Quo vadis, Dolphin? Results from the developers study.

We report the results of our Dolphin developer study and outline the follow-up study with users. Next to feedback we are looking for translation support.

Results of the developers study

Recently, we conducted a small study how developers want to improve Dolphin. First we asked about usability criteria. When forced to prioritize the developers’ goal is to provide functionality in favor of simplicity, individualization, and learnability. This does not mean to produce a Swiss army knife but the opposite “as simple as possible” is clearly refused. Regarding these goals the current state is estimated as rather good by the developers; only one response was given with a negative tendency. Beside bug fixing the next planned tasks are enhancement of the information panel (including UI usage) and better system integration (seamless handling of KIO slaves and removable devices, activity awareness, better Nepomuk queries).

Rationale for Usability

Starting point of the investigation was the finding that “Recents” is barely useful at the moment because of the few and fixed periods (today, yesterday, this week, last week) that are offered. To broaden the original question how to improve Recents: We need a concept for Dolphin’s sidebars. Currently we have Places in terms of special folders that can be extended by Favorites or bookmarks, and Devices for access to all external interfaces. Users can show a tree structure for the file system (Folders), a Terminal for command line in- and output, and context sensitive Information of selected file(s) or folder. Additionally, Recents can be used to show files not according to folder structure but based on other criteria, like time of last access so far.

Options

According to Dolphin’s philosophy the primary usability goal is to provide features that are easy to discover and efficient to use. Since Dolphin was introduced as a simple alternative to Konqueror it’s focus could hence be defined as providing a maximum of simplicity (notice the contrast to what developers actually state in the survey). Alternatively, if users really demand more features, simple solutions that focus on a particular problem make sense. For the actual question of Recents it might be a vertical dual slider (aka range slider) for instance, placed contiguous to Recents’ data. The control has a lower anchor (the oldest known entry) and an upper anchor (the most recent file), and thumbs to adjust the upper and lower bounds to define shown range. On the other hand, users might want to have a more sophisticated interface with full control for different purposes and perhaps with fancy visualization. In terms of Recents users might not only want to browse files by time of last access but as well by file size, file type, or given tags, for example. Such a solution could be similar to a graphical presentation of folder content with some kind of drill-down navigation like offered by Filelight.

Objectives of further research

All three options make sense: purification (keep it simple and don’t add features), floating recents (just have some kind of unobtrusive recent filter), or swankification (provide a full featured, fancy graphical solution). The decision what to implement should be based on user requirements. For this reason we prepared (and will start soon) a follow-up study for users.

Methodology

The planned study intends to investigate general preferences first. As using a particular file manager depends on the task the user wants to accomplish, we start with a question about what file manager is used in which situation. For instance, users might choose a command line interface because of it’s efficiency even though they report low values for learnability and self-descriptiveness. Others want to have an easy to use tool (and chose it carefully for this purpose) but accept less features for individualization. Next we ask why a certain program is chosen. The answers will be compared with a detailed assessment of satisfaction with the program. A good way for a reliable benchmarking of a certain software is to compare it with other, similar products. We assume that the majority of users will simply use the standard file manager. These people might not be able to report how well their file manager works compared to others. But if the data is summarized independently, e.g. average results of several responders for a certain product is compared to the average of other products, an interpretation of the results will be possible.

Request for support

We want to run the study in as many language as possible. The more participants we can attract, the more representative the results will be. If you want to help us with localization for your native language, please send us an email. You will get invited to our test platform UserWeave which also provides a tool for translation. Last but not least we should mention that User Prompt is not affiliated with the developers of Dolphin. We only give recommendations on usability issues but the decision what will be realized is up to the core team. So please don’t blame them if anything we propose will not get implemented. Finally: Don’t hesitate to comment. All opinions are welcome!