Research 2.0

Monday, October 16, 2006

Open source usability still challenging...

I know, I know... open source applications are typically used by people who really know what they are doing.

However as things like Firefox and Thunderbird become more mainstream and talk about the "Linux desktop" continues it's worth observing that even brand new (and excellent) add-in features require far too much brainpower to figure out how to use.

A recent case in point is the nifty little signature control add-in for the Thunderbird email client. We needed it badly and were surprised how much work was required to set it up. In fact we noticed that even many of the early open source adopters had run into the same problems and fortunately posted their solutions to the support pages.

Instead of being able to click on a simple "Install" button one must download and save the file, go into the Thunderbird extension manager, give the location of the file to the install dialog, restart Thunderbird and *then* it gets tricky!

You have to add the icon by going to toolbar customization. But when you try it the first time you don't see the option. Turns out you have to add it to the toolbar that comes up when you are in the sending mail context.

After you've spent the hour or two to figure it all out at least it makes logical sense. We were willing to work through what were two or three real obstacles to getting the functions working.

Most users would have stopped after 15 minutes if they even made it that far. This is the kind of thing that sends people to terrible programs like MS Outlook.

We are huge open source fans and supporters but continue to wonder why it seems so much harder than it should be.