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I’ve been following a very interesting discussion that has taken place these last few days on Planet Debian about application usability and how much information exposed to a user is too much. In one end you have Axel Beckert (with some commentary support by Wouter) talking about how some of the new changes made to the Galeon web browser have actually “crippled it” for the more “advanced” user. On the other side of the “rink” is Erich Schubert, who believes that most users are not interested in seeing every possible configuration option a web browser has to offer.

The “logic” behind these changes is that a normal user would never want to set certain configuration options and should therefore not be displayed at all!!! Having developed a few applications and dealt directly with end users in my career, I can see why you wouldn’t your users to know what the real database field name for a report parameter is, since chances are the user won’t know what to do with that piece of information. But that assumption will only work if your application gets used by “normal” users. The moment it gets adopted by someone who dares to go beyond the default settings/uses/etc, that assumption is thrown out of the window. In my case, there were users who not only wanted to learn the specifics behind the application, but were able to extract much more information and provide excellent feedback during the development of new featueres. Since they learned how the application worked under the hood, they were able to better design their experiments (this was when I was working for a pharmaceutical company) so to take advantage of the system. They also knew where to get their data and that proved to be very important during their data analysis.

I have got to side with Axel Beckert here… The same way Linux allows me to control my computer, I should be able to control how I want my applications behave. For some people, just being able to browse the web should suffice… and that is ok… let that be the default… and they don’t have to even lift up the hood. For some others, myself included, the default settings may not be the optimal solution.

Say no to software design dictatorship!


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