GNOME Usability Study Report

by Suzanna Smith, Dave Engen, Andrea Mankoski, Nancy Frishberg, Nils Pedersen, Calum Benson
Sun GNOME Human Computer Interaction (HCI), Sun Microsystems, Inc.
study conducted: March, 2001, report issued: July, 2001
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Table of Contents

Executive Summary

GNOME is a great example of distributed development by the open source community. One of its strengths lies in the community's ability to critique itself. Sun's Human Computer Interaction staff bring a new perspective to this project. It's our expressed goal of joining fully in the development activities, with the idea that a non-programmer user is our target customer.

Sun's GNOME usability staff in Menlo Park, California, conducted a baseline usability study of the GNOME desktop during the week of March 13-16, 2001. We recruited a dozen adult participants, each with several years of experience using computers in their work - but specifically not with backgrounds in computer science, software development or programming - to use GNOME 1.2.2 on Linux with Nautilus installed.

Our goals were to capture initial reactions to GNOME, a new desktop environment, from the expected user population of business, creative and scientific professionals.

For a more detailed breakdown of the participant mix see Appendix 1. Participant Mix.

The participants were asked to log in to the system, comment on the look of the desktop and then each participant in turn used GNOME for common file management and desktop customization tasks, with which they were presumably familiar from their previous computer experience. The participants were given a Participant Script to follow.

The report that follows gives detailed findings of the study and makes 32 design recommendations. For each finding relevant usability principles are invoked. Where possible, these principles are expanded upon in Appendix 4: Usability Principles. The study findings are organized by the tasks undertaken, and are summarized again in Appendix 3: Summary of Design Recommendations.

Improving GNOME's usability means a user will better be able to predict what's going to happen, and to understand what's just happened as the user interacts with the system. The desktop environment may be different from those the user has previously experienced. Incorporation of these principles will promote learning of a new environment, as well as graceful recovery from errors. The most successful environment will allow the user to accomplish the intended tasks without constantly being aware of the interface as a collection of objects and behaviors.

Note to readers: Throughout this report comments are attributed to participants by the participant number. For example, Participant 4 (P4) made the following comment:

"I felt that [GNOME] was really fun to discover." (P4)

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