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Simpler applications to attract more users?

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A few days ago, the KDE developer Nate Graham wrote an article that gave a lot to talk about and that is worth recovering, whose subject could be summarized in the idea that is reflected in the headline: Could making KDE software simpler attract more users? These types of reflections never hurt and the case at hand has its point, because as you know, KDE has always been accused of being bloated in terms of options and, therefore, of being more complicated for the newcomer.

By KDE software we mean everything, including the KDE Plasma desktop, its accompanying applications, and all other components; and by Nate Graham we mean the person who keeps us promptly informed with his This week in KDE, in addition to contributing to many other technical issues with special attention generally to the user experience, one of the most delicate vectors when we talk about free software. However, on this occasion I think he has missed the mark, so I am going to give my opinion on it, although in no case is it a reply, but rather to complement the reflection and at most open debate.

First, his, which he develops in this article Y this other, emerged the last of the comments raised by the first. Summing up the story, Graham says that the percentage of advanced users capable of using what he calls complicated applications is very tight and KDE as a project cannot turn its back on what is a majority user base. But let’s start at the beginning.

How does Graham determine which users are advanced and basic? It is based on a curious table with five levels that, despite being unique, has its meaning; but also with a survey by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development that says that «nearly 40% of adults in rich countries have virtually no computer skills«… let alone in developing countries or poor ones, I add.

Thus, Graham understands that “KDE will never be able to dominate the world with software that can only be used by a maximum of 30% of the market. To broaden its appeal, we need our software to be usable by at least people at the next level. […], which doubles the potential to 60% of the market, going from a minority to a solid majority ».

KDE Plasma

KDE Plasma 5.23

“But wait! Won’t this make the KDE software “dumb”? Won’t we alienate our current audience of users […]?”, Add. “After all, smartphone software optimized for entry-level users is really simple and limiting. I mean, it’s a risk. And from this point on, he continues to develop his reflection, in my opinion, without much precision, although there is everything.

For example, Graham points out something that has been a constant in the development of KDE software itself, whether it has been achieved to a greater or lesser extent: the motto that of simple by default, powerful when needed, which is long overdue, is nothing new. And there we can agree: as long as you do not remove options, simplify the default interfaces as much as possible, there is no problem with that.

Now, Graham continues to think about the issue and the supposed price to pay for simplifying the software, finally putting a limit: “We can deliberately exclude people without knowledge from our target audience, since they will probably never be happy with the software of KDE. Our focus on potency will fade even in the simplest applications and it will never appeal to them. GNOME and elementary OS can have those users. ”

That’s when my head explodes … for a very simple reason: If GNOME and elementary OS can have those users … why don’t they already have them? Very simple: because …

The problem with the Linux desktop is not the “software”

We have discussed this a thousand times in these pages and we will discuss as many, because it is a topic as hot as it is recurring. But this is how Graham raises up to the last point and provisions: all the users who are won for KDE or for the Linux desktop in general, are not going to depend on whether the applications are more or less complex or have more or less options. It has never been like this and it never will be.

Let’s compare it to the successful software, Windows or Android. Are KDE applications more complicated than Windows applications? Really? Is Dolphin more complicated to use and configure than Windows Explorer? Are KDE Plasma Preferences More Confusing Than Windows Preferences? There will be specific examples in favor of one or the other, but… And the same happens on mobile phones: there may be very basic applications, but there are also complex ones, full of options… And what about preferences?

Honestly, I highly doubt that the basic user who is outnumbered by KDE’s preferences is also outmatched by Windows or Android’s preferences, and the same is true for any application that falls into their hands. Come on, I don’t think attracting users has anything to do with whether your software interfaces are more or less simple and Graham himself gets ahead: where are the hundreds of millions of GNOME and elementaryOS users?

It’s okay to put in the effort to improve, and the room for improvement in KDE applications in terms of design and usability is wide, as it is in virtually all software out there. But to think that this is the reason why users do not use KDE or, for that matter, the Linux desktop … Or, in other words: to think that improving that will not only attract more users, but also you can open the door to aspiration to such percentages, when that is not a problem at all serious …

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