On usability and on what Debian is about

Submitted by gwolf on Thu, 09/22/2005 - 21:11
Andres Salomon rants on the apparent lack of focus on usability we have in Debian, compared to Ubuntu. First of all, I think that directly relating the word usability with the concept desktop is a very big and common mistake. I know I am not in the 99% of the computer users - but usability for me almost always means the opposite: Interfaces that stay out of the way giving you easy access to whatever you need (and I do mean whatever - think a nice and cozy shell, think ol' beloved Emacs). Once again, I know I am not in the majority, I know that many people will prefer spiffyness (if such a word exists). And, of course, I know perfectly the shortcomings of my style for the non-techie user. However, back to my point: Debian does not target a specific set of users. Debian targets anything deemed interesting and worthy by its developers - even if its developers try to go in opposite directions. Partly because of that, Debian as such, will probably only be useful for some people... It took me quite a while to grasp what might be the meaning of our often quoted slogan, The universal Operating System - What does that mean? I have always spoken against the one-size-fits-all approach - And that's precisely why I chose and continue to choose Debian. And that's Free Software is all about. I think I only came to terms with this slogan (which I hated before) after understanding why were many people pushing for CDD (Custom Debian Distributions): Because our work must be staged to really be universal. Debian provides a great deal of the needed integration work. Debian provides a well-established base, very usable and very (some people would say, excessively) complete. Of course, for most users, it is way too much. I have (numerically) 6% of the available packages installed in my main system - I suppose the proportion would be closer to 30% if I used any other mainstream distribution. It's easy to cut from there, to throw away most of the packages you will not need for a particular user profile, and provide a better solution for them. And that's precisely what Ubuntu -and many, many other derivers- do. Yes, I also -as most DDs and Debian supporters I've talked to as well- have some doubts and viewpoint shifts regarding how is Ubuntu good or bad for Debian. There are many, many sensitive spots. That's not what I want to tackle here... Call it Ubuntu, Progeny, Linspire, Libranet, LinEx, GuadaLinex, or whatever you want - We work on giving them a good, solid foundation. They work on improving this foundation for the kind of users they need. And, of course, those users will be happier than having the generic thing. Well, too much typing already. That's that.
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