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Re: Interesting article

> What a disappointment... The world is black and white, Free software
> is doomed and male free software developers are the vermin of society,
> asocial and weird ... Hmm, why should I take the rest of the article
> serious?</sarcasm>

I agree with your disappointment, Frank. However, my disappointment --
and irritation -- stems from the utter inaccuracy of the following

"For example, a core element of geek culture is a focus on 'hard'
technical issues, such as operating system internals and network
stacks, with a corresponding scorn for 'human' issues, such as
usability and user interface design. When people (male and female) who
care about usability attempt to contribute to FLOSS projects, they're
often ignored, jeered at or told, 'What do you mean, it's ugly? I can
use it!' The result? Linux desktops like KDE/Gnome, which no one but a
propellerhead could love."

This is patently wrong.

While I do not have the requisite knowledge to feel comfortable
discussing on KDE and usability issues, as a researcher who has formal
training in human-computer interaction, and who uses GNOME every day,
I would, however, like to counter Michelle and Greg's assertions
regarding usability and GNOME.

Usability has been a core concern of the GNOME project for many
years. This is evidenced by the existence of the GNOME Usability
Project (GUP; http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/), whose lucid
article "Why GNOME Hackers Should Care about Usability" emphasises
that software development should be driven by users and usability,
while explicating that usability is not about dumbing software down,
nor is it about piling on features or simply making software
aesthetically pleasing; rather usability is concerned with making
software easy to use for everyone -- novices and advanced users alike.

In addition to general articles on usability, the GNOME Usability
Project have also produced the GNOME Human Interface Guidelines (HIG;
http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gup/hig/2.0/), a document written
for software developers, interface designers, and graphic artists
involved in creating software for the GNOME environment. The HIG is a
comprehensive document, covering many aspects of HCI, usability, and
interface design, including prototyping, user testing, requirements
analysis, and desktop integration, as well as more mundane (though no
less important) topics such as design simplicity, and menu and toolbar
layout. I would encourage anyone who doubts GNOME's committment to
usability to at least skim this document.

Furthermore, as well as providing documentation for developers on
usability and user interface design practice, the GUP actively works
with developers and maintainers to find existing interaction problems
through user testing.

Claiming that "no one but a propellerhead could love [GNOME]" shows an
impressive lack of attention to recent news in the FLOSS community. In
2002, the regional government of Extremadura, Spain installed 80,000
computers -- running GNOME -- in schools, public administration, and
enterprises across the region; I highly doubt that all 160,000 users
(each computer is shared between two users) who have benefited from
this venture are propellerheads. More recently, the Chinese government
have announced plans to use GNOME on 200 million desktops, and in
August, U.K.'s National Health Service announced the purchase of 5,000
licenses for Sun Microsystems Inc.'s Java Desktop System, which is
based on GNOME. None of these ventures seem to me to be indicative of
GNOME being a propellerhead-only desktop.

Finally, the Gnome Accessibility Project (GAP;
http://developer.gnome.org/projects/gap/) has developed a suite of
software services and support, allowing people with disabilities to
fully utilize the GNOME desktop, in conjunction with assistive
technologies (screen readers, eye-trackers, head-mounted pointers,
etc.) if necessary. Once again, this kind of project seems to directly
counter Michelle and Greg's assertion that usability is not a critical
concern for GNOME.

I'm aware that the discussion of usability and GNOME is not on-topic
for this list, however, inaccuracy about something that is as easy to
fact-check as GNOME's usability intiative does not lend credibility to
the rest of the article. As it happens, I don't agree with some of the
authors' more specific comments regarding the reasons for the lack of
women in the FLOSS community, but I am concerned that readers may be
discouraged from taking the more general concerns about the small
numbers of women involved in free and open source software projects
seriously, dismissing them as being as erroneous as the article's
assertions about the GNOME community.

hanna m. wallach
blog: http://join-the-dots.org/
work: http://www.inference.phy.cam.ac.uk/hmw26/

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