Ubuntu usabilty is going downhill

I have a serious usability issue with the MI at a corporate installation.

When a new instant message is received with the chat window closed, we have to navigate a menu to interact with it. Click-Navigate-click. Before, we simply double-clicked the flashing icon and the window appeared. This might not seem like much to many of you, but they have to deal with 100-150 email/IM interactions a day. This is a major PITA.

I’ve deployed Lucid on about 6 desktops with individuals all expressing the same problem. I’ve delayed the roll-out on the additional machines until I could determine the suitability for deployment for the rest of the organization.

The general perception is that NotifyOSD is taunting them with the message without an immediate solution. This isn’t a fair characterization, but it persists. People are a little frustrated. I’m going to have to pull the MI at this location if I’m going to continue to deploy Lucid.

They’ve been running lucid since beta1. That’s about two months. With the current rate of interactivity, if they haven’t learned it by now, they aren’t going to.

Is this a corner case? I’ll leave it for you to decide.

Celebrity Muses

After the Quail Hollow golf tournament was over and Tiger failed to qualify, I started wondering about the reasons for his failure. Most of sport writers assumed that it was the recent public revelations of his infidelity and the distractions associated with it.

However, what if the issue is a little deeper. One could argue that as a professional athlete, Tiger knew exactly what he needed to be at the best in the his game. And perhaps the quenching of his libido with a harem of trashy chicks might have had medicial purposes. Medical science has established the people will subconsciously self-medicate. Perhaps these dalliances are necessary to perform at his level?

Another related example is that of Aaron Sorkin, the writer for “The West Wing”, “Sport Night” and few other well known TV shows and films. He had a rather public arrest at an airport with marijuana, mushrooms and other assorted mind altering substances. At first, he stated that he used them for the creative process. But then the PC police cracked down and he “admitted” he had a problem. Went through rehab and everything. Hasn’t written a descent script since.

In the PC world, Tiger was probably just a skirt chaser. But in the UW world, maybe not…

Android is more than a phone

Google is a self described information company, so why would they enter into the phone market? One obvious answer is that they see mobile as a major advertising platform and wanted to capture the market. While this is true, it’s not the full story.

Google’s thing is information and this has to be captured in some fashion. We all know that Google makes use of the data we submit in searches, gmail and gtalk. They have even sent around street view vehicles to take pictures of our houses and streets. But with android, they no longer have to do this. We are doing a lot for them. Through use of android, we are a mass of mobile information gathering nodes for the Google collective.

For example, Google would be very interested in the locations of the wireless hotspots you’ve run into today. You can also correct navigation data on the fly and crowd-source traffic information. You already upload pictures to picasa with geotag information. And the GPS records your coming and goings while driving, working and shopping. All valuable information to marketers and this information is silently recorded by your android handset.

In many ways this is a little creepy. Big brother and all that. But in others, this is a great experiment in digitizing the human experience. We just need to be vigilant that our rights are not trampled along the way.

Linux and Open Source Adoption

After several years running Linux and Windows side by side, it appears that the current barrier to Linux adoption at this point are the applications available. Openoffice is nice for 90% of users, but for presentation, powerpoint slaps it hard. Plus you can’t print a fripping envelope in OpenOffice to save your life. (Bug reported over 7 years ago) I use a console for games, so this isn’t an issue for me, but others are really left out in the cold. I am tied to Intuit, which I hate with a passion reserved for child molesters. So I have to run those apps in Vbox. The Linux alternatives do not provide the capabilities that Money or Quicken do, unfortunately.

The O/S is sound on the right hardware. I tried Windows 7 on my new laptop, but it was a pig. Slow, with tons of crap I had to uninstall. I don’t like reinstalling O/S’s, and I shouldn’t have to. Windows maintenance became too much for me to handle. I have multiple RAID’s, which were always dodgy under XP. Linux is a much easier install when it works. When it doesn’t, well the wheels fall off. I try to tailor my system with compatible hardware. Laptops are a different story. Right now my touchpad is better than Win 7, but not perfect. And my microphone doesn’t work for web chat.

Bottom line, linux is lacking in many ways, but for me Windows was as well. But I don’t have to deal with license keys and activation which are a pestilence on the face the earth. Plus I can put together systems from spares and they have sufficient horsepower to make them useful.

When the apps finally come around, adoption will follow.

UI Design and Risk-Reward Behaviour

Mark Shuttleworth responded to criticism over the changes to the new Lucid window themes with allusion to the fact that new and neat things are coming that justify the change.

Sometimes it’s worthwhile to step outside the envelope and try something new. But always remember that humans respond to risk-reward behavior. If you are going to force them to do something new or risky, there needs to be a reward equal to the risk otherwise the user wont adapt.

In the case of the latest design changes, the reward was promised after the fact, but not given. Thus, it is a massive design fail. Yes there were opinions provided and these can be ignored because of meritocracy rules. But good UI design needs to be based on fact. And the facts were not there to justify the change. This was pointed out. And hopefully completely understood.

The Silence of the Blogosphere

I’ve noticed a disturbing development in Ubuntu. I’ve complained about the design changes instigated by the Ayatana UX team, particularly the recent change to place the windows controls on the left. But something more troubling is afoot. A thread on ubuntuforums is showing a 76% preference for the old control location. Given this significant percentage, you would expect some level of outcry on the Ubuntu Planet, the official blog aggregator for Ubuntu members. Until today, not a peep. Scott Ritchie, a heavily involved member fired the first volley. This is a little Orwellian. I’m getting really concerned about the UniqueVision(TM) of Ubuntu if they foster an environment that people don’t feel like that can speak their mind on what is a commercially driven community project. Mark Shuttleworth has stated that this is his vision and his baby, but Ubuntu would be nothing more that his idle hobby without community support. I’m wondering if this is related to free speech in the UK vs. the USA?

Ubuntu: The natives are restless

Well, it hit the fan finally. The unrest concerning the UI changes in Ubuntu are starting to steam roll. The thread at ubuntu forums is growing. A particularly volatile bug has been filed on launchpad, sufficiently uncivil that the the great maker Mark Shuttleworth himself had to chime in.

From the best I can determine, there was considerable discussion within the Ayatana group over the different button placements in other OS’s and whcih was superior. The problem was that they weren’t trying to overcome any particular issue. It appears to be a change just to set Ubuntu apart visually.

Gather round developers. Let this be a teachable moment. When you create a closed group of designers and remove voices that don’t agree with your UniqueVision(TM) you get this type of result. Dissent is important in all walks of life. It is in the chaos of adversarial debate where the best ideas are forged.

Ubuntu: Linux for Boneheads

Those of you that follow the development of Ubuntu Lucid Lynx might be caught by surprise regarding some of the new design decisions being made by Canonical. Their Ayatana project was created to revitalize the Ubuntu desktop by trying to resolve usability issues. While a lot of the approaches have shown merit, some have been downright stupid.

I’ve been particularly critical of the decision concerning the removal of functionality in libnotify. The Ayatana group decided that allowing interactive notifications was against their master plan, guaranteeing a thousand solutions to the problem and forcing new paradigms on the user. Their decision to use pop downs for the update manager simultaneously annoys the advanced user while opening serious security holes for the noob.

But these pale in comparison their latest faux pas. They have decided in their infinite wisdom to change the control layout for the windows in the gnome desktop. That’s right, they have moved the close, minimize and maximize to the left side of the window just like the mac. Little mind was apparently paid to the disruption of the existing users. Even less paid to the users that have to work in two desktops, the other 90% likely to be in Windows. And none whatsoever to individuals thinking about transitioning, again most likely from Windows.

I have great respect for the work done by Canonical. They have added stability to the chaos of open source. But it’s apparent that they are starting to believe there own press releases. These changes smack of a group that thinks it’s visionary, but in reality isn’t sufficiently open to listen to reason. This current design choice will kill any possibly of poaching market share from Microsoft while annoying current users. I’ve spent considerable time championing their cause, but it is obvious to me that they are going a different direction. I think it’s time to look at the competition.

The Conservative Argument FOR Same Sex Marriage

With California’s prop 8 being challenged, I thought I would outline an argument for conservatives that would support Same Sex Marriage. That’s right, I said supporting. For a conservative, there are actually good reasons that SSM should be accepted.

First, married couples live longer and healthier lives. Studies have show that people in stable relationships are happier and more content than their single counterparts. If you forget the fact that these individuals are of the same sex, approach it from a fiscal conservative side. You want people to prosper so that society doesn’t have to shell out cash for supporting or incarcerating them. In other words, SSM is cheaper than the alternative.

Second, removing freedom is not small government conservatism. Creating rules to enforce undesired criminal behaviors is justified. Doing the same to enforce moral codes is fascist (Think Mussolini). Enforcing morality is the purpose of Islamic Sharia law. If you think that Christian moral codes are somehow different than Islamic, think again. Both are Abrahamic religions and share the same origins. The reason their societies seem brutal is BECAUSE they enforce old testament beliefs.

Third, it doesn’t harm marriage. The argument that it leads to the individuals marrying animals or trees is ridiculous on it’s face. Marriage is a contract. Plants and animals cannot legally give consent to marriage, thus it can’t happen. Therefore, existing laws protect us from this possibility and no additional laws are needed.

The conservative case for SSM is quite strong. The opposition however, is rooted in the same tired religious arguments that opposed civil rights and women’s suffrage. We all know how those turned out.

The Purveyors of Cyberjustice

It’s official. Anonymous has declared war on Australia. Is the outback ready for the Internet’s grand legion of cellar dwellers at 4chan? This isn’t the first time Anonymous has taken up a cause, and probably not the last. What is interesting is that random, interconnected groups of people are pooling resources and causing havoc for a cause. Vigilante justice isn’t unusual and is older than governments themselves. Which leads one to an interesting thought experiment. On the Internet we see virtual versions of the constructs that are part of our corporeal life; Communication, Gaming, Dating, Sex, etc. It’s a wild west with no form of control or authority and it works pretty well. And now we have Anonymous. Could we be seeing a form of organization emerging from the chaos? The beginning of a permanent anarchical justice force, perhaps?

In the case of 4chan, there is an urge to do something bigger than themselves, either due to outrage or just for the lulz. I have no doubt that in the old west some people joined in on posses for the kicks. And we see that here. Like so many things, the beginnings are a little raw. But through this constructive chaos could we see something bigger than the sum of it’s parts? Several years ago a company created a anti-spam concept called “Blue Frog” that used the power of the Internet collective to rain terror on spammers. It worked for a while, until the company came under attack and folded. The weakness with Blue Frog wasn’t the idea. It was the centralized command and control of that managing organization. But Anonymous doesn’t suffer from this limitation. It is a swarm and essentially headless. And capable of instantly responding when attacked. Spammers and malware authors have the edge in lead time compared to our justice system which is used to prosecute them. Anonymous doesn’t suffer this limitation.

There may be a role for Internet justice in the future. Whether it involves Anonymous is an open question.