New user experience

Yesterday I made an experiment which for me is difficult to do: I showed Ubuntu 12.04 to a person (about 70 years old) completely new to computers (only used the mouse to click through a set of photos so far but that's it). I only know a very few people of this type (most already have used computers).

I have seen a lot of funny and interesting behaviour (like hit the key with the pipe character written on it instead of i ;-) - never thought of things like this). Don't want to go into detail - just share the most relevant results in very short:

  1. Big icons are not only for people visually handicapped - also for people who are not familiar with a mouse (or relevant for touchscreens: have big fingers). A quadratic form is easier to click than a rectangular shape (text on websites is rectangular shape and more difficult to click than the Ubuntu Unity launchers for example).
  2. Without explanations - whatever Operating System - a complete newbie person cannot learn only on his/her own. There needs to be a person that explains. Not to talk about administration. A newbie with low experience level will never administrate the computer on his/her own. There must be a person with higher experience level helping out and doing this for everyone who just wants to do a few things (or must do). This draws a very important conclusion for me - confirming my belly feeling somehow: The operating system must try to minimize the annoyance for that guy behind everything. The person that needs to help out the core family and a dozen of friends! - That usually are IT people or at least the very technical interested guy/girl. So companies or communities building an operating system need to focus more on the technical person than on the new user! If the guy/girl that needs to administrate, hates the OS he/she will install something else and the user needs to adapt. For the unexercised user efficiency differences of one or the other operating system are irrelevant - not so for the power user or IT guy! So those driving an operating system forward with their experience and with their desires for improving efficiency are the key group - they are the experts others will trust. Who would you rather ask which new car to buy - the flower lady at the corner or the taxi driver?
  3. Most websites are far more complicated to use than the base operating system. Navigating those sites is far more hassle. Last but not least because they do not tend to look similar. Imagine, all websites would have a standardized menu so that whataver company site you are at, you find the link to the office hours at the same position.
Related post:  The truth about software.

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