Actually Usability != Learnability (at least for some)

Story: Why Gnome, Ubuntu and the like don't understand "usability"Total Replies: 14
Author Content
stw

Jun 18, 2011
7:48 AM EST
Hans, nice article and well thought of. There is no full consent to see Learnability as part of usability. The ISO definition doesn't mention it: "The extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use". A "specific content of use" could very well be: "After user went through a specific and intensive training". E.g. the command line has a very high usability when "specified users = Linux power users" and "specific context of use" is "after memorizing the command line options". I fully agree that dumbing down user interfaces neglects the state most users end up being in: "perpetual intermediates". I've trained senior citizens and we found that using a mouse is actually hard to learn (low learnability), but once mastered quite easy to use. Or: the addressbar in a browser is easy to learn, but hard to master (knowing how to manipulate URLs) to its full potential.... So the aim must be: basic tasks need to be completable by novice users while enough features can be discovered (or looked up) to go to intermediate use. Finally it mustn't get into the way of a power user. Easy said, not an easy task.
hkwint

Jun 19, 2011
7:48 AM EST
Well said!

Sadly, lots of users don't look further than "Oh, for the CLI I have to learn all commands and codes, it's really hard to learn, there are no icons and no symbols to click on, so it doesn't offer usability".

And indeed, I saw my mother and grandma struggle with the mouse in the beginning. I started using a mouse at about the age of 12 or so, having no problems. That's why I think lots of users underestimate how difficult it actually is to operate a mouse, especially double clicking is sometimes hard to learn to people.
BernardSwiss

Jun 19, 2011
5:03 PM EST
Does anybody remember the "old days" (ie. DOS - Win 3.1), when a good secretary would figure out incredible CLI tricks, to make her (yes, it was always "her") own job easier.

And those "programmable" typewriters could be fairly tricky, too.

But today, everybody is just too dumb to learn anything but clicking a few buttons and drop-lists (if they're really bright they can cope with the odd check-box and radio-button, too).

What happened?

DrGeoffrey

Jun 19, 2011
5:14 PM EST
Quoting:What happened?


Microsoft.
helios

Jun 20, 2011
10:10 AM EST
Dr.G +1

We conduct computer and internet 101 classes within the HeliOS effort and many of our students are adults. Where we think we are going to start by teaching effective search techniques and various Firefox extensions and addons to make life easier, we soon find out that many of them don't have any concept of the differences between right and left mouse clicks. The majority don't know how to use the keyboard to cut/copy or paste. We had one 60 year old lady almost break down in tears when we taught her copy and paste. She had been typing in entire paragraphs verbatim in her email fields when she wanted to send something to a friend or family member.

While Microsoft may have been the main culprit in dumbing down the operating system, I lay a lot of the blame on people simply being intimidated by their computers...afraid they are going to mess something up.

tracyanne

Jun 20, 2011
5:19 PM EST
Quoting:I lay a lot of the blame on people simply being intimidated by their computers...afraid they are going to mess something up.


It is that mentality that companies like Microsoft pander to, instead of helping them become more knowledgable and more self sufficient, they see this fear as a marketing opportunity, and make those people more dependent.
hkwint

Jun 22, 2011
3:56 AM EST
I think giving people the power to install any .exe they find on the web, pretty much equals giving them the power to screw up.

My hypethese: In more confined areas where some "network of trust" exists, like Linux repositories or Apple's Appstore, people are less afraid to try and install new stuff.

My previous job, I wanted some program, but couldn't install it because I didn't have permission. So I searched for a "portable" app, found it, and it came with a virus. Gladly, my virusscanner refused it to install.

This shows two things: Users like me find dangerous ways around those 'security issues', and making users able to install / execute stuff from any place of the net or email may be dangerous.
jdixon

Jun 22, 2011
7:54 AM EST
> Users like me find dangerous ways around those 'security issues',

We knew that, Hans. :) But we've all been there. Sometimes on both sides of the issue.

> ...making users able to install / execute stuff from any place of the net or email may be dangerous.

You think. :)

The company I now work for is looking at implementing thin clients and a VMware View environment for their employees. They'll be using standard user accounts and providing a white list of programs which the users can install. It'll work, but it's going to be a royal pain getting all of the necessary applications white listed and maintaining the list. I don't think they understand quite how difficult it will be, or how much user resistance they're going to get.
techiem2

Jun 22, 2011
12:41 PM EST
jdixon: We're doing that here at the hospital. We use vmware view client for most of the remote access that some doctors, workers, etc. need, and a few remote clinics are all using "thin" comp setups with vmware view connections. Of course, we're a full domain setup so everything is setup for them and they have no access to install anything (well, I guess they could install stuff that installs to user profile, but fortunately I haven't seen much of that - at least on the normal PCs I work on). :P

jdixon

Jun 22, 2011
1:12 PM EST
> jdixon: We're doing that here at the hospital.

Yeah, it's definitely doable at this point. When they first brought our site online last year (they bought our division from our previous company), they had us all using View sessions from our existing machines, and the 150 or so users here gave the system a pretty good stress test. :) They found out it wasn't as resilient as they would like, to put it mildly. But it looks like the newer versions have increased reliability considerably. I've already discussed the various thin client options (Windows embedded, Linux, and "No-OS" units) and the trade offs with each with my boss. I think he found my analysis "informative". :)

The problem is going to be getting user buy in. I don't see that being an easy sell to users who are used to having their own desktops and laptops, but we'll see how it goes. There are a lot of details to be worked out, if they in fact decide that's the way they want to go.
hkwint

Jun 22, 2011
1:28 PM EST
Quoting:I don't think they understand quite how difficult it will be, or how much user resistance they're going to get.


That's what you get for hosting your own 'package repo'. There's a massive amount of time going into - for example FreeBSD ports / Gentoo's portage.

Debian (etc.) even more, as they build their own packages, but for Windows that's not an issue.

Especially when there's a company of only "20 office employees" or so, like the one where I worked, it's not worthwile the hassle. I still don't understand why Microsoft didn't try the idea of 'trusted repositories' and md5-hashing the exe's before. Probably, because they're still stuck in the time where you transferred programs via a floppy which you received from somebody you trusted. As far as I'm aware, they still don't provide net-install for their operating system / office suite, while even "conservatives" like AutoDesk nowadays do so.
mrider

Jun 22, 2011
1:55 PM EST
@jdixon:

Quoting:They found out it wasn't as resilient as they would like, to pu tit mildly.


I apologize - I don't want to be a grammar nazi, but it's a bit difficult to parse that sentence with the typo, particularly considering the sentence wraps for me after the "pu". :)



Back on topic...

The problem with thin clients is that generally speaking, the list of allowable software is decided by a committee, and generally speaking that committee has no freaking idea what actually goes on in the general user population. They just think they know.

If the folks that decide whether or not a program is acceptable actually listen to constructive criticism, then it can work. Otherwise, the end users will once again be forced to do an end run around the IT system simply to get the job done.
jdixon

Jun 22, 2011
2:03 PM EST
> ...but it's a bit difficult to parse that sentence with the typo...

I've been putting off getting new glasses for a while now, and it shows. It's getting difficult to catch all of my typo's. :(

I've corrected the typo.

> Otherwise, the end users will once again be forced to do an end run around the IT system simply to get the job done.

Yep. We'll see how it goes. At least IT is never boring.
TxtEdMacs

Jun 22, 2011
4:53 PM EST
Hey Easy Rider,

You know, of course, that was not an accurate quote you exhibited. More like you[r] reading comprehension is being warped by prurient thoughts, I presume. So come clean and stop violating TOS. Ok?

YBT

P.S. Hey jd, why didn't you say you edited that line before I went into attack mode? Well I still like what I wrote. Anyway since when do I hue to facts? It's the thought that counts.

Edits: inserted missing r between brackets so the correction is obvious. Second: P.P.S. E.R., if you ever change your quote, I will be forced to put a contract out on you. Remember the flying cycles at the end of the movie?
mrider

Jun 22, 2011
5:36 PM EST
Maybe I should correct the typo in my quote as well, while leaving the rest alone. That way anyone in the future reading the thread will wonder what the heck I'm talking about.

LOL

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