MPT: ‘Why Free Software Has Poor Usability, and How to Improve It’

Matthew Paul Thomas is back with a thoughtful and detailed look at the reasons why open source software tends to suffer from poor user interfaces. But he’s dancing around the root problem, which is that of authority.

I posit that the usability and elegance of any product, software or hardware, tends to reach and seldom surpasses the level that satisfies the taste of whoever is in charge of the product. This applies universally, not just to free and open source software. For example, it explains why Microsoft produces such crummy software even though the company employees thousands of talented programmers and even designers — Microsoft’s decision makers have no taste. But the problem is endemic to open source.

The people in charge of most free and open source software products tend to have poor taste in user interfaces; people with good taste in user interface design are seldom in charge of open source software projects.

Put another way, if you have to ask for better design, you will lose. You need to be in a position to demand it.

Saturday, 2 August 2008