Java News from Sunday, February 6, 2005

Why does open source usability continue to suck so badly? I mean, the Gnome Project (to name just one) can't even get the easy stuff right. For instance, take a look at this screenshot from the absolute latest release of Gnome, and look at the the menu bar, toolbar, and buttons. It may not be immediately obvious to you what's wrong, but it will probably bother you somewhat, maybe consciously, maybe not. Fixing this would be so easy. It wouldn't violate any patents. It would take about five minutes of time, maximum. And yet it's been an outstanding issue in Gnome for years. I'm familiar with all the explanations for why open source usability sucks: no money to support user testing, programmers prefer to add features than to take them out, CS departments don't teach usability. Frankly, I'm not sure any of these suffice to explain such long-standing and easy-to-fix problems as the one that leaps out from that screenshot.

I'm really beginning to wonder if maybe programmers (who as a group control open source development) are genetically incapable of seeing problems like this. It's long been known that programmers tend to score quite differently on various personality tests such as the Meyers-Briggs than the general population does. Could it be that programmers really can't see the problems with these interfaces? I know not everyone (myself included) is capable of designing attractive, usable interfaces; but most of us can at least recognize them when we see them and tell the difference between good and bad. I'm not sure most programmers can. For instance, why that hideous Jupiter colored background? I hope that's just one user's choice. Gnome's had much nicer background colors in the past, and I prefer to think they're at least not going backwards. Oh, by the way, in case you couldn't quite put your finger on what was wrong, the font wasn't bold enough for a user interface item. Small detail, I know; but that's the point. This is so easy to fix, why haven't they fixed it?

The Jakarta Apache Project has posted the first release candidate of HTTPClient 3.0. New features in 3.0 include:

According to the announcement, "The 3.0 API is frozen and all known bugs have been fixed. Assuming no major problems are discovered in RC1 a final 3.0 release will follow shortly. We strongly encourage all current HttpClient users to start migrating."