Amy Reynolds offers her perspective on the current state of skinning (or thememing as it is also called) one’s operating system. As a professional user interface designer, Amy has concerns that the very existance of themes and skins does a dis-service to an operating system or platform. Amy also offers her insight for a hotly debated topic that has been making the rounds on the KDE mailing list which asks, “How configurable should the KDE desktop be?” She characteristically says “I applaud Gnome for having taken the high rode in this [less is more] case.”
Opinion: Themes Getting Under My Skins
2003-09-05 Graphics 54 Comments
I applaud Gnome for having taken the high rode in this case.
The “high road” now means agreeing with Amy Reynolds’? Personally one of the things that attracted me to Linux is the ability to customize things exactly how I want them. As opposed to someone arbitrarily deciding what the “best” interface for myself and thousands (if not millions) of other users.
I also find it hard to believe that changing my scrollbar color from gray to red, for example, is going to negatively affect my ability to navigate an interface. I even go between XD2’s default taskbar setup (two taskbars) and Windows’ single taskbar without a problem.
Her argument completely ignores the fact that I will be changing GUIs regularly regardless of whether KDE becomes rigid, I switch from Win2K, to WinXP, to Win98, to Redhat regularly every day between the various computers I use.
My opinion, give people options. That’s part of what the open source movement is about, isn’t it?
People who want to debate the “less is more”, I suggest they first read this in its entirety before replying here: http://www.ometer.com/free-software-ui.html
hang on bit.
she was the one who rubbished work by people who do it for free. For no real good reason.
just as she had a right to air her views , so do I ….right. I though her article was less than decent.
I apologise for coming across as too agressive …. and i take ur point.
But u know im right…..even though i didnt say it in the right way
Quite nice article, although not my point of view at all.
First, it’s cool that somebody (even a professional in this case) takes the time to tell us him/her opinion about this topic, which I’m interested in.
The disadvantages of skinning are accurately portrayed. From what I can tell, my family members sometimes get problems with using their “computer” (Windows XP) when I’ve changes the theme from Luna to something else, which invokes nothing more than colors and some unimportant shapes. I myself do not have such problems, must be because I’m a programmer. (You know, programmers and designers never get along… and I don’t even dare to think about end users.)
For that reason, I can’t agree to the article’s bottom line. Skinning is perspective for me. To minimize problems, a decent default theme is necessary (ever met a Mac user who wanted to skin Aqua?) so users who don’t want skinning don’t have a reason to do it anyway. Granted, some people like Luna and I don’t want to flame it, but _I_ can’t stand it on my machine. But of course I’m very curious about Aero, that will be a different thing than a simple skin anyway.
My bottom line: If end users don’t get used to skinning, let us programmers and you designers not give them a reason to. But don’t completely trash it.
To grossly oversimplifiy, there are two kinds of users in the world: people who view their computers as appliances, and people who read sites like OSNews.
Amy’s comments are totally relevant to the former group. My mom doesn’t like her computer. She likes sending and receiving email and looking things up on the web. The computer is a tool that facilitates these functions, and the more transparent it can make itself, the better.
Amy’s comments are much less relevant to the latter group. I like my computers. I like sending and receiving email, too, and looking things up on the web, and doing lots of other things that a typical computer user would do. But I also like getting under the hood. I like tinkering. It is not difficult for me to “reprogram” myself to use multiple interfaces. Computers are my profession, my enthusiasm, and my hobby.
Both perspectives need to exist. Neither can or will ever rise to the exclusion of the other, and to suggest that they will (or even should) is a mistake.
There are people who like to read — and there are bibliophiles. To say that we all need to use the same user interface is to completely miss the point. Maybe our reading would be completely optimized with a particular font with a particular colour of paper with a particular gloss factor, reflectiveness, size and shape — but “book interface designers” aren’t going around yelling about how books need to be standardized for the good of the reading public. Or if they are, they’re being marginalized, and properly so.
I’ve heard about KDE having more options than Gnome, but what exactly are the theme differences between KDE and Gnome? Most of the KDE themes I’ve seen are no more “different” than the Gnome themes I’ve seen. What themeing capabilities does KDE have that Gnome doesn’t?
The professional themes out there (Kermakic, Industrial, BlueCurve, Galaxy) all seem very similar useability wise and are all aesthetically pleasing in their own ways. They work in the same way that MacOS, Windows 3.x, Windows95-ME/NT/2K, Windows XP, and OSX work. Same basic widgets, different look. Sure there are crappy themes out there that are hard to use, but with a well designed theme, I can’t see any user having problems switching.
The type of themeing I hate is when apps that have their own complete look and feel. Multimedia apps are really bad offenders (WINAMP, XMMS, RealPlayer, Xine, MPlayer, Quicktime, MusicMatch, Zinf, Windows Media Player). Give me Totem or KPlayer any day. Since they have standard Gnome and KDE interfaces, I don’t have to “figure them out” to use them. They also fit don’t clash with my desktop.
It is funny that _almost_ no one here actually comments on what Amy is writing, but instead they are debating the “Gnome Vs KDE” thing.
For the record, I agree with what Amy says. I suggest you actually read her article before replying.
Make the OS as configurable as humanly possible, but set the defaults to a setting wherein most mainstream users (aka non-geeks) will be happy with the usability, thus relegating tweaking and customobility to geeks such as m’self.
A fairly good example is Windows: By default, it works, and other than colors and fonts, most users don’t tweak too much more. Quite simply, it allows them to get their job done, and that’s what they want.
Myself however, I’m constantly tweaking and trying to find solutions which will allow me to build the GUI environment that I want. I’m talking hidden “pop-out” menus, dropdown shortcuts to both collections of shortcuts, and to commonly referenced files and directories. Etcetera…
I myself don’t feel I’m working at full capacity unless my most common tools and shortcuts are only a click or two away, whereas most users have a desktop full of icons, and a Start Menu with evern more icons. We’ve all seen it… A friend asks you to work on their Windows box, and after getting frustrated trying to find the icon for the app. you want on their desktop, you open the start menu, only to have the desktop fill with rows and rows of additional icons.
Myself, I spend the time to sort my start menu (Productivity, Graphics, Games, Development, Networking, etc), but I’m the exception here. Most users don’t have a clue as to where to begin sorting their items, nor would they take the time out to determine the most productive way to sort their items (Although after seeing my setups, I often get pestered to “do theirs”. It’s rather annoying at times). And a poorly thought out arrangement of files is probably as bad, if not worse than the myriad of icons that most Windows users end up with.
Where I’m getting to is this: Most users don’t want to bother with the time of optimizing their setup because they just want to get the job done. For those of use who can foresee the time wasted trying to find something, as opposed to the efficiency that a well thought out file/GUI arrangement can bring, customization is a neccesity.
As for the whole KDE vs. Windows vs. the rest thing… Windows XP was a huge step forward in GUI configurability, and allowed me to get rid of several 3rd party apps that I’d been using to achieve similar results with Windows 2000 and previous.
It does however still have some room to grow. For instance, I hate the fact that you can’t “drill down” through links as you can with Linux’s symlinks. This kind of ties in more with the underlying file structure/system, but it’s also an area that Windows is severely lacking in.
This also brings up a good point: A customizable GUI should integrate with the underlying filesystem nicely. BeOS’s famous queryable file system is an excellent example! You can have links/icons to querys that assemble a huge range of files based on your search criteria.
With Windows, you can tie a search to an icon, but all’s it does it pop open the search GUI with some pre-filled details. You still have to wait for the search, and you still can’t search on file details; Just content and file names/properties basically.
KDE on the other hand is a gift from god to those of us who want a highly customized GUI, without being forced to rely on a lot of 3rd part addons. And there’s areas of KDE which cannot be tweaked which I wish could be, so there’s room for even more configurability in KDE IMHO.
Colors, for instance, are nowhere near as tweakable as Windows, from a system perspective. Yes, you can generally tweak apps to your hearts content, but it’s on a “per program” basis, not via a KDE GUI. Font colors in particular should be more tweakable from the system GUI, and not from per program config files.
Personally, I think that KDE and the forthcoming version of ReiserFS hold a lot of promise as far as integrating the GUI and Filesystem into a usable beast. Just image being able to have a folder icon, which when clicked would query and provide you with a virtual folder full of files meeting your criteria (Mp3’s with a bitrate of 192k or higher, in the genre of ‘Rock’, for instance! Or maybe additional directories which link only to folders full of images). Meta data is the next logical step with filesystems. Windows Longhorn’s promising similar functionality, but that’s really just a pipe dream at this point, and since Longhorn’s been postponed indefinately at this point, I think it’s a great opportunity for Linux to win some converts.
Gnome… Is Gnome. I’ve never cared for the speed, or the fact that you have to tweak a lot of config files by hand to really customize it.
Skinning in general is a good thing. I know I’ve went on a lot about the customobility of the OS, but really, if an OS is skinnable, than by default any apps run under the OS are also. Yes, a lot of apps support per-app skinability, and I’ve seen some really great uses of that recently (Winamp 3’s skins blow me away!), but I really look for themeability (yes, I am making up words now) and customization from the OS level before I even consider what apps can do.
In summary: Customization and tweakability are a good thing. If you don’t like them, then don’t use them. It’s your choice. I can’t think of any modern, GUI-based OS out there that isn’t usable with it’s default look & feel. Being able to “get under the hood” and optimize the program or OS for my personal work habits and style is what’s going to determine my OS of choice though!
A certain amount of customization will always be necessary. For example, in Windows you have to juggle at the minimum your screen resolution and font size until you have something usable. And these settings would be different for different users (such as users with good vs. bad eyesight).
I agree with what amy’s saying really .
Use IceWM and get simple/stylish/usable theming! (http://www.icewm.org/)
… has shown that an individual is significantly more productive when he or she uses the same familiar interface throughout his or her computing experience.
The problem that introducing multiple user interfaces brings, is that if a person goes from home to work, or from one computer to another and had a major change to his or her user-interface experience, that individual must then retrain their subconscious to complete the same task which previously was done without active thought.
The following are logical conclusions:
1. all home Linux users must configure your system to look and feel like Windows 95.
2. Microsoft must now change all user interfaces back to the 95 look and feel, and never change them again!
3. the Mac must be eliminated.
4. users really are that dumb!
Simply saying that an opinion article “sucks” is neither succinct nor insightful. If you feel that the opinion is ill founded, explain why. This site could benefit from from more agressive modding, IMO. Please leave the sand throwing for the playground and slashdot.
…what the so-called (and often self-declared) user interface experts think? The power of open source software is that each user can bypass expert opinions if one chooses. As much as they dream of being able to, Eugenia, Havoc, Amy, and all the other “less-is-more” folks are cannot control what you get to do on your desktop.
Now, if they can convince you that they are right, that’s another story entirely.
To grossly oversimplifiy, there are two kinds of users in the world: people who view their computers as appliances, and people who read sites like OSNews.
Amy’s comments are totally relevant to the former group.
As someone who is clearly reading OSNews and whom agrees with Amy, I have to disagree with you. Making everything configurable is a way in which many FOSS developers cop out of having to spend time actually designing the interface.
User Interface design in FOSS software is treated the same as documentation; its bottom of the list, its treated as a nuisance and it is rarely done properly if it is done at all. Skinning can never and will never hide this; it is a crutch used to pretend that the user interface is not barely usable.
First, I respect Amy’s opinion, although it is more of a proffesional deformation – professional designers like to have the last word on design, instead of having dilettants desecrate their creations by means of “easy customization”. If you ask interior designers, they all think that do-it-yourself interior design is garbage should be banned, and can find lots of convincing examples to support their attitude.
That said, I find her conclusion (that Gnome makes an “infinitely better” desktop becuse its look and feels is less easily ruined by people with no artistic taste whatsoever) silly at best. I have used both extensively, and it terms of usability KDE wins hands down. KDE has a few really nice themes, and to prevent the kitsch on _corporate_ desktop it should only be possible for system administrators to reduce Joe User’s privilleges for doing customizations there.
I agree with you and Amy, Eugenia.
Ultimate customisability is not always helpful. For example, whenever I get a new version of M$ Word, I move all the toolbars, views, etc to be exactly where I had them the first time I used Word ’95. I’d much prefer it if someone sat down, carefully thought about how and why certain layouts would be an improvement, and fixed it at that. Then as I use the product, I would learn the new interface, and no doubt come to realise that the layout that has been very carefully thought out is actually an improvement on how I used to work.
I’m not completely against changing the look of certain things (so visually impared users can have high contrast, large fonts, etc) but altering the behaviour of components should never be done.
The other problem is when you get an OS with a wide variety of looks, it is very hard for users to identify it based on a screenshot. Also, developers each have their OS looking different, and thus all apps ever produced have their own different look and feel.
First, the article’s layout is horrendous. Try viewing it in Opera, and you’ll see. Not fun to have to scroll left and right to read an article.
“… the vast majority of themes and skins are, to put it bluntly… garbage…”
Not all skinners are professionals. Go figure.
“The problem that introducing multiple user interfaces brings, is that if a person goes from home to work, or from one computer to another and had a major change to his or her user-interface experience, that individual must then retrain their subconscious to complete the same task which previously was done without active thought.”
So, we should all just have the exact same UI, with the exact same widgets and the exact same color, just in case of the off-chance that someone else might use my computer, they’ll be 100% familiar with it.
Sorry, but there is no “I” in “Drone”.
Eugenia we all know you are pro-GNOME, so your views or opinions are distorted. That been said, I disagree completely with the article. And, yes, Eugina I read it. And I do so for the following reasons:
1) Judging aesthetics is subjective. Eugina you like GNOME for whatever reasons. Not everybody does. Why? Because we are unique individuals, with disparate backgrounds, different cultures, history, nationality, religion etc that make our preferences and tastes different.
2) Customization is needed for optimal productivity. I’m a 6″4 tall individual. And everytime I drive someone elses vehicle, I need to adjust almost everything that can be adjusted from the driver seat, the rear view mirror, the radio station, the air conditioner, air conditioner vents and sometimes the steering wheel if it can be adjusted. How comfortable would you be if all vehicles came with a defualt driver seat, rear view mirror and steering wheel arrangement for all heights, sizes, shapes, and individuals? The same applies to productivity on computers. This isn’t a “less is more” issue, this is a people perform better when they are comfortable and relaxed in whatever environment.
3) Developers, professional, consultants all make mistakes and can be wrong. Yes, she’s a professional. Yes, she’s experienced. Yes, she undertook a well thought out project. But that doesn’t make her views any more or less “correct”. The issue of theming is so subjective that every individual probably has a take on it. And you know what, every individual might have a true point to contribute. There is no holy grail of theming and user interfaces to rule them all, because there will always be one person disgusted by the supposedly perfect theme.
4) KDE vs GNOME debates are good. I don’t like GNOME. Why? Because it doesn’t provide me with the options to customize my digital environment to the point I that I reach my productive peak. And may be I may be wrong. Maybe it does, but I just have other beefs with it that just pisses me. Maybe its first impression did nothing to inspire me. Whatever my reason is, it should be aired to the public. Developers do make adjustments based on gripes and if we keep these gripes to ourselves, what good is it?
5). “Empower the User”. When a drive a car, or I play a game, or I mow the lawn, I like to be in control. When you restrict the control a user has over what he or she can or cannot do, you restrict the users creativity, you restrict their rights to choice, you restrict their comfort, you restrict their confidence and then you eventually restrict their productivity. The “I-am-your-GOD-use-my-default-settings-and-dont’t-ask-questions-becaus e-the-default-is-right” mentality will kill lots of projects. Why? Because computer literacy is on the rise. 20 years from now, God bless that person who doesn’t know to change his/her theme. Even my mother enjoys changing her background once in a while and tell me to remove icons she doesn’t like. You would have though since she is almost computer illiterate, she’ll just make do with the default.
>> KDE has a few really nice themes, and to prevent the kitsch on _corporate_ desktop it should only be possible for system administrators to reduce Joe User’s privilleges for doing customizations there. <<
This is possible. I think it is called KDEkiosk or some such. Don’t confuse it with an internet kiosk, it is more like the ability of the admin to define what users should be able to do to their desktop, e. g. change themes, remove taskbars, etc. Never used it, so i don’t know if it’s any good.
>Eugenia we all know you are pro-GNOME, so your views or opinions are distorted.
You make it sound like a disease.
Let me tell you this: I do prefer what Gnome preaches, yes. But I do not use Gnome. I mostly use Windows and MacOSX, because of reasons I have explained many times regarding GUIs and underlying OSes. So no, I am not a Gnome user. But I do agree with some of their philosophies. But that does NOT make me a “gnomie”.
I apologize for incorrectly spelling your name Eugenia. And excuse my other grammatical blunders.
“… Ultimate customisability is not always helpful. For example, whenever I get a new version of M$ Word, I move all the toolbars, views, etc to be exactly where I had them the first time I used Word ’95…”
Ok, so customizability is not helpful, yet you customize MS Word’s toolbars, etc., to the way YOU like them.
You CUSTOMIZE to be PRODUCTIVE and FAMILIAR.
Without full customization I can’t make KDE, for example, be what I am FAMILIAR with.
Spending some time customizing initially will save me more time then trying to re-learn a new user interface.
I have read both articles in full, and had read Amy’s fully prior to making my first post. Havoc Pennington’s provides better arguments, in my opinion, for removing some preferences. If a preference is a cop-out for a real fix, is completely silly (as in Emacs’), by all means, remove them! No reasonable person would want otherwise.
But not all preferences fit into this area. I like to change my desktop background. This is a silly, superficial, almost pointless option to have, that I am certain significantly complicates things and adds a lot of code. I would like to see any desktop GUI try to remove this option.
My main point is this, reasonable preferences allow the GUI I use to become my GUI. Optimized by me and for me. I agree that preferences can never be substitute for an excellent default theme. However, an excellent default theme can never equal a personalized setup, better or worse.
I suppose art is a dis-service to ones intellect too.
I am glad, though, that wee live where we can express our opinions freely.
Condemnation of ones views does them a dis-service, replies that make one think can only expand those views.
My main point is this, reasonable preferences allow the GUI I use to become my GUI. Optimized by me and for me. I agree that preferences can never be substitute for an excellent default theme. However, an excellent default theme can never equal a personalized setup, better or worse.
… and an excellent point indeed. I applaud you.
I would absolutely hate not being able to change skins/themes/UIs. Changing desktop “wallpaper” is the same as changing wallpaper in your home.
I like having a more personalized feel to my desktop as much as I like having a personalized feel to my home. I’m the one that has to live with my skin/paint choices for my home/computer, let me do whatever I want with it.
Except on one point: standardized “default” settings can help. But the fact is that most people like to customize their desktops – why do you think most people change their backdrop in Windows? Or why themeing engines (to change icons, window decorations, etc.) are so popular for that OS?
Personally, I like to tweak my interface so that it suits me (I use KDE) – and I have no problem whatsoever switching to another one (Win2K) when I go to work. So what if I lose 30 seconds of productivity every day (I’m being generous here)? Are we that obsessed with efficiency that 30 seconds out of a day has become a big deal?
I like GNOME, and I think it’s a fine Desktop, but I do believe they’ve taken away too much customization – I can’t even easily change the colors of desktop elements so it can fit with my background image! Actually, that is my only real gripe with it (one can still pretty much customize everything else: icons, windows, widget style).
The problem with these experts is that they are dealing with something that is essentially subjective. I mean, if someone was to say that white walls make people more efficient, should that mean that all worplace walls should be white, with no posters allowed?
Variety is the spice of life – that is also true of Desktop Environments. And if a theme is badly made (i.e. clicking on the “X” maXimizes the Windows instead of closing it) then just don’t use it. But leave freedom of choice for those of us who want it.
>> People who want to debate the “less is more”, I suggest they first read this in its entirety before replying here: http://www.ometer.com/free- software-ui.html <<
I have read this one before, as have i read the Weblog from mpt. And for the record, i don’t disagree. I don’t agree fully either, but that’s another story. I just frequently wonder (with all the sideblows against Emacs and so) how Gnome can endorse Nautilus? (my pet peeve: THEM! The superjuggernauts that started as file managers but decided to take over …everything. Yes, they also walk dogs…)
Havoc Pennington writes: “The point of a good program is to do something specific and do it well.” Still he endorses Nautilus.
Maybe i don’t quite get the difference between a preference and a feature. Pennington himself is a littlebit opaque about this issue, care to shed some light?
Just plain stupid. Users who don’t want choice can use Gnome, users who want to pick and choose every single facet of their UI can use KDE. Why should KDE be like Gnome? I am miserable in locked-down, optionless, boring, drab Gnome. Why should Amy Reynolds get to dictate how much I should be able to customize my interface? Shove it, Amy.
I agrre with some of what she said, but not all.
I use my computer for my specific needs.
I have a windowblinds skin, and use object desktop, both suitable to what I do on it.
My boyfriend, having exactly the same computer as mine has only changed his colorscheme. He doesn’t knoe where to access anything on my machine, although he loves the look and “feel” of it.
This is fine. He can navigate my filesystem through the intranet, and access anything he needs from my machine, on his.
He doesn’t need to use my computer, so I shouldn’t have to keep it running in a way that he would need to do so.
On the other hand, It’s a good thing that there’s a default setting, as when there’s troubleshooting to be done, it’s me that is called upon to do.
If he had customized his computer all out the way he likes it and I couldn’t get around, I would be no good at fixing problems that may arise.
But this is where the default comes in. If I need to, I can turn off theming and fix his machine. Should it ever come down to it, he knows how to do the same to mine, and then go about fixing something.
A default theme should be the common ground, not the common denominator. I love my computer just the way it is, and nobody at MS, Be Apple or elsewise could have set it up to run at it’s peak functionality, and beautiful looks and intuitivness for me as I can and have. I’m glad they made a common denominator that we all know how to use, but I wouldn’t want to be stuck with it….
Personally one of the things that attracted me to Linux is the right to disagree with the rest of the world and do things my way.
1) That’s why it’s a gross oversimplification.
2) I agree with you, but I don’t think it’s universally true. The things that make an application really usable have never been skinnable, in my experience. A bad skin can render software less usable (even unusable), but a good skin — even an excellent skin — can not improve its usability.
User interface design needs to start with what’s in the user’s head, not what’s drawn on the screen. Choose a lousy metaphor and no matter how elegantly you implement it or beautifully you design it, your users will hate you.
Now I’m going to make a lot of people mad by bringing up examples.
I like Eclipse in principle, but I use IntelliJ/IDEA. Why? Because it works the way I think. Eclipse can do almost everything IntelliJ can, and some things IntelliJ can’t, but where IntelliJ adjusts itself to what I’m doing and puts functionality a seeming thought away, Eclipse seems clunky and makes me chase down the feature I want.
Example: both packages have autoreparse to flag code with errors and warnings, but the mechanism for determining the problem is significantly different. In IntelliJ, I just put my cursor on the code with the red squiggly underline and read the status bar for a description. In Eclipse, I have to read an error message in the task list (another window, as if screen real estate isn’t precious enough), read the line number in the task list, and find the line in my code.
This is the province of user interface design, and emphatically not the province of skinners. Skinning is skin deep, but user interface design goes much deeper. There is some overlap, certainly, but I think there is plenty of room for co-existence. If I find my productivity goes up if I can have this menu item over there instead of over here, or that window somewhere else, or if I just like looking at things in a certain way or with a certain look and feel, I think that’s my prerogative. But no amount of skinning is going to change the fundamental design flaw here. And if I may be so bold, a user interface designer who spends more time thinking about how things look than about how they work — say, enough time, to try to restrict the options other people have in changing how things look — probably isn’t a very good one.
Like another poster, I invest a lot of time in the ergonomics of my computers, getting them set up the way I want. Maybe logic dictates that this shouldn’t be so, but I assure you that it makes me happier and more productive than if I had to accept someone else’s idea of what is the most productive for me. I like things to be in a certain place and to look a certain way because it falls in line, in some intangible way, with the way I think.
(I actually can’t think of any FOSS software whose user interface I’d give a ’10’ as I would IntelliJ, so maybe I agree with you more than I thought I did.)
3) I doubt that the developers of GNOME and KDE put the user interface design at the bottom of the list. That honour goes to Mac OS (just kidding).
I found her use of the “high rode” phrase questionable as I don’t think this is a moral issue. So she took the “low rode” – and deleted my post. Thank you, Ms Reynolds, for showing us what you are made of. I suppose less choice also goes for debate.
Kelly McNeil is the web master/moderator at OS-Opinions.com, not Amy. So, don’t talk whatever you want over here.
I thought she did her own site editing. My mistake.
But I didn’t post any flaming, cussing, trolling, or anything like that.
Even KDE developers are searching the “more for less” philosopy.
I always thought that changing the borders of windows and making colors pleasing to the eye enhances productivity. Everybody works different, why shouldn’t everyone’s desktop be different as well?
I think everyones home floorplan should be the same so that when I come over to your house I can find the restroom without having to ask.
What happened to the Personal in Personal Computer.
LOL!! Great analogy! I would be so much happier and more productive if everwhere I went, everything looked the same.
” The goal is to give applications your priority and NOT the operating system. Therefore, the very existence of multiple desktop user interfaces is a major hinderance when introduced to any given platform.”
Reynolds says this but then she discounts themes. She obviously hasn’t studied people who have different hardware requirements. If, for example, I were to set up my company computers with the default GNOME theme, everyone who uses Macs would be confused. On the other hand, if I use KDE to make it look like what they’re used to (but telling them there will be _some_ differences), there is no confusion. GNOME takes the ability from the administrator to properly customize the systems he administers.
There are many people who are not interested in changing the computer’s appearance, that is why it is important to have good defaults that are consistent and intuitive.
One more thing. I have never heard of Amy Reynolds. Who is she to tell us how to design things? Anyone can claim to be a UI designer, almost.
She probably works for Microsoft and is trying to get OSS to cut one of it’s best features–Choices. OK, maybe she doesn’t work for MS, but I still don’t like her goal because it is basically to remove my preferred interface.
The idea that OSS will have more users from cutting all interfaces except one is wrong. If my interface of choice was no longer an option (and it is not one of the more popular ones, so it would certainly be one they would want to cut) then I will be gone too. The number of users would only go down from this.
Afterall, in a work setting, the managers can control which interface their employees use. They can’t make them use the same interface or even the same OS at home. I’m sure there are lots of people who use MS Windows at work and OS X at home. How is this any different? Should Apple be cloning MS Windows just to accomplish this goal for their users too? Because according to the article, it is just too much of a loss in productivity to use more than one different interface, right? Or should they just be forced to use MS Windows on everything?
Having only one choice in everything would help too, right? Why not eliminate all types of cars except one. That way when I drive a rental, I know what I’m doing easier. Maybe we can have one type of food, say hot dogs. Then we know exactly how to fix them and it takes the loss in productivity out of preparing more than one type of food. And we can all have exactly the same house/building design, that way I always know where to find the bathroom no matter whose house I’m in, and if I’m at work. Sounds like a wonderful idea, right?
The one size fits all approach is the biggest reason that I don’t like MS Windows, mostly because I don’t like their interface very well (although I’m sure you wouldn’t mind eating only hot dogs for the rest of your life, including breakfast). Doing this would only take away one of the more significant reasons why I choose something other than Windows.
I think she’s trying to change opinion about skinning being a “feature” every app should have. After all, read posts here about new programs and the first thing people complain about is that it doesn’t match their theme, or work like the other tweaked out-backwards programs they have on their system.
Skinning changes the focus from usability to eys-candy. Lots of skins break the intended function or layout of the program that’s changed as well as adding tons of extra programming overhead to account for all the “improvements” that are possible. This takes the already volunteer project and adds tons of work to fix “bugs” the authors never intended rather than fixing the program to be more useable or unique.
Skinning also limits the UI designers from being Unique or Different. After all, if the first thing people do with a new program or Desktop is change it to match some commercial product, then they will never benifit from learning new features and ways of thinking to be more productive…and the community doesn’t improve software, only appears to copy from everyone else!
While it can be nice to have a highly configurable environment/app, there are downsides. Having more options adds complexity, which makes projects take longer to develop and makes projects harder to maintain. Part of being a good software designer is knowing when to say no to features/options. I’m not saying that Gnome made the right decision and KDE made the wrong decision. I’m just saying that there are factors beyond “user choice” involved here.
Amy Reynolds has some good points, but I disagree that skinning and customization is bad. Replacing good UI design with skinning is bad, but that’s a different issue. A program should try to have the best possible “skin” by default, but still allow for changes for powerusers and those who just enjoy a different look. There are bad skins that obfuscate things and indeed the majority of skins are garbage, but the majority of them are also pretty much ignored. Make it easy to switch back to the default settings, and you almost have the best of both worlds.
personally i dont like skins. its ok to me, if the skin is operating system level. that way if you download a new skin or theme. everything stays cohesive with the theme. after all i personally wouldn’t want to change the skin of some 100’s of apps on my system. if all of them had their own skin, it would be a disaster for both storage space, and cohesiveness.
Is it just me, or does this website tend to be rather “pro-Gnome” lately?
Here is my modified response to a topical message on the article’s original forum (OS News is better):
<<<“Most Linux users believe that more UI choice is going to attract more users to Linux. However, this is not the case excessive UI choice is scaring away potential users”>>>
Both of these sentences are BS. First of all, do you believe that most Linux users really care whether or not the many Linux GUI choices will attract or repel users. Secondly, do you really believe that the many UI choices scare more people away from Linux than ‘uncertainty of the new’ and installation and configuration complexities?
<<<“I have tried to get my girlfriend and my mother [who uses Windows 95] both to use Linux, and do you know what their responses were?
‘Where’s the start menu?’
‘How come the mouse buttons don’t work normally?’
‘Where did my windows go?’ (after accidentally switching desktop…)
‘Where’s the programs menu?’
‘How do I run Internet Explorer?'”>>>
The many Linux UI choices have nothing to do with these responses. All of these responses obviously result from user conditioning… they have used only one OS/GUI and they don’t realize how similar most OSs/GUIs are. Usually, after someone has used more than one OS and or GUI, one understands not to expect exactly identical applications and window buttons.
<<<“When I first showed my girlfriend my Linux computer it was running Mandrake 7.2, and she was eager to show an interest in things I liked so she gave it an honest shot and managed (after much of the above grumbling) to figure most of it out. I then upgraded to Mandrake 8.0 (new KDE, different theme, new menu etc…), and was given very disapproving comments from her, and she didn’t try nearly as hard to figure it out, she just memorixed the menu locations of the one or two programs she used. Now I have switched to Mandrake 9.1. And you know what? My girlfriend absolutely refuses to use Linux anymore. The reason? Because she has to re-learn the UI everytime I upgrade. Linux’s vaunted UI customizability IS THE REASON MY GIRLFRIEND REFUSES TO USE LINUX. Ditto for my mom.”>>>
Nobody is forcing anybody to upgrade or change themes! That was YOUR choice. Your girlfriend and mother probably never would have upgraded in the first place (your mother is still running Windows 95!). Besides, these complaints
are identical to those made when users changed from Windows 3.1 to Windows 95, or from Windows 98 to Windows XP… and do you think Micro$oft lost any users due to these GUI changes? Windows has a zillion themes and several third-party, GUI shells, but nobody (including your girlfriend and mom) is leaving Windows because of the availability of these choices.
<<<“The constantly customizable and changing Linux UI is the reason why Linux is not being adopted by everyday users. Bar none. It has the apps, it has the stability etc… yadda yadda yadda… but until Linux people like us
realize that one of the things we like most about Linux is the reason most people don’t like, or won’t use, Linux…”>>>
Linux is being adopted by everyday users the world over. I believe that the current Linux user base surpasses the current Mac user base. Whole governments are adopting Linux (just like they adopted Windows in the past)… do you think the average government worker is a computer genius? Do the usability Nazis really think that the average government worker won’t eventually want to arrange his/her Linux desktop/icons to his/her liking? Certainly, the Windows user base far exceeds the Linux and Mac user base, but this fact has nothing to do with number of theme/GUI choices (Mac probably has fewer theme/GUI choices than Windows, and the Mac market share is shrinking)… Windows dominance probably results from marketing and
“Yadda, yadda, yadda” is right: “Yadda, if you don’t eliminate choices, the average idiot will die of confusion, yadda, yadda!”… and…”Yadda, if you don’t put your buttons/menus on the screen edge or in the screen corners, as we command, you are inferior to us stopwatch-clickers, yadda, yadda!”
Actually, you raise a point that supports the argument against excesive skinning; toilets look and work alike no matter where you go and you are able to locate and use one without much trouble wherever you are. If for some reason I made my toilet look like a pot-plant, would you be able to find the toilet in my house? If I changed the flushing mechanism so that you had to push a button on the front of the pan to flush the toilet, would you be able to flush the toilet without asking me first?
I was MODDED DOWN several times by “Eugenia” for daring to illustrate the undeniable fact of her extreme bias against KDE.
Let’s look at the stories about/praising Gnome (or related gtk) for the last week:
1. Opinion: Themes Getting Under My Skins
2. A Beginner’s Guide to Using pyGTK and Glade
3. Where Innovation Happens: Storage
4. Extending GNOME with Virtual File Systems
5. GTK+ 2.2.4 Released
6. GNOME Desktop 2.4 Release Candidate 1: “Kublai”
Furthermore, in a previous disucssion about “Gnome vs KDE” release cycles. Eugenia made the claim that Gnome has “better” release cycles, and when I asked her to illustrate why, guess what happened? She just “feels” like it’s better without giving any objective reasons.
She obviously read this article and found the author praising Gnome, so sure why not post it? The article on the whole is ABOUT theming, but she chose to SPECEFICALLY quote the one paragraph where the author says she likes Gnome.
Where are the other editors in OSNews? or is everything is going to be left to Eugenia’s very unprofessional editorial stance?
Expect this post to be modded down as usual.
Quite the conspiracy theorist. OSNews is out to destroy KDE!
What KDE news did OSNews fail to post? Has it occurred to you that Gnome is just more “announce happy” than KDE. In order assure fair coverage, should OSNews refuse to post Gnome news unless there is an equivalent piece of KDE news to post? Sounds kinda silly doesn’t it…
<<<Actually, you raise a point that supports the argument against excesive skinning; toilets look and work alike no matter where you go and you are able to locate and use one without much trouble wherever you are.>>>
Not true! Some toilets work very differently from others and cause a lot of trouble. Have you ever encountered a self-flushing, public toilet with a “hair trigger?” Very frustrating! One carefully places the paper cover on the seat, turns around and drops ones drawers, only to have the toilet suddenly flush away the paper cover! Now, someone at the self-flushing toilet factory has set the sensor for the manner and speed he/she thinks the average user will sit on the toilet, and there is no way the user can adjust or override this setting. The problem results from lack of
customizability, not from toilets being different. If given a choice, I suppose most public toilet users would rather manually flush (with a foot trigger or an infra-red hand trigger).
<<<If for some reason I made my toilet look like a pot-plant, would you be able to find the toilet in my house? If I changed the flushing mechanism so that you had to push a button on the front of the pan to flush the toilet, would you be able to flush the toilet without asking me first?>>>
It’s your house. Maybe you don’t want me to find the toilet or know how to flush it. Or, you might want to shape your pot-plant like a toilet to get “free fertilizer.” There are many not-so-specialized reasons why computer users should have the ability to configure their desk-tops. For instance, I found that I was accidentaly clicking on the “close” button on some application windows, when I was resizing. So, I moved the all the buttons in from the window corners and solved the problem. This usability solution would not have been possible if some distant “stopwatch clicker” had dictated non-configurability.
The many GUI/distro choices available to Linux has nothing to do with deterring prospective users, and also has nothing to do with speed or ease of use, as the usability Nazis would have everyone believe. The existence of many theme/GUI-shell choices in the Windows realm has not scared anyone from using Windows. And of course, one can start out with a default, “stopwatch-clicker-approved” theme and use it forever, blissfully ignorant of any other GUI choices.
Incidentally, I think X-windows can run on OS-X, which would mean all those Linux GUI choices are now available to Mac users. No doubt, massive panic will ensue.
“I think the author misses at least one important point, which is that the user should get to define their user experience, REGARDLESS of what the developer or user interace expert has decided is best for them.”
Themes/skins or whatever you wish to call them don’t change the fundamentals of an interface like where menus, scrollbars, buttons and other widgets are located. This is where consistency matters. The colors of the widgets doesn’t matter two shits.
The quote makes it sound like any software that isn’t 100% configurable is somehow infringing on the user’s rights. Sounds nice in theory, but isn’t very practical from a developer point of view. Making things configurable introduces complexity from a UI and code point of view. Sometimes, keeping things simple is the right approach.
Toilets here in Canada, where I live, typically have flush handles on the front of the tank. When I visited Australia, they typically had flush buttons on the top of the tank. I was somehow able to learn to use these new and frightening contraptions.
Also on the subject of toilets: Urinals are nothing like the traditional sit-down Thomas Crappers. But this is degenerating into silliness.