Novell Shares Linux Usability Research Videos

Developers should benefit from posted footage of inexperienced users struggling with Linux apps.

Novell Inc. released a large amount of primary desktop-usage research—including more than 200 video clips of users bumbling their way through unfamiliar computer interfaces—to the software development community Monday, as part of a new program aimed at making Linux desktops a more comfortable fit for users.

The company, based in Waltham, Mass., released the research under the banner of the companys new Better Desktop initiative, a new component of the OpenSuSE project that provides open-source developers with usability testing data and resources.

The videos, downloadable in MPEG or Theora formats, range anywhere from 4 minutes to 2 hours in length and show men and women ages 18 to 70 using Mozilla Firefox, Evolution, Open Office, Banshee, F-Spot and other applications.

Users are shown trying to do such simple tasks as creating an account on a computer for a friend, sending a birthday reminder to the calendar, changing the fonts on a document or changing the wallpaper.

"Application developers know too much about what theyre doing when they design software," Greg Mancusi-Ungaro, Novells director of marketing for Linux and open-source products, told Ziff Davis Internet. "Theres no way they can look at what theyve built through the eyes of someone whos never seen it before."

Mancusi-Ungaro said the users PC experience is made up of hundreds of small decisions, and that often users get sidetracked making those decisions. The Better Desktop program is aimed at helping developers "get the small chores right," he said.

"We have a ton of really valuable material—a treasure trove, really—that will help GUI designers save a lot of time and effort," Mancusi-Ungaro said. "These are eye-opening, a lot of them. You can see people really getting lost when theyre trying to figure something out, but cant. They get up and walk around, look around and get frustrated—like we all do once in a while."

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Up until now, there was really no way for designers to get hold of videos like these without spending a lot of money having the research done, Mancusi-Ungaro said.

"As a programmer, its sometimes difficult to know how ordinary people with no technical experience are reacting to your software," said Nat Friedman, vice president of collaboration and desktop engineering for Novell. "Linux people tend to know other Linux people. In these usability tests, we selected test subjects who were experienced with Windows, but who had never heard of Linux, and asked them to perform basic tasks using the Linux desktop.

"We expect that developers from a variety of projects will come to Better and review these results to see firsthand how they can improve the design of different applications, desktops and distributions. Ultimately, improved usability will help Linux succeed on the desktop."

Developers do not have to register at or in order to download and view the videos, Mancusi-Ungaro told Ziff Davis Internet.

"This isnt designed just for OpenSuSE projects," he said. "This information can be used for developing for any platform. We just want this to help make Linux in general more intuitive on the desktop."

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"This is a valuable contribution to the Linux community that will help open-source developers benefit from Novells research to create a better, more user-friendly desktop," said Gary Barnett, research director at technology consultancy Ovum. "Usability is a key requirement in order to drive the Linux desktop into the mainstream. This ... will help break down some of the barriers to mainstream Linux adoption on the desktop."

"Novells Linux desktop usability test results represent a significant addition to the resources available to open-source developers who are working to enhance the Linux desktop," said Jan Muehlig, founder of, an open-source organization.

Mancusi-Ungaro told Ziff Davis Internet that since was announced at LinuxWorld in August more than 7,500 developers have registered, and over 30,000 installs of the open-source operating system have been recorded.

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Chris Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger

Chris J. Preimesberger is Editor-in-Chief of eWEEK and responsible for all the publication's coverage. In his 13 years and more than 4,000 articles at eWEEK, he has distinguished himself in reporting...