On-line tutorials make usability better, but not good

Sometimes the software a user wants to install is not available in the standard repositories of a package manager. In other cases, the software is available, but is not the most recent version. To explore this case, I had users attempt to download the latest version of Wine from the Wine PPA using Synaptic Package Manager.

The process of adding the PPA requires entering an address similar to an URL into a text box, so the user had to look up at least the address. The address and instructions were available together in a short tutorial on the Wine project’s website.

Users found the instructions to be easy to follow but some had difficulty finding the instructions. All participants attempted to find instructions using web search.

The success of this approach was very sensitive to the search terms used. In some cases the instructions would be the first search result, and in other cases the instructions were not anywhere in the first few pages of results. Users who ended up on the Wine project’s website, but not the download page, tended to gravitate toward the AppDB rather than the download page, which had the information they needed on it. The users who ended up in the AppDB stayed within that section of the site rather than exploring sections and did not find the instructions without guidance.

The difficulty of finding instructions shows one problem of using web search as a crutch for supporting operations that users do not understand how to do. The existence of a tutorial on-line does not fully compensate for the difficulty of adding the PPA.

It does not make sense to simply incorporate the Wine PPA into the default repositories because the developers of Wine are not the same as those who develop the operating system that the package manager serves. None-the-less, the desire to access software outside of the default repositories is something users are likely to encounter at some point, and the current methods for helping users with this task are insufficient. One possible method to remedy this may be to provide (in the main repositories) an index of known PPAs, so that users could add and remove PPAs in the same manner as they add and remove software packages.

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1 Response to On-line tutorials make usability better, but not good

  1. Pingback: Updating is easier than knowing if you are up-to-date | Brendon Robinson's Blog

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