Friday September 13th, 2013 by Björn Balazs and Heiko Tietze
Recently, we conducted a survey about screen management tools. In order to focus the development of KScreen to users’ needs we asked about the arrangement of displays, how often settings are changed, and which features users configure.
In total 715 participants started the survey, 15% did not finished the first part and a further 10% the second. After also removing replies without any answer 437 valid records were left to be analyzed in detail.
As expected both the display configuration and the view settings are rarely changed by most users. But on the other hand about 25% of all responders adjust at least one option daily. Thus, screen management is an essential part of system configuration and should be evaluated carefully to meet usability requirements.
About 75% of all reported reasons for adjusting the display settings are related to bugs (e. g. resolution is not restored correctly, inappropriate positioning of windows, false recognition of hardware). Most usage scenarios outlined by the users include a notebook that is connected to an external monitor at work, to a projector for presentation, another monitor or a TV at home. The configuration fails due to various reasons, like faulty display identification data (EDID) or a failure when storing the last used setup (cf. figure 1a).
Screen management tools are most frequently used to switch a view on or off. According to free text answers the secondary display is switched off per software rather than using the power button either because the display does not provide power off at all, or since the positioning of windows is buggy otherwise. Changing the orientation of the display happens rather rarely, cf. figure 1b for all numbers. Users can adjust the position of views freely, even overlapping views are possible. But most users don’t know about this feature (or do not comprehend the term ‘overlapping view’ that was used in the survey). Pretty interesting is the type of setup: 50% of all users apply the span mode (using two, horizontally aligned SVGA monitors result in one view with 2048×768px), multi mode follows with about 35% (both displays are treated as single screens), and only 8% clone the output (cf. figure 1c).
- Figure 1: Selected results from the survey: a) Reasons for change, b) changed settings, and c) type of configuration.
During Akademy 2013 we had the opportunity to run short usability tests that basically confirm these results. The main additional findings in these lab tests were:
- Ambiguous meaning of the icons used (What do ‘four inward pointing arrows’ mean?)
- Problems with custom controls (Why does the screen get ‘resized’ when just the resolution is changed?)
- Problems with the general set-up (‘Why is there so much white space?’)
All features of screen management are needed, but some are used more frequently than others. Especially activation of monitors, but also flexible positioning of views, resolution and primary screen are important for users. Frequently the use of a screen management tool is required due to bugs, so the approach of KScreen to make screen management more or less invisible seems to be reasonable. Still all screen management options need to be available for users at all times. As they are used rather rarely (assuming the the bugs are squashed), usability or better the aspect of ‘learnability’ plays an important role when designing the interfaces. In an upcoming posting we will present a proposal for a UI that is based on these results and meets general requirements for software and KDE’s style in particular.