls is not as finely tuned as it should be, then you are likely to feel much more discouraged than entertained by this debate.

Of course, John Gruber is entirely right when he says that the major problem with open source software is that there is no incentive to provider a good user interface, because the commercial viability of open source software depends on the need for additional “services and support”. If the interface of your software is so good that even your grandma can use it, what kind of “services and support” are you going to be selling to make ends meet?

What is discouraging to me is that so much of today’s on-line discussions is still devoted to such fundamental issues. It’s like someone arguing over the relative merits of a graphic user interface vs. a command-line interface. Hasn’t everything that needs to be said about this been said?

At this point in time, on-line discussions about usability should be devoted to outstanding usability issues that remain in even the best-designed software out there (which, in most cases, is Macintosh software). But should we really still have to explain to open source advocates the importance of placing usability at the very centre of software development?

If I were John Gruber, I’d feel very discouraged that I still have to write what he just wrote.

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