Why Free Software has poor usability, and how to improve it

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When I wrote the first version of this article six years ago, I called it “Why Free Software usability tends to suck”. Today’s best open source applications and operating systems are better than they were then. But this is largely from slow incremental improvements, and low-level competition between projects and distributors. Major problems with the design process itself remain unfixed.

Many of these problems are with volunteer software in general, not Free Software in particular. Hobbyist proprietary programs are often hard to use for many of the same reasons. But the easiest way of getting volunteers to contribute to a program is to make it open source. And while thousands of people are now employed in developing Free Software, most of its developers are volunteers. So it’s in Free Software that we see volunteer software’s usability problems most often.

That gives us a clue to our first two problems.

1. Weak incentives for usability.

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