Last Updated Aug 4, 2008 1:23 PM EDT
As Matthew Paul Thomas pointed out in his critique, there are some basic factors that often make good interface design a stranger to free software projects. Here's my own take:
- People working on free software projects tend to be programmers, not designers, and a programmer may not understand usability and appeal any more than a designer would be able to write a b-tree database in C++.
- Volunteers are already giving away their time, so asking them to spend lots more learning the basics of design isn't going to be met with sighs of sublime exaltation.
- Not only do programmers not understand design principles, but they don't want to hear about them.
- Measuring usability is tough, making good design even harder.
- Too many people can monkey with the look and feel, and too many programmers mimic what some of the major companies have already done.
- Products are written by the computing cognoscenti for their peers, not for beginners.
- Program files are small, more easily distributed, and opened with your favorite programming editor. Design files are big and general require specialized software.
All this should be good news for software businesses. People like features, sure, but if you talk to users, you'll see how many hate pretty much everything they have to use on a computer. They may like software if it's free, but they really want something they can use, and people will judge free software in that manner. Heck, they have been judging it that way, which is why free programs have largely lagged behind commercial software in adoption.
That leaves a market gap for the commercial applications. Companies could spend a lot less energy cramming in new features and instead transform their products into something that customers actually enjoyed using. It's hard to see how that could do any worse in selling a new version of a software standby than yet another round of additions that almost no one will use anyway, and it would help cement the reputation of commercial providers as people who care about people -- namely, their customers.