Users look for an application installer in the application area

Before a user can use a package manager, they first have to find and run it. There were three locations in the interface that were used for this purpose:

  • Listed as a regular application
  • In the same area as regular applications, but visually distinct
  • In a setup or configuration area of the system

Most participants in the user studies found Ubuntu Software Center easily. The first place people checked was typically the Applications menu, and Software Center was listed at the bottom of the Applications menu. Most did not see Software Center at the bottom immediately, but instead browsed the categories searching for it there first.

The location of Software Center in Ubuntu 10.04

The location of Software Center in Ubuntu 10.04

None-the-less, it was spotted quickly. Many package managers used a similar approach. On systems where the package manager was more visually distinct from the rest of the applications menu, users found it more quickly. In systems where the package manager was made to appear like any other application, such as on Apple’s iPad, users often overlooked it amongst the sea of other, similar-looking applications, but it was found reasonably quickly in all cases.

The most troublesome option was placing the package manager in a setup or configuration area of the system. For example, Synaptic Package Manager was located under the System->Administration submenu, which most users checked only after exhausting every other submenu.

The location of Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu 10.04

The location of Synaptic Package Manager in Ubuntu 10.04

Most acknowledged that in retrospect, the placement makes sense, but was not where they would have thought to look for it, and identified the Applications menu as the place they expected it to be. Two participants required guidance to locate Synaptic. One afterward indicated that they would have never found it under System:

“To me, System is somewhere you put things that a novice user should never touch.”

The Puppy Package Manager can be run from the application menu, but there is also an Install icon on the desktop. Six of the seven participants who used Puppy Package Manager went for that icon. The participants found the location of the icon intuitive but found it unintuitive that the same “install” button contained operations for both running the package manager, and for installing the operating system to a hard disk. Puppy Linux brings up a dialog box to allow users to choose between the operations. Only one user mistakenly chose the wrong operation, but all lost a considerable amount of time reading the wordy dialog box.

Lucid Puppy's "Install" dialog box

Lucid Puppy's "Install" dialog box

QuickPET is located in a sub-menu for configuration, similar to Synaptic Package Manager. Participants found the sub-menu easily, but were confused between QuickPET and other options in the sub-menu, which included an option to install the operating system to the hard drive, and a configuration wizard.

Sub-menu containing QuickPET

Sub-menu containing QuickPET

The usability implications from these results point to a clear preference for locating the package manager in the same area of the system as the applications that it installs. Making the package manager visually distinct from other applications helped usability, but having it as a regular application listing was not particularly problematic as long as it was a top-level item and not buried in a sub-menu.

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