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Re: comments on dselect...not unreasonable

Quoth Walter Tautz, 

> I would slightly concur with your assessment of dselect but
> only in the sense that it lists simply too many packages. I 
> am not sure, but perhaps it is possible to present the various
> software types in a less verbose manner. Sort of like the slrn
> news reader where one could collapse dependency trees depending
> on the software. It would be nice to collapse certain dependency
> trees while maintaining others..

Every now and then on the list we have a healthy flamewar about the pros
and cons of dselect. Those who are new to debian argue that dselect is
unintuitive and hard to use. Those who have an emotional investment in
dselect (ie., they wrote it, or experienced the pain of learning how to
use it), argue that online help is available and easy to find.

While online help is certainly available, that doesn't cut it if we want
debian to be a usable distribution. Yes, Unix/Linux is hard to learn, as
it should be, but many people will be put off if they can't make it
through such an essential step in installation. The fact that so many
people complain about dselect is suficient proof that it's too difficult
to use. The fact that so many people accidently delete all the packages
in their system establishes that it's not designed for novice users
(ie., those installing debian for the first time).

Part of the problem is the wonderful number of packages available to be
installed in debian. While 4000+ packages is great for debian users,
going through them all in the one list in dselect is clearly
unreasonable. Maybe collapsing categories or something would be useful,
but it's unworkable as it stands.

There are, of course, other alternatives to dselect, such as aptitute
and capt, but AFAIK neither of these are installed by default. With the
tasks packages it may not be as necessary for those installing to even
see dselect, but if you want to browse the available packages, it's
probably more likely to be used than: 

cat /var/state/apt/lists/* | grep ^Package: |less

or similar.

Unfortunatly dselect is something of a sacred cow in debian. It's like
an ugly and dangerous, but historically significant, building that can't
be renovated or pulled down, but which people try to avoid looking at.
Maybe one day it'll be replaced by something easier to use, but I'm not
holding my breath.

I'm sure people are going to disagree with my assessment, claiming
that dselect is user friendly, it's just that all the users are too
stupid to use it. So maybe we need some good data.

Is there anyone out there in debian-user land who is into computers,
studying psychology[1], and looking for a little project? Set up a
little experiment getting niave (windows?) users to try and install a
number of packages using dselect. To make it interesting, throw in a few
examples with hairy dependencies. Keep track of things like number of
errors, time taken, use of help, and the number who result in a totally
fscked system. There is shite loads of literature out there on HCI and
usability studies, so you should have no trouble setting it all up
properly. Feed back your results to debain-user, and to the maintainers
of dselect, capt, aptitude, etc.

This is something I'd love to do myself, but unfortunately I've now
moved out of psych to criminology (while HCI is interesting, homicide is
much cooler!).


damon (who has his asbestos suit standing by...)

[1] HCI and usability isn't something that should be done by computer
scientists unless they have a particular intrest in the field - they
bring too many prior preconceptions to the studies.

Damon Muller              | Did a large procession wave their torches
Criminologist/Linux Geek  | As my head fell in the basket,
http://killfilter.com     | And was everybody dancing on the casket...
PGP (GnuPG): A136E829     |                      - TBMG, "Dead"

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