On usability, free software and perfection

For centuries, progress was about to make possible what was not. All the technologies, all the inventions were done with the very idea of « Make something that was never done before, that was considered as impossible ». It worked so well in the last decades that we faced an new challenge: things were now possible but incredibly hard to do. Only a few educated minority was able to use the technology.

Yes, this is a doorbell

One of the solution to that problem is to train people. That’s the solution we choose for cars. Driving a car is incredibly complex and dangerous. Yet, most of us manage to learn the basis in a few months. Some kill themselves (and sometimes innocent beings). But we don’t mind and don’t even consider it as a technical challenge, merely an educational one.

Another solution is making the technology easier, requiring less training. This is the path we are following with electronic devices. This became a brand new field of engineering: usability. Ten years ago, a three buttons dishwasher came with a hundred pages manual. Now, your full fledged computer come without any manual at all.

Les opportunités manquées du Libre : la satisfaction

Les opportunités manquées du Libre : la satisfaction

Ceci est le billet 1 sur 4 dans la série Les opportunités manquées du Libre

Pendant des siècles, la définition de l’innovation était « rendre possible quelque chose qui ne l’était pas auparavant ». Même si cela n’affectait qu’une minorité technologiquement lettrée ou ayant la chance d’être bien équipée. Désormais, un autre type d’innovation prend le pas : « rendre agréable à une catégorie de personnes ce qui est possible ». Imaginons que vous souhaitiez […]

Writing on a smartphone: review of 8pen and MessagEase

I like to write. Consequently, I’m constantly trying to optimize my writing tools. On a computer, I’m very satisfied by my Typematrix keyboard configured to use the Bépo keymap, which is the French Dvorak.

An old typewriter

When typing, we use approximately 50 keys. Combined with Shift and Alt, this gives you more or less 150 characters. Some of them are dead keys, giving you even more characters but some are completely useless on a day-to-day basis. I’m writing mostly in French, which requires a lot more characters than English. How does it translate on a smartphone? I will share my experience and review the two most innovative solutions I’ve found: MessagEase and 8pen.

First of all, I consider that a smartphone or a tablet has nothing to do with a typewriter. As such, it’s completely silly to try to mimic a solution that was designed to work around hardware limitations. Each time I see a virtual QWERTY non-aligned keyboard on a tablet, I sigh.

The aristocratic desktop (part 4) : Kill The Double Click

Ceci est le billet 2 sur 4 dans la série The Aristocratic Desktop

Part 1 : Introduction
Part 2 : Home is Desktop
Part 3 : There’s no tray icon in GNOME !
Part 4 : Kill The Double Click

When I started installing the best desktop possible for Marie and Jean, we were still in the GNOME 2.X era. GNOME 3 solved my previous concerns. No in the way I envisioned it, but solved them anyway. No more desktop icons, no more tray icons.

But now that I’m introducing Marie and Jean to GNOME 3, I still have some concerns. And one of that main concern is the infamous double-click!

Mouse click

Proposal for a decentralized and open online payment protocol

During the year 2005-2006, I became a decentralization whore. I realized that, with XMPP, nearly anything could be decentralized. With one exception: online payment. Paypal was highly successful but also highly centralized. Was it possible to build a decentralized version of Paypal? I came with a solution which involved web of trust and shared debts around a virtual currency, which is more or less a kind of solution that the Ripple project is exploring. I thought that it was too impractical and not really appealing. I forgot that solution and the problem stayed in some obscure part of my brain.

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love The Shell

So far, I’ve used GNOME-Shell for at least 10 minutes and Unity for at least 15. And it was six months ago. Just to tell you how much I’m competent on the subject. And I didn’t like them. Not at all. I’ve my own ideas about the desktop.

Shells on the beach

So what? What is the point about liking or not liking? You don’t like blue? Does it make blue a bad color? User interaction is an engineering science. You identify a problem, you design prototypes, you conduct experiments to choose which design has the best result (on a scale that you built as part of the experiment). The fact that you like a prototype more than another is not relevant.

Board of columns of keys

The biggest issue when talking about usability is that people tend to be used to what they get, even if sub-optimal. And because they are used to it, they will never question the validity of the current model and, worst, they will fight loudly against any change. That’s why I’m so pleased when someone come with an out-of-the-box idea.

machine with buttons

Just think about a machine that will need input. Add lot of buttons, more than one hundred, nearly all of the same size and color. Spread those buttons in a total random order, without even aligning them. That’s it, you have the most widely used human-machine input mechanism : the keyboard !

Scary, isn’t it ?

The aristocratic desktop (part 3) : There’s no tray icon in GNOME!

Ceci est le billet 2 sur 4 dans la série The Aristocratic Desktop

Part 1 : Introduction
Part 2 : Home is Desktop
Part 3 : There’s no tray icon in GNOME 
Part 4 : Kill The Double Click

Repeat after me one more time : there’s no such thing as a « tray icon » in GNOME. GNOME has a notification area which has nothing to do with the Windows-ish obscenity called « systray », this little space where any application can put a little icon.

child tray

I mean, seriously, have you ever think about how completely stupid is the idea of a « tray icon »? Can you imagine how black magic it should be for a new computer user?

Le bépo sur le bout des doigts

Le billet suivant est une méthode à destination des personnes souhaitant apprendre la disposition de clavier bépo, que ce soit en complément ou pour remplacer complètement l’azerty[1] (l’utilisation des deux en parallèle étant en effet possible). Cette méthode est issue de mon expérience personnelle[2] à laquelle j’ai corrigé certaines des erreurs que j’ai faites lors de mon apprentissage.


Se mettre au bépo demande de la motivation et une certaine assiduité au début. Cependant, cela peut également être un défi amusant et un investissement pour préserver vos articulations.

Quelle que soit la façon que vous choisissiez pour passer au bépo, il est impératif d’avoir une méthode structurée et de faire des exercices avec un logiciel de dactylographie. Passer au bépo brusquement en pensant que l’habitude viendra peut rallonger votre période d’apprentissage de 6 semaines à 6 mois voire plus ! Pensez-y : vous avez mis plusieurs années pour arriver à votre vitesse actuelle en azerty.


[1] Ou toute autre disposition, bien entendu.

[2] 6 semaines pour passer de 0 à 55MPM en bépo