Free software usability

Matthew Paul Thomas has a piece which tries to get to grips with the causes of poor usability in Free and Open Source Software (FOSS). He doesn’t dodge the problems and their origin in FOSS development methods and the rewards for participating in FOSS. He also has proposals for tackling the problems.

Free software usability

Back in 2004 John Gruber wrote an influential piece called Ronco spray-on usability. Here’s an extract:

“UI development is the hard part. And it’s not the last step, it’s the first step. In my estimation, the difference between:

  • software that performs function X; and
  • software that performs function X, with an intuitive well-designed user interface

isn’t just a little bit of extra work. It’s not even twice the work. It’s an entire order of magnitude more work. Developing software with a good UI requires both aptitude and a lot of hard work.”


“ … the undeniable truth is this: successful open source software projects tend to be at the developer-level, not the end-user level. E.g., successful open source projects have programming interfaces, not user interfaces. Apache, Perl, Python, gcc, PHP, the various SQL databases. The list of fantastic open source developer software is long.

The list of fantastic open source GUI software is short. This is not a function of chance.

The open source revolution has done nothing to change the fact that the best-designed, most-intuitive user interfaces are found in closed-source commercial software.”

Ronco spray-on usability

For a longer paper on this issue, try

The Usability of Open Source Software Nichols & Twidale 2003

This entry was posted in Copyright & IP, Technology & IP, User Interface Design and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.