Proposal: Ubuntu is not intuitive

Harald hxf at
Thu Nov 5 13:16:11 GMT 2009

On 3. Nov 2009, at 16:02, Jo-Erlend Schinstad wrote:

> I've always felt that calling a computer system "intuitive" is, at  
> best, misleading. My understanding of the word "intuition", is that  
> it's some vague and abstract understanding of something. The use of  
> a computer system should be based on a clear and precise  
> understanding of what's going on.
>> From «(adj)  
>> intuitive, nonrational, visceral (obtained through intuition rather  
>> than from reasoning or observation)»

I agree that "intuitive" is misleading, because it implies a promise  
of not having to learn something. However, a complex user interface  
like Gnome Desktop requires _a lot_ of learning. But then, a well- 
designed user interface makes learning so easy that it happens almost  
unconsciously and almost effortlessly, with little to no explicit  
observations or abstract reasoning. There's nothing "intuitive" about  
an "X" as a symbol to close a window. But this symbol is so easy to  
learn, that users almost instantly forget that they had to learn it in  
the first place.

I disagree that this kind of learning requires an "understanding of  
what's going on". Users tend to think in terms of tasks and/or goals  
("I need to write a resume", "I want to listen to my favorite radio  
station", "I want to invite my friends to a party"). Only few care  
about computers. Many users also think in terms of spatial metaphors  
instead of computer science terms. There are far more users who say "I  
want to get out of here" instead of "I want to close this application  
window". I'm frequently surprised how users work successfully with  
their computers without knowing the least bit about even most basic  
concepts. But then, how many car owners understand how a motor or  
brakes work? They know that they have two pedals, one to drive faster,  
one to slow down. That's all most people need and want to know.

> The way to a lucid computing experience, is a didactive environment.

The way to a pleasant user experience, is not having to learn. ;-)

My favorite example is "mounting" disk drives. As a casual user, I  
don't want to know about "mounting". When I plug-in an USB stick and  
the icon appears on my desktop, I want to simply click on the icon and  
browse the drive. Earlier versions of Ubuntu required that the user  
explicitly mount the drive first. I never understood why drives should  
not mount automatically when you plug them in. So what's the more user- 
friendly solution: teach users the concept of mounting a drive or  
redesign the user interface so that users don't have to think about  
mounting at all?

I think that Ubuntu should not be "intuitive", but rather "easy to  
use" or "user-friendly". Ubuntu is not Linux for geeks, but --as the  
old claim called it apropriately--  "Linux for human beings". ;-)

Just 2c,

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