The HeliOS Project is now.....

The HeliOS Project is now.....
Same mission, same folks...just a different name

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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

This We Can Fix Now...

When I was approached by the folks at Texas Linux Fest to present the keynote, I was a bit surprised.  My focus from the "geeky" side of Linux shifted to the social aspects when I began The HeliOS Project.  I put away Eric and my Gedit scripts and began "working the streets" to get Linux onto more computers and those computers into the hands that needed them most.

Six years and over 1200 computers later, I believe that HeliOS has gained some significant insight into how people react to the Linux Desktop.

That insight is what we discussed during the keynote.  It wasn't my best public speaking engagement.  I'm having some issues with my throat and larynx so my presentation wasn't exactly smooth.  It didn't help that I changed some of the subject matter at the last moment so I may have rambled a bit.

Fact is, I was a bit disappointed with my showing, but we got our point across.

I think this would be a good time to talk about them.

The biggest fixes are the simple ones.

Given the development models within the Linuxsphere, it's a wonder that Linux exists in a workable fashion.  The fact that Linux is gaining slow but sure market share stands as a testament to the brilliance and tenacity of those that develop our software.

However, having sat with hundreds of people in the past six years as they explore and learn the OS, I've noted that there are dozens of problems and inconsistencies that are universally present.

What I note here is just a couple of things that should or need to be addressed.  There are hundreds of examples throughout the Linux Desktop.  I'm not picking on any particular project or system...I'm simply pointing out things that have been obvious in my experience.  The Linux Desktop is ripe for many of these easy improvements, and often they will be easy to fix...

If only the people in command of the GUI take them seriously.

One of the first things we do when we introduce a student to Linux is to show and demonstrate Open/LibreOffice.  This office suite has improved greatly over the years but often, there is one issue that creates a bottleneck or confusion.

The saving format.

Like it or not, the majority of people who utilize an office suite are accustomed to using the Microsoft offering.  More often or not, the user isn't concerned with the format of the document as they assume any other user of MS Office will be able to read the document.

You and I know that this isn't true.  The state of Texas, within its various agencies has fought this for years now.  Many agencies still use Office 2003, which creates minor havoc when another agency using Office 2007 or 2010 tries to open the 2003 document...

But those problems are seemingly taken in stride.

However, if this happens with a Linux user sending a MS Office user an ODT document, the entire problem is laid at the feet of the Linux user or system.

That's just the way it is...

Many times, the fact that the Open/LibreOffice user needs to make a choice is not made clear.  I can't count how many times we've been contacted with this problem.  This could be fixed simply with a line or two of text within the save dialog.

Let's take a look at it.

 Note the annotated red arrow and bold text to the right.  We've added this simply as an example of what can be done to cue the user.  Sure, some see the drop down menu to the right, but just as many or more do not.  Just adding some text here would drop the end user confusion down to a rounding error.

You are not speaking our language.

I think one of the most significant issues we've encountered is the way we communicate with our users within the GUI.  Problems are going to manifest themselves when we assume the end user understands our language.

I want you to think back to the first time you encountered a Linux desktop after using MS or Mac environments.

Let's take a simple term such as "mount point".

I can tell you for a fact that this simple term in itself has caused a lot of confusion and inertia.  We can see an example of this in one GUI right away.

 Note at the bottom of the GUI, the instructions state to "Select the mount point of the Bluray Disk."

Now, some would argue that this stands as a learning opportunity for the user, and maybe in this specific instance it does.  Maybe it tends to teach the user what a "mount point" is.

However, in my experience, the term mount point is used in an isolated environment where there is no frame of reference by which to match it.

I argue that it's just one more alien term that reinforces the myth that Linux is a system built by geeks for other geeks.  I further argue that it isn't our "job" to teach a new user our language.  Our "job" should be to provide intuitive software that doesn't get in the way.

Instead of the instructions offered above, why not change it to:

"Click below to choose your Bluray player."

The results are the same and they are presented in a language that the new user understands.  It wouldn't take much effort to implement this change, but unfortunately, in our development community, I don't think the mindset of language will be taken seriously at all.

That's too bad.  It discourages the new user from exploring further.  Sure those most adept at using a computer will trudge on...much like you and I did, but keep in mind, we are a minority.

Probably on par with Linux Desktop market share.  I'd be interested to see how the market share of Linux matches up with the number of Windows Users who make the switch permanently.

Now let's get personal.

I've talked about the way we name our applications and programs before.  I've been told that what we name a program isn't near as important as how the program works.

That's not true.

Three weeks ago, I accepted a reference from the Dell Children's Hospital to deliver a computer to a 12 year old girl.  Valyncia is an A and B student and home schooled.  She is home schooled for a good reason.

She has a rare, incurable and terminal blood disorder.  She won't live to see her 15th birthday.  On top of that she has Cerebral Palsy and she lives her waking hours in leg braces.

Had I not known that she suffered these afflictions, I would have marched into that house and found a great deal of discomfort in showing her how to use The Gimp.

You're going to say that this isn't a big deal.  You're going to say that this doesn't happen enough to merit any real consideration.

It does in my world...

And in Valyncia's.

Roughly 15 percent of the kids we serve have debilitating disabilities.

Until you are constantly faced with the same situation, don't tell me it doesn't make a difference.

Fact is, we are in the process of removing The Gimp from our custom distro.  In its place, we will insert the application Pinta.  I'd rather suffer the wrath of a few open source people for our choice of a Mono app than offer The Gimp to a little girl in prosthetics. 

Will this have any bearing or impact on getting app names changed?  No, probably not and that's not my intent.

What I would like to see happen is some simple forethought.  forethought in how we present our GUI, how we present our language, and ultimately, how we present ourselves.

You are probably unaware of the positive impact your software is having on people, but I am fully aware...I see it hundreds of times a year.  It's a damn shame you present your work with such an irreverent or unthoughtful manner.

Many would assume you just don't take what you do seriously.  Some of these application names seem to be the product of you and your friends, passing around the bong and seeing just how goofy of a name you can come up with.  Given the names of some of the apps in the Linux environment, I can see why some people would think that.

Just a few simple fixes...

All-Righty Then


robert said...

another graphics application to consider krita

PV said...

I would totally support that little bit of text letting users know that they can save their documents in LibreOffice in different formats. And, I agree that "mount point" isn't exactly a self-explanatory term and should be changed. But for the application naming issues as well as the general issues with GIMP, I would suggest KolourPaint: it's just as easy as [gasp] Microsoft Paint, yet it has a couple more quite useful features as well (such as transparency, limited layer support, elliptical selection tools, etc.).
a Linux Mint user since 2009 May 1

Blog of helios said...

We looked at KolourPaint and Krita in the process of replacing Gimp.

Unfortunately, they are KDE apps and we focus on the Gnome Environment. We try not to cross the environment libraries in order to assure a smooth system. We've found that mixing libraries might work in the short term but somewhere around the third update, things go wonky.

tracyanne said...

Actually as much as I love the Gimp, for all the wrong geeky reasons, it's wrong because it doesn't tell us anything about the application... not the way say PhotoShop does.
Yes it's true the IMP part stands for Image Manipulation Program, but it's not at all obvious to the casual observer, and nor is it necessarily obvious that it is the same sort of application as PhotoShop.
We need to have more descriptive names for Linux and FOSS applications... Simple Scan is beautiful, it's descriptive, and it is indeed simple, XSANE is not in the least descriptive, even though it's not that difficult to use. Most people I support take a look at Gwibber and go huh! Mind you skype isn't all that descriptive, and yet it is probably the most popular IM software around, but that is more due to the power of the money spent marketing the application than the name being obvious.
Free Software doesn't have that sort of corporate marketing budget available to it, so it's much more important that function be easily inferred from the name

JRaz said...

Once again Ken you have given us something great to ponder and think about. I for one agree with you on all points. The Linux community at large should take this very seriously. I have helped a few people transition and the same issues come up for them. I hope this awareness changes over time and we as a community will come to expect it. Adoption of naming standards will only advance the growth of Linux.

Ben said...

As a general rule, programmers should never be allowed to name anything. The more competent the programmer, the more likely this is to be true.

Anonymous said...

In the context of the open source image program, "GIMP" is a recursive acronym standing for GNU Image Manipulation Program.

How stuffed into your own little world of developers and code do you have to be before you don't get how bad of a name this is for any application. Never mind the slang implications of offending someone.

Developers for the most part live in a bubble and have absolutely no idea how we see their programs.

Mostly, I think, neither do they care. That's a good indicator why Linux sits in the shadows. At least on the desktop.

kb0hae said...

Hi Ken. Good points. Another problem is that Windows comes with almost no useful software. Usually the user buys/downloads and installs the software, so they know what software does what. New Linux users are presented with at least some (sometimes a lot) of pre-installed software, much of it with non-descriptive the user doesn't know what they have. New users may be hesitant to run a program when they have no idea what it does.

Another point is that there needs to be an easy to use GUI app to do EVERYTHING, but this has not happened. Many users are not used to the command line and are even afraid of it. There is no reason not to create easy to use GUI apps.

Btw, I Started out using DOS 5.0, so using the command line doesn't bother me. But I can understand that is is hard for non-geeks to understand.

The Gimp project could be re-named to Photo IMP, but some would call it PIMP! At least in the menues os some distros the name is spelled out, and some programs have a short description.

I have looked at krita and a few other similar programs, but they all lack the feature of GIMP that I use easy way to increase the color saturation of photos. All of the digital cameras I have used do not quite produce true to life color saturation levels.

TTYL and keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

Some excellent points were made in this posting. I definitely agree about the mount point issue.

Michael Ryan said...

With the subject of the name Gimp, this has been a community concern for quite some time. Looking into it, it seems that the Gnome project pretty much handles Gimp now.

Currently GIMP is maintained and enhanced by a group of volunteers under the auspices of the GNOME Project.

With the history of Gnome completely ignoring the needs and wants of its user base, I doubt if anyone is going to seriously consider changing the name, regardless of how many disabled people it offends.

They are what they are and they definitely are not concerned with their image.

The FART graphic is awesome. Kudos to Starks for posting it.

saulgoode said...

Let's hope you won't be distributing Pinta to anyone unfortunate enough to be afflicted with the skin disease.

Blog of helios said...

@ Saulgoode

Pinta is a human skin disease endemic to Mexico, Central America, and South America.

Not likely...we serve the greater Central Texas area.

Emil Beli said...

Focusing on Gnome was understadable, same I was recommending to new users as it is closest to what they have been using before. However, future of it looks grim. With appearence of Gnome3, all of this changes. It's concept is probably OK for netbooks if they can get it's "weight" down, but it's radical redesign gone totally wrong in my opinion.
KDE4 on the other hand, can be set to work as Gnome2 (changing desktop view to folder view), which can make first steps easier. With power and openness of new Qt4, I see lots of improvements and software comming.

Maybe it's time to switch bootcamps.

Anonymous said...

The Pinta name proves that there is no easy naming convention because GNU-LInux communities are international. You might not feel it important but to those affected in other countries it is so while it doesnt affect Texas, the problem with Pinta and GIMP are identical (Its humane nature to worry about things that affect us and not others).
You cant claim that GIMP has a naming problem but Pinta doesnt just because it doenst affect you.

I know its hard to comprehend for many people this whole planet thing..
My friend Kyril used to laugh his head off everytime a vietnamese kid was called in class because the vietnamese name was the same word as penis in Russian.
I feel the same using Choqok because when the kids bring their friends over, they pronounce it Choke-****.
This will always happen.
I dont mean to even hint that Choqok should be changed because anglophones might get insulted.
The words means sparrow I believe in Persian which is really is a fitting name for a communications program.

But english naming schemes IS NOT the solution either like PV wants. Colour and Paint mean nothing to most people on the planet.

> Adoption of naming standards

I love how Linux advocates talk about the community. THere is NO community in GNU-Linux land, there are MANY communities taht have some crossover with other projects but that dont have anything to do with many others.
We cant get LSB off the ground so I really dont think you are going to corral everyone for naming of projects of which they dont even know the existence of. The kernel dudes while important have little do with the UI princesses.
This is no one solution except for the hollow 'we all have to do soemthing'.
You have thousands of independant projects, in hundreds of countries with just as many languages.

As for naming schemes, lets not make this into 'marketing rulez' mentality.

Skype, Meebo, Bebo mean what exactly?
Apple is a fruit company right? And Macintosh is a brand of apples right?
Do any of these names tell you what they are?
What does Google sell?
Red Hat sells software or headgear?
How about Twitter? I mean it has Twit in it!
Yelp sounds like a dog crying, Amazon sells tall women, Yahoo is some moron and since Alfresco means outdoors I will assume they sell camping gear.

Those names are all pretty stupid and NONE tell you what they do.

The only reason you dont notice their stupidity is that youve heard them so many times you dont say anymore 'Which yahoo decided that naming a tech company Yahoo is a good idea?'
It becomes engrained and we dont notice them anymore.
Firefox has neither fire nor fox yet its a 'good' name.

-I do agree with the red graphic you added to the Saving options in Office.

- I remember back in 2007, I switched to PCLinuxOS for newbies because it was good but also because it had a less scary looking dual boot option which to this day is still used by many distros.
Seriously, who in his right mind thinks that a dualboot done in Black on White like DOS is a good idea? Do you know how many times Ive installed a dual boot for a newbie and they see the DOS like option and they say 'Oh no,.. what happened?'

I installed Kubuntu 10.10 for someone recently and guess what? That big ugly BW option box is still there.
User friendly? Please dont make me laugh.
Mandriva added some blue colour and graphics to the dual boot about 6-7yrs ago yet the 'user friendly' distro doesnt.
I just bring this up because dualboots are still very important when switching someone over. (about 40% of our LUG installs are dualboots)

PastorEd said...

I agree with you on these points, Ken. I've been frustrated with UI issues of various types since I started with Linux over a decade ago... and it's not improved much.

What about renaming Gimp to ImpShop? That way, you could have ImpShop for raster images, and InkScape for vector images. It would seem to take a bit of re-branding, but doable, yes?

Keep up the good work!

Anonymous said...

I guess you're focusing on things that would be trivially easy to change. But it's kind of sad that you mention having evaluated Krita and KolorPaint and rejected them because you don't trust a mixed combination of GNOME and KDE apps to work reliably over the long haul. Assuming you actually thought those were more appropriate apps than GIMP for your class of users, the fact that you as an expert are afraid to mix toolkits is a more serious problem than an admittedly tacky acronym.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 4/27/11 10:20 AM makes very valid points.
The most important point is that FOSS communities are international and many names will have some bad connotation/meaning somewhere.

Just as Ken doesn't worry about Pinta where he is, developers also cannot worry about what names mean everywhere.

Add to that the fact that slang meanings change and evolve over time. A perfectly good name today, may have a horrible slang equivalent in ten years.

Otherwise the point on taking care in picking names is well taken.

Keep up the good work Ken


Anonymous said...

Ken, when you present an evidence of something, as you did, it stops being a myth.

Anonymous said...

I've come to the conclusion over the span of many years, that keeping things simple only seems to nurture simpletonism. Yep, send the default 'ODT'; I'm all for sending what is to most people, an obscure file format, especially to business people. Ha! I have arguements about what a pdf is, and with (sic) professional printers, no less. This continuous and incestuous dumbing down of the general global population has got to stop somewhere, and by initiating a response rather than "catering for their ineptitude" IS what open source is supposed to be about.

Cliff said...

Perhaps all that is needed is generic names of the type of program. For example, Art or Paint coupled to the sponsor's name such as KDE or Gnome.

Cliff said...

Perhaps all that is needed is generic names for the type of program such as Paint or Art coupled with the sponsor's name KDE, Gnome, or whatever.

Anonymous said...

Keeping things simple, just nurtures simpletonism. I'm all for sending a (sic) obscure format... I WANT to initiate a response; after all, I DO need them to learn why I do not accept the 'doc' format, and that it IS a stupid way to send a (sic) "final" document across (sic) two as-the-crow-flies kilometres between them and me. Jeez! I have arguments with (sic) professional printers, about what a pdf document is (they want my png image converted to a tiff, or a pdf, as they can only load those into xxxx program). Speaking of 'pdf', what is that? 'Bmp'? 'Doc'? 'Docx' You want program names to be more descriptive, yet most users seem to already have a handle on associations... ie they manage to bridge the gap when necessary.

Blog of helios said...

the fact that you as an expert are afraid to mix toolkits is a more serious problem than an admittedly tacky acronym.

Snarky much Anonymous? You're not thinking it through.

I not only installed those machines, I am bound for their maintenance and tech support for two years. We've already tried mixing KDE and Gnome apps under Gnome and it caused mayhem in too many cases.

If you want to come help me untangle the fishing line that mixing libraries can cause, I will more than certainly put you down on the volunteer roster. Let me know when you will be available. We currently have about 700 machines we serve when things go bad...but with our mix of software, it's almost always hardware issues.

Let me know when you can commit. I'll be waiting.

Rawler said...

About Gimp-replacement; Have a look at MyPaint as well. Very simplistic in nature, but very powerful. Very clear focus on painting, and IMHO highly stimulating for creativity.

Oh, and it removes the dependency on Mono. Just Python and GTK, IIRC.

KenJennings said...

Anyone know how hard it is to retool the splash screen and menu labels to make "GIMP" into something nicer, cuter, less insensitive to others. Is there anything else internal that would require a rebuild?

Blog of helios said...

Hey Ken,

I'm not sure aside from the menu references but then again, my coding experience is limited to bash and Python.

This is something I would like to discuss if you have some ideas.


Anonymous said...

the fact that you as an expert are afraid to mix toolkits is a more serious problem than an admittedly tacky acronym.

Snarky much Anonymous? You're not thinking it through.

(I'm not the original poster - just a third party with a different opinion.)

Ken - I interpreted his comment in a different way. The way I read his message is that the *real* problem is that *anyone* (not just _you_) should need to be afraid to mix toolkits. That's a technical issue between those toolkits, not an administrative issue addressed at you.

The fact that problems exist when mixing Gnome & KDE apps is a technical issue which is a more serious problem than a poorly-named app. (At least, that's how I interpreted the original post.)

Blog of helios said...

@ last Anonymous...

Snarky much helios?

you are right and I probably misinterpreted his meaning. My apologies for being such a happens more and more as I get older.

Chalk it up to my increasing Curmudgeon factor and accept my apology.

blerko said...

You may be able to fix the openoffice problem by following the tip here:

Hope that helps a little bit, always impressed with the work you do and posts you make

blerko said...

Oh and you can change the splash screen on the Gimp here and looking at the menus etc they tend to use GNU Image Manipulation Program in the Title bar, here's the link:

David said...

Gimp = AMP or AMPLE (Artistic Manipulation Program). Okay, I only thought about it for about 30 seconds, so there must be a bunch of other ideas.