Making software easy to use involves soft factors such as putting controls and menu options where users most often search for them and providing interfaces that change with each task. One proven way to identify soft factors is through hard research: building a usability testing lab, bringing in users with varying skill levels and videotaping their progress while performing common tasks.
Eazel, the company developing Nautilus, the file manager for the upcoming Gnome 2.0 Linux desktop environment, claims to be the first open-source software company to have a usability testing lab. We applaud Eazel because systematic usability testing has done great things for other software packages. A few years ago, Oracle began performing usability tests, and I reviewed the first package that went through the companys testing lab, Oracles Discoverer reporting tool. The difference from the previous Discoverer release was astonishing.