Home > LibreOffice, Localization, User Testing > As if by magic…

As if by magic…

We all know the feeling… software doing something that’s totally counter-intuitive, driving us mad in the process. Here, I can’t decide what’s worse, not doing user testing (or doing it badly, as in, leave it to IT people to test) or not listening to your users. Which of course applies to both open source and proprietary software.

Case in point, LibreOffice (the former OpenOffice). Yes, I’m the localizer for Gaelic there. Yes, I think it’s a really great project and really great software package and yes, I can’t see why schools and government are paying Microsoft money for their products which are getting more complicated by the day (yes, I hate the Ribbon). So what’s my bone? It’s the installation process for new users, oddly enough.

Now LibreOffice comes in over a hundred languages, including languages like Oromo, Tibetan and Ndebele who’d normally have a fight to get into propriety software. Fantastic. So what does an interested user do? Well, they go to the site, select their operating system (great, Windows, Linux and MacOS), select their language, download, install (puzzling a little over the install menu being in English but hey, maybe there’s a technical issue with that), write a letter to their granny in Oromo to tell them about this great thing they now have on their computer. Errr… let’s backtrack to step 2, selecting your language. I’m not sure what was being smoked in the room when the download and install process was designed but here’s what actually happens.

You actually download a fairly hefty file which contains the translated interfaces for all languages plus all spellcheckers and grammar proofing tools that teams have bundled with LibreOffice. Bit of a bugger if you’re on a slow connection folks… You then install and you reach a point where you have to select Typical or Custom installation. Now assuming a “normal” user who can’t program in C++ and writes regex to solve his breakfast sudoku, you choose Typical. You complete the process and open LibreOffice – in English. At this point, wtf comes to your lips in whatever (and possibly all) languages you are most fluent in. You start rooting around in the gubbins, pardon, the Options but yours isn’t there.

At this point you either persevere and eventually get the right answer or, in most cases, you give up cause who wants to bother with software that’s complicated when you’re installing it, never mind how simple it is when using it?? Now what is the right answer, your rightfully wondering? Duh, obviously you have to select Custom (never mind that to this point most people are under the impression they’ve just downloaded their own language), then go to Additional language packs and click to expand the menu, unselect 3 types of English and select your language, then move on and hey presto. Oh, did I mention that whichever path through this you pick, you still have the proofing tools for all languages installed, making it a real pain to find the one you’re actually using.

Yes, I’m shaking my head too. True, they may have inherited this from Oracle’s OpenOffice when they split (forked, as they’ll say). But we’re now several releases down the line and it’s still as insane as ever. Maybe someone like Microsoft can afford to piss off users but a recent splinter of an open source office suite which is trying to make it big?

Ok, so the current process allows you to select more than 1 language for your interface which then allows to to switch but for heaven’s sake guys, there are better ways of doing that… like downloading a new language pack from the web if you choose to add Welsh to your Zulu interface.

Projects like LibreOffice in my view can’t afford to let easy of use for the end user fall behind, even if developing something that shows the time in the Mayan Long Count just sounds like so much more fun than making sure the download and install process runs as smoothly as possible with a minimum of head-scratching cause somewhere down the line you’re either losing customers or someone has to provide a load of unnecessary support.

  1. 29/02/2012 at 9:46 am | #1

    I like your site. You’re sarcastic. That’s great! Two of my favourite things: software and sarcasm! :D

    • 29/02/2012 at 10:17 am | #2

      LOL thank you. I think to survive in localization you either need to be sarcastic or have saintly patience. Since I don’t have the second, the first will have to do!

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