Generally open-source/volunteer/free software tends to have poor usability.
Since becoming a Ubuntu user, I have been diving deeper into the open source world and generally agree with the overall themes of this article. Expanding on a few the author’s points:
- Usability is hard to measure – For a long time top executives didn’t understand the business value of good design. They wanted something that worked, and didn’t care about how intuitive it was. With Apple’s second coming (circa 2001 iPod), business leaders are beginning to recognize that good usability is a competitive advantage and core competancy which will positively impact your bottom line.
- Usability suggestions aren’t encouraged – While most open source projects have long lists of bugs and patches, none that I have seen have an obvious repository of pending design enhancements or usability suggestions.
- Developers aren’t necessarily designers – Although I’m sure it’s out there in some capacity, I have never seen any postings inviting UX/HCI to participate in open-source software (update: I searched for open source usability and came across this site). I also think psychologically, for a pet project, developers could potentially be less interested in working on a project if a UI solution has already been dictated. Part of the reason why people contribute to open-source projects is to work on the skills that they are lacking or enjoy but don’t do regularly (i.e. design).
- Too many cooks – Usability is a science (not) entirely separate from development. Design by committee almost never works (unless that committee is trained and educated in design).
- Leaving little things broken – Sometimes in a crunch, we tend to focus on getting the functionality completed knowing that there are bugs or boundary conditions which will break our app. While the likelihood of these events occurring are small, a lot of little bugs add up to a poor user experience.
- Too many options and features – Whether in life or software, people think more choices are better. Sometimes your path is much clearer when unnecessary choices are removed.