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ESR and the rally cry to fix CUPS / Open Source Usability (It’s hard… duh)

I’ve been passively reading the Eric Raymond and the online discussion from hisgriping about trying to get printing working under CUPS.

Ted Leung mentions he had similar issues with configuring CUPs. I got CUPS working awhile back but I still only scratched the surface of really understanding how it works. (And I did read most of the docs).

Some of the people complaining about getting CUPS running were trying to configure it under OS X. Yes it’s hard… duh. It’s still CUPS. Here’s a hint. Use the web interface and save yourself some headaches staring at the text config. Why? The UI for the web interface isn’t great but it is a lot better than trying to create a config file from scratch.

Good abstractions can help make the common case of a difficult issue easy. This I agree with 100% and Eric’s whining about. However, once you walk off the common case you’re screwed if you’ve not spent awhile thinking about how to build an interface for that. In my opinion this is where being a teacher is really helpful. How to educate someone to help themselves to a new subject is a tricky process. Most geeks have not had the experience of having to truly try to convey their knowledge to someone that is non-knowledgeable. It’s easier to blast someone as clueless than to try to teach them enough to help themselves. Anyways, if the open source community REALLY wants to make good interfaces for some very critical pieces to a non-laughable desktop (ex. printing) they best keep that in mind. The n3b13 tutorials and interfaces that are meant for utter idiots are quite common. The well designed interfaces that scale up with the needs of the user… are not.

Now, I’m going to vent a little…

All this “IT’S HARD!” whining reminds me of the people who want computer networking to be ‘simple’. You can build all the abstractions you want on top of it. They might be useful RIGHT UP until you run into Peter Deutsch’s 8 fallacies of distributed computing which complements nicely with Joel Spolsky’s Law of Leaky Abstractions. Once you hit issues you get dropped right back into reality of just how much stuff you’ve been ignoring. Does this remind you of your car ever konking out when you need it most? It certainly does to me.

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