I have an interesting experience recently. I attended a two-hour training on how to use EvilApps. It’s pretty silly, but I have two hours to kill and I was too lazy to explore the software myself. I have also been cooped up in my apartment for too long and need to get some sun.
I will not talk about the evilness of EvilApps, for that will resulted in a long boring rant. Instead I would like to mention a few interesting questions asked by the audience during the training.
EvilApps is a Windows application that cannot be replaced by a Linux equivalent, and cannot run in WINE. The only way to run EvilApps successfully is to run it in a Microsoft Windows Operating System.
EvilApps is a real proprietary software, but it’s name has been changed to protect it’s identity Here is a previous post which mentioned EvilApps.
1. Isn’t the CDROM drive E?
The trainer was demonstrating the installation of EvilApps. In the first step, he said, “Please put the install CD into the CDROM. If the installation program did not automatically run, please open My Computer and double-click on drive D.” (remember: this was MS Windows platform).
At which point, a member of the audience (let’s refer him as Mr. A) asked, “Drive D? Shouldn’t it be drive E?” There was a momentary confusion as the question did not make much sense, until the trainer realised that in Mr. A’s PC, the CDROM was mapped to drive E. From then on, the trainer changed tack, and said, “Open My Computer and double-click on the CD icon.” Ah, confusion solved.
Mr. A did not understand that there was no hard links between the CDROM device and a particular drive letter.
I think Ubuntu did a better job here. When you insert a CD, the CD icon appeared in your desktop and in Places menu. No confusion about drive letters.
This whole discussion about double-clicking CDROM to install an application is irrelevant in Ubuntu anyway, since Ubuntu don’t install it’s application in this manner (except in very rare circumstances).
One thing Ubuntu needs to be careful about though, is not to replace the CDROM icon with another custom icon found in the CDROM, or to provide the facility for doing so. Taking the above example, the confusion between the trainer and Mr. A would have gone on even longer if the CDROM icon was replaced by the EvilApps icon (this is a common occurrence in Windows).
2. Shouldn’t we drag-n-drop the icon?
First, the trainer was demonstrating how to customise the toolbars, by drag-n-drop buttons between the toolbars and the “Customised Toolbar” dialogbox. Later, he demonstrated a feature, which was launched by clicking the toolbar button.
At that point, Mr. B asked, “We click the icon? Should we drag-n-drop the icon? I thought you said to drag-n-drop.”
Mr. B did not understand the difference between changing/editing the toolbar, and using the toolbar buttons.
Arguably, editing the toolbar is an advanced feature and would never be needed for a typical user. In fact, for many members of the audience, the toolbar customisations were done for them by the training staff (as part of the software support).
This does not mean that Ubuntu should lock all toolbars from being editable. The default toolbars should be the most used, but advanced users should be able to edit the toolbars to their preference. In addition, there should always be an easy way to restore to the default toolbar configuration (in case you messed up). I feels this is one area where Ubuntu is lacking, and most times, I think the Gnome desktop went overboard in locking the ability to easily customise the GUI.
3. Type in “cancel” on the password prompt?
During the training, there was an instance when a password prompt appeared, when we click on a plug-in editing function. Since the plug-in was proprietary and we were not allowed to see the script, the password was not given. Instead, we were required to click the Cancel button.
At the point, Mr. C wanted to clarify. “Sir,” he addressed the trainer. “Could you repeat the previous step? I type in “cancel” on the password prompt?”
I am not sure what went on in Mr. C’s mind when he asked the question. I am guessing that Mr. C did not know that clicking Cancel button is not the same as entering the password “cancel”.
I really don’t know what to say about this. What is the solution when a user don’t know the function of the Cancel button? I could only think of better education, but this is a general problem that is not related to whatever OS you use.
Often, we heard people arguing that Ubuntu would never be mainstream until the Ubuntu folks solved the perceived usability issues. The commonly heard refrain is the grandma argument: “until my grandma is able to use Ubuntu, it would never catches on” (no offense to grandmothers, I am just quoting the common refrain).
This argument missed to point. I actually think that some people are simply not computer savvy, not by a long shot. These could even be perfectly intelligent and wise people in other facets of live. However, they have great difficulty in understanding (or sometimes, no inclination to understand) the various computing concepts we took for granted. It does not matter what current OSes they are presented with.
These people need to use a computer because that’s the world we all lived in today: computers are becoming a fact of life we can’t escape from. Otherwise, they would be more than happy to avoid computers entirely.
No amount of GUI tinkering would cure the grandma usability problem. Instead, as long as there are consistent ways of doing things they cared about (with step-by-step instructions and/or proper guidance by a trusted person), I think this problem would be largely irrelevant.