main tech

UX of OpenSUSE 10.3

Today, I tried OpenSUSE 10.3. Installation went fine, although it was at least partially because I installed various OpenSUSE many times before. The installation process is definitely too long but I don’t have off hat ideas on how to make it shorter.

The initial feeling after login is… fresh. It feels fresh. I like the wallpaper, sound theme. The start menu is as always extremely cool and usable. Those three aspects make OpenSUSE first experience really nice. My gf spent about 10 minutes and had absolutely no problem to find herself in the new environment. She knew it’s different from Windows, but she liked they way how different it is.

The first unpleasant experience came after updating system with suse system update. Sound card went down. After some debugging it came out that all devices in /dev/snd were in group audio, and I was not a member of this group (nor any other system user was). I just added it to /etc/group, but that’s totally a blocker that makes the system useless. Imagine Joe Average on my place with his first, brave try of this Linux thing, when he can hear cute login sound on the first time, then he clicks on “update” icon to update his system and then, after reboot – no more sound Joe!

Second unpleasant experience came few minutes later during short user-testing session on my gf. She really liked the wallpaper set, she found the start menu very nice and intuitive, she clicked through apps/docs/places, read right column, wowed over search menu, but then said “It seems there’s not too many apps here” – user used to Windows like start menu with zillion apps feels a bit “empty”. She did not find the “Other apps” icon, but this may be due to the nature of this experiment with me standing over her head.

But the problem appeared when I pointed her this button. She clicked on it, and it took over 30 seconds for the new menu to appear. The new menu is a window, almost full-screen with huge amount of apps in a flat layout. That’s different to Windows, but nothing “bad”. Until she started reading the descriptions. “DMA channels”, “OpenGL”, “PCI”, “Partitions”, “SCSI”, “Samba status”, “Processor”, “X Server”… thank you! Stop!

Who the hell came with this idea? Let me guess… no one. No one actually took care to do this very freakin simple user action flow – login, click on Computer, click on Other Apps, read the first line, compare it with what the user expects to see. Hello!?

Clicking on “Home folder” icon on the desktop to see a window with “bin”, “public_html” directories and one file named “nautilus-debug-log.txt” is also something that should be considered as a suicide.

That’s it for now. OpenSUSE looks really good, it makes great first impression, more familiar for Windows users than Ubuntu, it has way more complicated installation process and lacks the LiveCD+Installer idea from Ubuntu which is so obvious once you get used to it.

Anyway, it’s really frustrating that with each and every linux distro I launch, it takes up to 3 minutes to find a first UX bug. Always. And I’m not talking about super-duper-heavy-LFS like distros. I’m talking about Ubuntu, Mandriva, Fedora, OpenSUSE…

We overcame huge limitations of X system, we developed eye candy to the extend never seen before, we have very, very secure systems, we have huge variety of distributions that create healthy ecosystem of competing solutions and ideas. We developed the best ever seen system of application management and installation, we made it all. Few years ago the blockers for Linux adoption were technical. Sound cards didn’t work. Monitor resolution was badly autodetected. Printer was unavailable. CDROM was not detected. Today, we overcame ALL of those. Virtually ALL! Last three or four hardware pieces I bought were much better recognized by my Ubuntu than Windows! Including USB headphones which are recognized as USB hotplugged sound card! No problem for Ubuntu! Huge problem with Windows.

But in the end, it’s depressing that we still fail to provide the UX without very visible, simple to avoid, flaws. In Ubuntu, you have great chance to see something like “/dev/sda2” on the very first desktop you open after logging in. In SUSE you hit “nautilus-debug-log.txt” in your virgin home folder and “DMA Channels” as an example of “other apps”.

I know that users will learn this. After one day, such problems disappear and new patterns are memorized, I know that people with motivation (and the motivation is easily raised by the blue screen of death) will switch and will be happy in the end. But all those “mistakes” looks like ignorance. Like if no one did actually install his own distro on an empty drive and SEE how it works. For 5 minutes. To make those 5 minutes perfect.

Tomorrow I’m going to try Fedora 8.

main tech

Will companies start exploiting linux packaging systems?

Today I was working on some yet_to_be_announced project for a KnownCompany.

I was also updating my flash player basing on the latest releases from Adobe, and realized that this company, and many others will have to exploit packaging model of modern distributions in order to achieve what they want.

See. Modern, user-oriented linux distros like OpenSuSe, Fedora, Ubuntu, are preparing set of packages for the release, and then “half-freezing”. When I use Ubuntu 7.04, I use a set of software that was ready by April 2007. There are two exceptions – security patches, and community contributed backports of the newer packages , but for the latter, I have to manually select that I want to get them.

It means that being a company, that wants to upgrade users browser, mail client, game, or office package, I should claim  that it’s a security release. It’s not an issue right now, since linux is not popular enough to be on most product managers radar, and the releases happen pretty often (half a year in case of Ubuntu), but as Linux will become more popular, I’m more than sure that it will start to happen. All companies I was working for would like their latest versions to be deployed for all users soon after the release. Not half year later. Also, what about users who will not upgrade?

Look at the browsers. Browser X ver 3.5 has been released on Sep 2010. The Ubuntu (by the time used by 35%  of end users on Earth!) release 10.10 uploads it and uses in their release. Users are happy, confetti is everywhere and We Are The Champions can be heard in the background. Win-Win.

Then, the vendor of Browser X prepares release 4.0, and they’re ready on Apr 2011. Unfortunately  the release cycle of Ubuntu says that Ubuntu is already freezed and will not use ver 4.0 in Ubuntu 11.04. So this release is delivered to the users with Ubuntu 11.10, 6 months after original release!

At this point, many can say “Yea, Mark is calling for synchronizing releases”, but that’s not a solution. What if 11.04 is so great, that people don’t want to migrate to 11.10? If it’s a LTS and majority will want to stick to it for a loong time? (see XP-Vista migration rates) or if it’s simply not good for some reason, and journalists advice to stick to 11.04 and wait for 12.04?

I think that the only proper solution is a vendor controlled backporting highway. A process that would allow a vendor (or vendor licensed volunteers) to backport apps (usually the more front-end user oriented ones) and deliver them with the updates to all users of a release.  Otherwise, vendors will start pretending that such a release is fixing some Scary and Serious Security Vulnerabilities  that might kill your cat or grandpa.

Business is business… :/