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The Goal of All Good Design

Keep it simple.
 - Brian Kernighan
Simplicity is the goal of all good design.
 - Dan Geer


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FOSS can get really ugly. When it comes to ugly and unusable FOSS are head and shoulders above everyone. And they wonder why their platforms and applications never achieve widespread popularity?

What's really amazing of course is that some of these FOSS people are accredited and work for some of the major software houses. Such as Google. And in terms of good taste and design and general chops are still so very diseased.

What's also really amazing - and oh so painfully ironic - is that this FOSS thing hatched out of the Bell Labs Unix movement. Where 'simplicity is the goal of all good design' first got its foothold. If there's one thing Brian Kernighan, Dennis Ritchie, Ken Thompson, Joe Osanna, Al Aho, Doug McIlroy, and all the rest stand for and imputed to the computer science industry over the years - and for which we're all eternally grateful - is that simplicity is the fountainhead of elegance - and thereby also usability.

These FOSS clowns - where do they all come from? Where do they all belong? Do they merit mention in a new fourth verse to Paul McCartney's Eleanor Rigby?

Now look what some no-nonsense feet on the planet's surface Swedish hackers come up with. Not often understood is that Swedes have a propensity for just getting things done. With no confusion. With a level of organisation other cultures can't attain to. This is a good example.

The FOSS graphic makes you want to vomit. The other comes pregnant with an infinite number of latent opportunities.

It's also said the best programs never need an instruction manual because things just work as you'd expect. It's also known (focus group studies et al) at least 60% of computer end users aren't going to read any instruction manuals anyway - they're going to just click around. Which is why IBM's 'Forgiveness Principle' becomes so important.

In the first case you can't really count on knowing WTF the app is supposed to do, much less how to do it. And guaranteed it's going to let you down, frustrate you, and screw things (and itself) up.

[The size of the download is so obscene that alone can make you vomit. Simplicity and elegance are never packaged in monster downloads. Ed.]

In the second case you can just go and do whatever you want. Just go ahead. It's going to work. And if it doesn't it isn't going to screw you up.

The programmers for the second application don't work for Google. They're not infatuated with their own reputation, with Richard M Stallman, or the exquisite taste of Kool-Aid™. The clown who built the first application and thinks it's 'sexy' (yes that's his word for it) works for Google.

Reflect on that and learn. And next time you see an app that leaves you nauseated and confused: don't try to remember what you had for breakfast - blame the dude who made it so nauseating and confusing for you.

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