UX within the open source community

Right. I’m going to use Git hub. OK? Never mind why, I have to use it and I’m actually kind of psyched to try it out, since I’m not a programmer and not really used to it, but since it sounds like a good idea, here I go.

I’m greeted with a tutorial, which is pretty cool. I go to step 1, and it’s this:

Super! So, I click the link and, for reasons not immediately apparent, I’m no longer at github.com, I’m now at git-scm.com. OK, fine, I’m not frazzled by a different URL and completely different website layout and graphics, because, hey, there’s a big box that reads:

Hey, that’s clear enough, latest version is and I have a Mac, so here I go. Click.

What the…? So… let’s see. Latest version is, but when I clicked the Mac icon I got three files, one is labeled, so I know it’s not the latest and the description mentions Snow Leopard, but I have Lion. Does it matter? No idea.

Sure, I could have read the release notes, but who does that?

Also, what the hell are the other files? There’s no mention to them anywhere, thus far. Do I need them? What do they do? What are “Finder Droplets”? I have no idea.

OK, I’ll bite. I click the file and get sent to another page. There’s a QR code in the middle of the page. I have absolutely no idea what it does and I suppose it doesn’t matter, because there isn’t a legend or any explanation. I guess you have to be in on it to understand.

I download the DMG, mount it, run the installer. No sweat. It’s not horribly difficult, but I’ve been through this many times, with different software and I always wonder… who makes this? Why do they feel that this makes sense?

This, to me, is one of the problems with open source stuff. It’s a great community that puts out great software, but at the same time, the experience sucks. It’s always fragmented. You have to get this thing from here, that thing from there. Then, you need to configure some obscure stuff on your computer. You jump through different sites, which all look different and, sooner or later, you land on a directory listing longer than your forearm where you have to go through weird filenames to try to figure out which you should be using. In this example, as it turns out, I was told to use and could only get, but, luckily enough, there weren’t dozens of weirdly labelled packages, such as alpha, beta, rc, and what have you. It’s ok, I’ve been around enough, I know these things, I’ve setup my share of Gentoo-based Squid proxies and mail servers, but it’s not about me.

It’s about everyone else. It’s not by accident that I emboldened that sentence up there. If you’re not in on it, your screwed. You’re going to eventually give up or spend an afternoon reading documentation to do something basic.

Software should be about the people; people use most software – only a fraction of it is just used by machines – and even though the Open Source community has improved a bit in what comes to user experience, it still remains a paradoxically closed universe that warmly welcomes hackers (yes, I mean actual hackers, not Hollywood hackers), and hobbyists, but leaves out the common Joe.

PS: I work surrounded by brilliant web developers and systems guys and I’m sure most of them would just roll their eyes at this post. Which just goes to show how right I am.

2 thoughts on “UX within the open source community

  1. Your article is true and I would tend to agree with you.

    There is just a little tiny thing, while you bitch about opensource fragmented communities, you don’t show how it should be done, you just bitch about the whole process.

    Yes you have a MAC, you’re the minority here, just like me with Linux.

    If you were to resolve that ‘problem’, how would you do it?

    I would like to hear how the UX experts deal with large scale projects, really, I’m interested in knowing.


    1. I didn’t want to sound bitchy, but anyway. I’m not sure there’s a solution without tighter control, and that control would actually not be beneficial for the open source community.

      You have some better integrated projects, such as Mozilla, where you feel a little more at home when trying to get Firefox, for example.

      Maybe there’s nothing wrong with that fragmentation, but then again, maybe most open source software will remain out of the mass adoption markets because of it.

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