Since there has been a some recent notoriety around the notion that usability is somehow particularly difficult in FOSS projects, I thought it might be nice to share a recent success story.
For the Jaunty development cycle Kubuntu is working to transition all the applications shipped on the installation CD from KDE3 to KDE4 versions. One hard spot was an IRC client. Konversation, our long time default client still just has a KDE3 release and a KDE4 version is not expected in time for Jaunty. A number of Kubuntu developers had tried Quassel and suggested it be considered. We surveyed the landscape and concluded it was our most likely candidate for a KDE4 IRC client for Jaunty. Quassel is a very young project and one problem is that much of their user interface was oriented toward expert IRC users. We needed something more accessible for new users since IRC is one of our primary support mechanisms for new users.
Fortunately for Kubuntu, Celeste Lyn Paul (seele) of the KDE Usability Project is active with the Kubuntu team and volunteered to do a expert usability review to give the developers some ideas about what most needed doing to make it suitable as our default IRC client.
How this process looked as it was happening from the developer’s perspective is captured in the blog of Manuel “Sputnick” Nickschas (Sput on IRC). Three months later, Quassel is the default IRC client for Kubuntu 9.04 (Jaunty Jackalope)l. One active member of the Kubuntu team, claydoh has done a great how-to for Quassel where you can see the results.
Today I pinged the main Quassel developers on IRC (of course) and asked them how they felt about the process and the usability review. Marcus “EgS” Eggenberger (edited slightly for flow) said:
When we started with quassel we never imagined to have a real userbase and … one of those big things was seele’s review for us. I was really speachless as seele told me how much time she put into this and it was really great since it was the first time we had some clear defined requirements to the UI which we never had before. Sput and I love to code but designing UI stuff is just not our thing…. also it made us focus on things we kept procrastinating.
I fully agree with Egs on that. [In addition to what I blogged] we also had several discussions with seele afterwards where she provided us with feedback and ideas. … and in addition: I think it’s a great idea to talk about the spirit and benefits of opensource!
So there you have it. FOSS usability at work making the things better for all of us.