Originally Published: Monday, 23 October 2000 Author: Emmett Plant
Published to: featured_articles/Featured Articles Page: 1/1 - [Printable]

Eazel: Strangely Optimistic

Last week I got to sit down on IRC with Arlo Rose, John Sullivan and Greg Corrin from Eazel. These guys are out to change the way you think about the Linux desktop, and they're gaining speed. A new preview release of Nautilus is right around the corner, with some neat features and surprises you might not have expected. Read on!

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John Sullivan: Ah, you must be Greg Corrin, eh?
Greg Corrin: yup
John Sullivan: Greg can shush me and Arlo when we start giving away corporate secrets
Greg Corrin: sullivan: there are no corporate secrets
Arlo Rose: 'morning!
John Sullivan: Hi Arlo
Arlo Rose: Hey John. :-)

Linux.com: Hey, Arlo, what's your full name and title?

Arlo Rose: Arlo Rose, Pixel Hacker (Nautilus UI Lead)

Linux.com: Arlo: Tell me about the regular day at Eazel for you.

John Sullivan: I wonder if the silence means that Arlo has no regular days at Eazel...
Arlo Rose: Well, it's usually me walking into the office, with my heart set on finishing up a specific task I've wanted to get done for weeks, and ends up with me having to help an engineer through some design issue that I think will only take a few minutes, but ends up taking all day. :-)

Linux.com: What's the latest chunk of implementation hell? :)

John Sullivan: We're nearing a preview release
John Sullivan: We want it to look and act good for customers
John Sullivan: So the latest implementation hell is all the little details for this release
Arlo Rose: Oh dear... .the latest chunk is the visual and usable state of our Services component.

Linux.com: Tell me about all about the preview release! :)

John Sullivan: that's rather a lot...
John Sullivan: We've had one preview release so far
John Sullivan: This will be the second
John Sullivan: It's sorta like a "beta" release
John Sullivan: Almost all the features are in there and should be working
Arlo Rose: This release will focus on getting our interested customers a chance to play with Services.
John Sullivan: But we still have a lot of polishing between this release and the final one
John Sullivan: like Arlo said, getting the Services working is an important component of this release
John Sullivan: The previous preview release did not have Services at all

Linux.com: What services will be in this release?

Arlo Rose: We're really excited about letting people see this stufff, and right now, I'm thrashing to make sure it looks and works as good as it can.
John Sullivan: There's a software installer...
Arlo Rose: Our online storage, a catalog of software to install...
John Sullivan: a web storage area (we call it the "vault")

Linux.com: What's the Vault all about?

Arlo Rose: .It's not called the vault to the outside world. :-)
John Sullivan: Oh, it used to be.
John Sullivan: It's a place where each user can have a shared web storage area
John Sullivan: the UI is just the normal file-browsing UI
Arlo Rose: The "Vault" (Eazel Online Strorage) is a place where users can store data offline.
Arlo Rose: But what's cool about it is that we've integrated it into Nautilus, so you can see it via the browser.

Linux.com: So if I want to back up my mp3's, I can just use the service and store them in the vault?

John Sullivan: sure
Arlo Rose: But also via a web page if you're on a Mac, in another city.
Arlo Rose: yup

Linux.com: How much will it cost me to back up my insanely huge collection?

Greg Corrin: 25MB free, but all of our sevices are free for a trial
Greg Corrin: : )

Linux.com: Okay. Have you guys done any user-testing yet, and if so, how is it going?

John Sullivan: we've done a little so far, but only a little
John Sullivan: I'll let Arlo fill you in on more details
Arlo Rose: Yeah, I've started a mini test lab over here... It's going really well, and we've gotten back some important data.
Arlo Rose: Our first round was all about basics...
Arlo Rose: File browsing...
Arlo Rose: Copying...
Arlo Rose: Moving..
Arlo Rose: Etc.
Arlo Rose: And we made some interesting discoveries
Arlo Rose: And tuned our software to make sure that what we were doing fit with what our "novice" users were expecting.

Linux.com: Tell!

Arlo Rose: Well, we went into this project thinking that novice users would grasp a single click to open items... thinking about the file browser as a cousin to a web browser...
Arlo Rose: And one of the *first* things that was obviously clear was that we were wrong. :-)
John Sullivan: We had implemented both single-click and double-click, as a preference.
Arlo Rose: I've never seen a more sad and angry group of people trying to use a computer in my life.
John Sullivan: But the default was single-click.
John Sullivan: Now, the default is double-click. : )
Arlo Rose: That's just a tiny example...
Arlo Rose: User testing also unearths things you never expect...
Arlo Rose: Like users trying to use the location bar to change a file name.
Arlo Rose: Or our side bar...
Arlo Rose: Looking at the tree view, and thinking that their home directory is the root of the drive.
Arlo Rose: One I'm still worried about is the single window setting.
Arlo Rose: No one got that.

Linux.com: What happened?

John Sullivan: That's another preference, using a single window when navigating a la web browsing, vs. using a window for each directory
Arlo Rose: I tried to get people to copy files from one folder to another, and the result was a disaster... Advanced and Novice users alike didn't know what to do.
John Sullivan: Users couldn't figure out *how* to open multiple windows (though there are ways, even in single-window mode)
John Sullivan: Without opening multiple windows, you can't drag a file from one directory to another
Arlo Rose: I fully expected the "emergency action" to be to drag the file to the desktop, and then back into the destination window.
Arlo Rose: But they never even did that.
John Sullivan: An interesting (and well-known) UI lesson this emphasizes is:
John Sullivan: Preferences are fine, but the default setting is incredibly important
John Sullivan: Many, many people never change the preferences
Arlo Rose: Yup, and this is what the first study was all about... "Default Settings"
John Sullivan: So if you don't have the defaults right, you're really ruining peoples' experiences
John Sullivan: The Linux community is very enamored of preferences
Arlo Rose: I can think of a few apps I use where they really need to get their default settings correct. :-)
John Sullivan: And to some extent, many people in the community don't realize how important this basic UI lesson is.
John Sullivan: Many Linux apps have a zillion preferences.

Linux.com: Will Nautilus?

John Sullivan: And you have to be an expert at that app to understand which combinations make sense.
Arlo Rose: And they don't have the best set by default.
John Sullivan: We want to strike the right balance.
John Sullivan: Of customizability vs. usability.
Arlo Rose: (best, meaning most simple for a basic user)
John Sullivan: They aren't always on the same side.
John Sullivan: Nautilus will have quite a few preferences, but hopefully we will minimize or eliminate preferences that the user can "get wrong"
Arlo Rose: Sometimes you can go overboard... and make it *too* customizable...
John Sullivan: And hopefully we will have the defaults set well.

Linux.com: Where did you guys work before you were at Eazel?

John Sullivan: I've been at a few companies
John Sullivan: My first computer job was at Apple, where I did UI design
John Sullivan: then I went to General Magic, where I did UI design and programming
John Sullivan: then I went to Electric Communities, where I did UI design and programming
John Sullivan: then I consulted for awhile with WebTV, then on to Eazel

Linux.com: You worked with Andy at General Magic?

John Sullivan: yes

Linux.com: And Susan?

John Sullivan: yes, Susan and Andy and a few more

Linux.com: What did you work on at Apple?

John Sullivan: Darin Adler and Pavel Cisler, who are at Eazel, were both at General Magic
John Sullivan: System 7 for the most part
John Sullivan: But lots of odds and ends too
John Sullivan: At the time, System 7 was the biggest software project in Apple's history
John Sullivan: Darin Adler, who is technical lead for Eazel, had that same role for System 7, by the way

Linux.com: How about you, Arlo?

Arlo Rose: I've been a few places, and have done consulting for some biggies.
Arlo Rose: I started off working on a museum exhibit at the Tech in San Jose... from there, went into advertising for two years...
Arlo Rose: My first [official] tech job was designing sofware projects for Scholastic.
Arlo Rose: I did all the design and UI work, and had a team of engineers to make it all work. :-)
Arlo Rose: From there I did consulting for companies like Wells Fargo, Pepsi, Sony, and some other biggies, but got sick of the consulting thing and went to work at Apple.
Arlo Rose: At Apple I was the HI (aka UI) lead for the Appearance Manager and the High Level Toolbox for Copland (Apple's largest software project that dwarfed System 7 ;-)
John Sullivan: Arlo: yeah, but System 7 shipped.
Arlo Rose: and then made the transition out of Copland to the realworld, and retrofitted it all to work on what was at the time the System 7 base.
Arlo Rose: And it became what shipped as Mac OS 8.
Arlo Rose: I too did a ton of other little things at Apple (and some big ones)
Arlo Rose: I worked with a team to create this really cool alternate OS that was for extreme novice users... we designed hardware and software as one... it was really amazing (but I probably can't talk about it in detail).
Arlo Rose: I also worked with Hollywood studios to put Mac systems in movies.
Arlo Rose: I did a lot of Movie DOS. :-)
Arlo Rose: The two fun ones for me were the Saint and Batman & Robin.

Linux.com: Do you guys like it at Eazel?

John Sullivan: Overall, it's a lot of fun at Eazel.
Arlo Rose: Yeah, I like it here a lot.

Linux.com: What's cool about it?

John Sullivan: Of course there are pros and cons in the open source community
Arlo Rose: There are ups and downs but that happens anywhere.
John Sullivan: Open source is a great idea
John Sullivan: It's fun to work with people scattered around the world, in almost real time
John Sullivan: (sometimes in real time)
Arlo Rose: The free backrubs and champagne on Tuesdays and Fridays.
Arlo Rose: (kidding)
John Sullivan: It's exciting that the stuff you create gets seen and used by some people immediately
John Sullivan: This provides a great opportunity for feedback that you don't have in normal commercial software
Arlo Rose: It's also really scary and frustrating.
Arlo Rose: I'm not used to have people see my works in progress.
John Sullivan: The state of the art for UI in the free software community is abysmally low compared to Apple (e.g.)
John Sullivan: This can be frustrating.
John Sullivan: On the other hand, there's nowhere to go but up. : )
Arlo Rose: true.
Arlo Rose: But it can be a challenge getting around some oddities that make doing good UI hard.
Arlo Rose: layout issues.

Linux.com: What sucks about working at Eazel?

John Sullivan: Nothing sucks really badly.
John Sullivan: One thing that isn't as good as I had hoped:
Arlo Rose: Overall it's not an evil place. :-)
John Sullivan: I had hoped that there would be a lot less politics working on open source software.
John Sullivan: But I don't think there is less politics, just different
Arlo Rose: Yeah, I had the same feelings... I thought that so long as you contributed, there wasn't friction, and people were open to your changes...
Arlo Rose: But that wasn't the case.
John Sullivan: There is plenty of friction all around
John Sullivan: And it's frustrating to be using software that has extremely, shall we say, improvable UI
John Sullivan: in the course of my daily work
John Sullivan: If I had infinite time I could try to make all the pieces of Linux software better as I discovered problems
John Sullivan: But there is never very much time for random improvements outside of my main task
John Sullivan: that being to make Nautilus good.

Linux.com: Is Nautilus going to dominate the Linux desktop?

John Sullivan: who knows?
John Sullivan: I think that it will be better in many ways than any other Linux desktop programs I've seen.
John Sullivan: But there are always tradeoffs.
John Sullivan: And being better does not necessarily lead to dominance.

Linux.com: If it did, I'd own a Mac.

Arlo Rose: We certainly want it to... but it will be up to our users to decide... over time... if we're the new standard.
John Sullivan: Windows did not achieve dominance by being better, IMHO
Arlo Rose: One of the perks about working here is Andy's enthusiasm about... well... everything. :-)

Linux.com: Andy is a white ball of healing light. :)

Arlo Rose: Do you want to know anything more about usability, design language, etc?
John Sullivan: One of the worst things about Linux is the state of its overall UI.
John Sullivan: This has got to dramatically improve before it will achieve really widespread acceptance, I think.
Arlo Rose: And along with that...
John Sullivan: Many people are aware of this, not just at Eazel.
Arlo Rose: (let me digress for a sec)
John Sullivan: But it is one of Eazel's primary missions to improve the overall UI.
Arlo Rose: My primary passion is making things usable... but I also have a low threshold for things that look bad.
Arlo Rose: And Linux, IMHO, looks bad.
Arlo Rose: So not only do we have to make it all work really well...
Arlo Rose: which I love doing...
Arlo Rose: we also have to make sure when people see it running... before they even use it... they're already sold.
Arlo Rose: I want people to line up to use Nautilus (and anything else we do) based on screenshots... because that's what they see first
Arlo Rose: So sadly, my time here has been more about pixel tweaking than doing UI work...
Arlo Rose: but that will change as the standards are raised.
Arlo Rose: (visual standards)

Linux.com: Do you think that Nautilus will be able to take on the MacOS in time?

Arlo Rose: in time... yes... but it won't be *just* because of Nautilus...
John Sullivan: There's a looooot of work to be done before Linux is overall comparable with the Macintosh.
Arlo Rose: it will be because Adobe, and MacroMedia, and others put their weight behind the Linux platform
John Sullivan: But Linux does have its advantages too.
John Sullivan: Probably the user base between the two systems will have rather different centers for some time to come.
John Sullivan: But you never know what might be the case in a few years.
Arlo Rose: But the trick will be to get the people at CompUSA into buying a Linux system becuse it browses the web cheaper, and easier.
Arlo Rose: And looks better, and works better.
Arlo Rose: I think Eazel is the first Open Source company to ever have a UI testing lab.
Arlo Rose: So we're proud of that too.
Arlo Rose: And we put what our users want ahead of what our engineers and marketing department want. ;-)
John Sullivan: By the way, most of what I said about Macintosh above applies to Windows as well.
John Sullivan: I am definitely a Mac snob.
Arlo Rose: As am I.
John Sullivan: But Windows is way ahead of Linux in many areas as well.
John Sullivan: Linux is definitely changing faster, though.
Arlo Rose: Givin a choice of Windows or Linux, I'd take Linux in a second...

Linux.com: I can't believe you people are speaking objectively about Linux. They'll come after you with pitchforks and torches.

John Sullivan: probably
John Sullivan: that's OK
John Sullivan: Without viewing it objectively, you can't really improve it significantly

Linux.com: Meanwhile, I'm sitting here running Enlightenment and dying to play Spaceward Ho!.

Arlo Rose: That's something we hope to teach the rest of the Linux/GNOME community...
John Sullivan: Ah, Spaceward Ho!
John Sullivan: I haven't been able to give up my Mac entirely for my daily work.
John Sullivan: I still read email on my Mac
Arlo Rose: how to design your software objectively, and take user requests to heart... do some user testing, and understand who your users are.
John Sullivan: Because the email programs I've seen on Linux are terrible.
John Sullivan: I hope that changes with Evolution

Linux.com: You're in the Linux space. Your users are the guy on the Simpsons that runs the comic book shop.

Arlo Rose: heh
John Sullivan: Not forever, though, or Linux is doomed
John Sullivan: That guy will always be a Linux user, probably (hopefully), but he will be joined by a lot of very different types too
Arlo Rose: we hope. :-)
John Sullivan: One of the challenges of this space is trying to keep the hard-line hackers happy while simultaneously making more "ordinary users" happy too.
Arlo Rose: So to sum up, we not only want to make Nautilus usable, but we also want to educate the rest of the community about what's good UI/HI and Visual design

Linux.com: I think that's a noble goal.

Arlo Rose: and that's what UI at Eazel is all about.

Linux.com: If you can just scream loud enough through the endless whining, they might get it.

Arlo Rose: (welcome to my world)

Linux.com: And Nothing Screams Louder Than Code.

John Sullivan: It's hard to distinguish screaming from whining sometimes.
John Sullivan: Except, like you say, with results
Arlo Rose: Yeah, it's tough... but we're strangely optimistic.





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