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...making Linux just a little more fun!
From Germany: Linux vs. XP Usability Study
By Willy Smith

From Germany: Linux vs. XP Usability Study Home | VizagInfo Mirror of LG

From Germany: Linux vs. XP Usability Study

This usability study, released 13-August-2003 by relavantive AG of Berlin, will enable those who are considering a migration to Linux to know what to expect from users having to adapt to a new operating system running typical applications. It is available in English and in German. (4 MB PDF file).

The following are excerpts of the document, to give you an idea of the scope and conclusions of the study:


The test system was based on SuSE 8.2 and KDE 3.1.2

For each test subject, the test consisted of three parts:

- the pretest questionnaire regarding background experience and demographical data.

- the usage test: the performance of typical office tasks.

- the posttest questionnaire regarding preference, problems, changes of opinion, and also considering the ease of learning and estimation of competence.

In total, we tested 80 participants, 60 of those on Linux and 20 on Windows XP. The usual and sufficient number for a usability test is 10 to 20 people. We chose this unusually high number of test participants so as to differentiate between user types.

- Users have a general competence in the daily use of Windows at work

- Users have no administrative rights or root privileges, they are, therefore, unable to install applications or change central settings.

- The computer is largely preconfigured.

- Use of the computer is mostly restricted to specific applications in a practically homogenous surrounding

- Users have an administrator or members of support staff at hand in case they face any technical problems

- If any system changes are implemented, users will be trained accordingly

The tasks were:

1. Configure the screensaver so that it comes on after 20 minutes.

2. Please use a word processing program of your own choice to write the following lines: Harry Potter In the latest Harry Potter novel, an important person will lose his or her life. Format the first line as a centered heading. Add page numbers on right hand upper margin of the page. Print the document. Save the document as "Potter.doc" in WORD format in your personal folder. Close the program.

3. Play the third title of the music CD placed next to you and listen to it briefly. Change the program's volume control to a comfortable level. Close the application and remove the CD from the drive.

4. In your personal folder, create a new folder of any name. On a computer (called “henriette") connected via network, look for the document "Besprechung.doc" in the folder "Unterlagen". Please copy this document to the previously created local folder.

5. List all files from your personal folder which have been created on 06/25/2003 and start with the letters “Vorschlag".

6. Save (burn) the previously copied document "Besprechung.doc" (in your created folder) onto a CD (which you will find beside you). Afterwards, remove the CD from the drive.

7. Open the email application. You have received a new mail which mentions the date of an appointment. Have a look at the organizer and see whether you are still free on that date. If that date is still available, please enter the appointment.

8. Write an email to Michael Meier, the contact details of whom you will find in the address book. As a “subject" please enter “Anfahrt" and in the main text area "Anbei die Anfahrtsskizze". Please enclose a document called "Anfahrtsskizze.gif" as an attachment. This can be found amongst your personal documents in the picture folder. Send the mail.

9. Look for a program which can display .pdf files. Place an icon/symbol of that program in the bottom bar so that you can start the program with a single click.

10. Please open a Web Browser and load the web page that is listed in the bookmark folder "Pictures“ ("Bilder“). Set the picture shown on this web page as the desktop background of your computer.

At first glance, this choice of tasks seems to contain ones which are not conventional work related office applications, like playing a music CD or changing the background image. Nevertheless, those tasks were useful in categorizing the test subjects into different user types and in discovering usage patterns on the basis of certain behavior patterns. The choice of tasks was “neutral" on purpose. This means that the problems were decided upon during the test design phase, before their complexity had been assessed on either system.

The results showed that the Linux Desktop is not a user's nightmare. On the contrary, the test participants liked it and enjoyed using it. Not only was the general look and feel accepted by the users but some Linux applications even turned out to be more usable than their Windows XP equivalents. Also, the general productivity did not decrease.

Additionally, there is the advantage of a flexible and highly configurable system, highly adaptable to the needs of an individual company and its employees. Linux offers advantages in many ways, not least on the desktop. This adaptation has to take into account the employees' experiences, skills, expectations and potentials. The return on this comparably low investment will be high because of higher acceptance of the new desktop system, a shorter settling-in period and lower training needs. In even just taking into account the employees' experience the course of the migration will provide positive feedback.

However, apart from these generally positive results, we have to be aware of the following facts: The tested system was not "out of the box“ but pre-configured with usability guidelines in mind. This dealt with many of the problems that the users would have encountered using some default system. Based on the detailed results of our (and coming) usability tests, this configuration may be further optimized.

To summarize: It should be noted that a migration towards Linux, above all if it concerns the employees' desktops, is not only a technical or economic process, but essentially a matter of Human Resources. If this is taken into account, the effort of migrating to Linux will be comparable to migrating to any other operating system.


In short, this is a brief examination of where we are today with Linux on the desktop. Since Linux supports most languages, the study should be useful in most cases for companies or other organizations who already have computer literate people and who are considering licensing new software; it will also be useful to those who are not yet ready to migrate, but who still want to keep their finger on the pulse of how Linux is advancing in the workplace.

Unless otherwise mentioned, this work copyright © 2003-2004 by SSC, Inc. All rights reserved.


[BIO] None provided.

Copyright © 2004, Willy Smith. Copying license
Published in Issue 98 of Linux Gazette, January 2004

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