A number of FLOSS tools require users to do work at the command line in order to set them up or operate them. With Linux and its applications, this is often expected. Very few Windows, Apple, or even Android applications expect anyone to do this anymore.
Expecting this of end users is problematic (as I’ve explored to some extent before), and is likely to lead to very minimal spread and adoption of a piece of software.
Recently, I have been speaking with the Tahoe-LAFS project about improving the usability of their secure, decentralized file hosting system. They told me an OSX package was newly available. Oh, excellent, I thought. They can be a candidate for the expert UX review sweep we’re about to do. Under the guidance of a Nielsen Norman Group researcher, we would walk through the discovery, install, setup, and basic functions of a small suite of FLOSS security tools.
The Tahoe-LAFS team gave me a link to a recent functional build. I downloaded the package, ran the standard Mac installer, and clicked on the resulting app. It gave me the error message “You can’t open the application “tahoe” because it may be damaged or incomplete.”
I went back to their devs. It’s broken, I told them. Can I have a new package?
Oh, they said. You just have to run it at the command line.
At this point, it looked like the expert review for Tahoe-LAFS was off, and I was going to have to report that the app had showstopping failures. Mac users are at least marginally used to double-clicking packages to install them (and these days, the iTunes store means they often don’t even need to do that). Any user, no matter how advanced, is likely to take a system message saying an app is “damaged or incomplete” at face value. Even an expert user would be unlikely to try to work the app at the command line at that point; forget about asking your average nurse, retail clerk, or office manager to do so. All that aside, I didn’t have any interface to evaluate.
Then one of their developers sent me a video of the Tahoe-LAFS setup process, and I saw an opportunity to do a review comparing what I saw to standards for usability.
And as it turns out, this is may also be more generally helpful to explain to FLOSS developers why the command line isn’t just “not ‘shiny‘” or “not dumbed down like a GUI” — it actually cognitively disables users.
Here is my annotation of the Tahoe-LAFS setup video. NOTE: Have the YouTube “Annotations” feature active, or you won’t see the usability comments and none of this will make much sense.