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Closed-door design vs. the open-source ecosystem

A while back, my father (knowing I'm interested in these things) sent me a link to this article, in which the author supplies a critique of the windows 7 user interface. Here's my response, which I thought I'd share:

Good article, the author raises some interesting points. I definitely agree with him where he says that interface design seems to be stuck in the '80s. One thing I disagree with, though, is his optimism about Microsoft's ability to resolve these issues.

The problem is, you have a small group of 'specialists' trying to guess what people want, and come up with a single solution that is good for all -- power users and casual users, and perhaps more importantly, those who have invested a lot of time learning the old ways of doing things and those who are willing to experiment with new (and hopefully better) approaches.

Of course, the solution to this would be to have a selection of different interfaces designed for different types of user, but I don't see Microsoft adopting this approach anytime soon. On the other hand, this is exactly how the Linux world works, and is actually one of the main reasons I'm into Linux. For a start, you have the two main desktop environments, KDE and GNOME, both of which offer fairly conventional user interfaces, but tailored for slightly different sets of users. Then there are some less common environments, like Mezzo and Etoile, which have their own ideas about the user interface.

The great thing about this system is that it works on the 'survival of the fittest' principle -- the success of a given project depends on how well they serve the purposes of their users. If too many projects exist in a given niche, the weaker ones will die out, and if there is a niche that is not being addressed, projects will spring up to fill it. In fact, this applies across all applications in the free/open source world, not just desktop environments (remember how Firefox supplanted the Mozilla suite?).

 

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