Jeff Waugh gives a lively and entertaining rebuttal to Asa Dotzler's provocative OSCON challenge to the free software developers engaged in the "Search for the Linux Desktop". For the desktop to become a more pleasing experience, Waugh argues, software creators must understand that 99% (or even 99.99%) of the population doesn't care all that much about computers. The kind of people who hang out at OSCON may not always "get" what the average person is experiencing or wanting from their computer. To bridge this gap, a recent cultural shift among GNOME developers has put more focus on user interface, stability and universal access. Migration to Linux from proprietary operating systems is still a tough nut, but there is some progress there too.
Waugh celebrates the sexy simplicity to be found in the GNOME 2.0 desktop and applications built on free standards and the GNOME human interface guidelines. He compares a simple action-oriented GNOME dialog box with an example from Windows. The Windows dialog overwhelms the user with three paragraphs of computerese and two buttons, one labeled "Yes" and the other labeled "No". In GNOME, the developers put verbs on the buttons like "Save" and "Cancel" so that the user should have a good idea about what is happening just from looking at their choice of actions. To prove the point, Waugh introduces a pair of special de-geeking eyeglasses, invented so that developers can see a dialog box from the perspective of non-technical end users. With the glasses, the thicket of text is blurred and all that can be seen are the final choices.
Waugh traces the GNOME community's recent energy on usability to their belief that freedom is not just for geeks who write software. Freedom is for those who actually use software. Menus, windows, icons and pointers are given little thought by average people, but may be seen as the day-to-day tools of software makers, the would-be architects of tomorrow's freedom.