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Welcome to Grokdoc's usability study of GNU/Linux newbies. Our goal is to create a useful manual on basic tasks that new users will find simple, clear, and easy to follow using what we learn from our study.
In order to accomplish that goal, we are requesting that you sit down with a friend or family member who is not proficient in GNU/Linux and observe them as they try any distro. Simply watch them and note what they find difficult so we will know what needs to be explained more clearly.
Then tell us what happened by clicking on the links below that apply. The research results will be collected here, and we will then write up the manual explaining how to do the basic tasks we have studied. You can also help us write a manual from what we learn. Your friends and relatives who participated in the study can help, too.
We will be collecting results only in the following categories for this study:
- Letter & Printing
- Surfing the Web
- Linux concepts - The philosophy of Linux can differ from Windows
If you have a usability report involving several of these categories, you can start at Hierarchical TOC#Usability study to file a raw report.
If you are ready to begin telling us about your study results, just click on any of the links above and start telling us your experience. If you have any suggestions let us know.
Are you wondering how to start a new page?
All of us at one time were GNU/Linux newbies. But some of us came from tech backgrounds, which made it not only easier for us but also a lot of fun.
But a new group of nontech users are switching, or being switched by their employers and governments, to the Linux operating system. Some of them, maybe a lot of them, will need help to make the transition pleasant and painfree. There are many wonderful newbie documentation projects, including the Linux Documentation Project ( www.tldp.org ) and LinuxQuestions.org, and this isn't an attempt to duplicate their work. You should tell us about good resources.
Our idea is this: instead of technically proficient people explaining tasks and functions to newbies, we let newbies show us what is hard for them. Proprietary software companies do such usability studies, and they benefit from the knowledge gained. The Free/Open Source community has all that we need to do the same, using the many eyeballs approach, so to speak. Open source ideals applied to research can be very powerful.
You should be able to start at the Hierarchical TOC, and browse through this entire Wiki. This should be helpful when you have only a vague idea of what you are looking for.
GrokDoc proposes that each of us sit down with a friend or relative who is totally new to GNU/Linux, and just let them try to use your distro, any distro you have on hand, including Knoppix and its cousins.
Don't show them anything. Just watch and record. What do they have problems with? How did they try to solve the problem? What happened? Did it fix it? If not, tell them they can find answers on the Internet at such places as LDP or by using Google or by reading the manuals that come with the distro. Don't tell them anything more than that.
Emphasize that they are helping you, not the other way around. Even if they get so stuck you have to give them a hint, you should thank them for helping you find usability holes.
What to have them try
Please have them try to do the following:
- setting up and using email
- writing and printing a letter
- configuring a firewall
- surfing the web
- logging out at the end
What to record
Record what you see, not just what they say. If they have a prompt on the screen, and stop for five minutes trying to figure out what it means or how to move past it, note such bumps in the road, even if they eventually solve it. Ask them to think out loud, if they are willing.
Record their attempts to solve the problem. If you have a video, and they are willing, record it for your own use so as to analyze carefully what happens. (Don't submit that to GrokDoc, however, without contacting us first.) What works? What doesn't? If they hit an unmovable wall, then step in and help, but don't leap in until they are about to give up, and help them just enough to get them moving forward again. We don't want your mom or best friend to hate Linux, just for a study. But let them really try to solve all problems without input from you until they fail utterly.
Note what you observe is hard for them to do, as well as the things they verbally express are hard. Of course, we need to know exactly what distro you are using, including version, and what hardware. Please also record what level of security your system is set to, if you use a distribution that has such a choice, like Mandrake. It can, as you know, affect what they experience.
Pay attention how they name things, before they learn the words normally used. Such native names are targets for GrokSaurus.
- What do they spontaneously say they like and what do they say upsets them?
- Is the menu clear?
- Where do they get lost?
If they express an interest in trying other tasks, let them try, by all means. Maybe, for example, they want to know how to burn a CD. Or they want to know how to set up the PC to interface with their digital camera.
If they are willing to try to install a distro, go ahead and let them try. Record what happens. Let them figure out for themselves what they want and don't want, just using the installation built into the distro as if they were alone in the room.
Analyzing the results
Answers will vary, but that doesn't matter. Standing back and looking at patterns will be the next step. After they have accomplished all the tasks, write down what solved the issues and what didn't and what you think (or they indicated) would have helped. Clear suggestions would be appreciated and very valuable. Would a screenshot have helped? More words in a manual or online resource? Less words? Better organization? Less technical? In other words, evaluate yourself what you think is needed, and please be very specific and as detailed as you can.
We also want input from you on resources that already exist, like LDP. Please list them on the Resources page.
Then we will have two versions of GrokDoc, working from the issues that we find crop up the most. The first will be your input, raw and unabridged, which anyone can write to, edit, etc., wiki style. The other will be an official version, incorporating the best ideas and materials, but polished by our tech writers and me, along with others who may wish to help and have those particular skills.
I want screenshots and graphics too, but no pictures of friends and relatives, please. If you see a way to explain a task using graphics and screenshots, by all means be creative and send in your complete solution, with graphics, screenshots, whatever, to the public page. If you wish credit, that's absolutely fine. If you don't, that is fine too. Be aware that GrokDoc is under a Creative Commons license and that this is a noncommercial project. Please don't contribute copyrighted material that does not belong to you.
Advice from a professional technical writer, Nicolas Richards
I asked a professional technical writer to write about what would make this project really useful. He has volunteered to help with the writing of the manual. Here is his response:
Writing Technical Documents for Computer Beginners by Nicolas Richards