While I have been blogging a lot about usability in GNOME, this blog is about the usability in open source software. So I wanted to highlight another open source software project that recently posted an updated release with improved usability.
Xfce 4.12 released on February 28, 2015. This version represents over 2 years' work by the development team, and includes a host of new features. I'm most excited by improvements to usability in Xfce. From the Xfce 4.12 tour, here is the Xfce 4.12 default desktop, with a few open applications:
Xfce uses a more traditional desktop metaphor, with a panel at the bottom of the screen to launch programs, and an "Applications" menu at the top-left with open windows listed along the top bar. The panel and top bar are dark grey, but the default desktop is otherwise a cheerful light blue that should influence a positive user experience.
Application windows are well-drawn, and it's clear in the screenshot which program has focus because of the subtle clues in the program window's title bar. The "active" window uses dark text on a light grey title bar, while "inactive" windows use an "iced out" title. Even the window controls provide visual hints: the "active" window has clearly defined window controls, while "inactive" windows do not.
I believe that users would respond well to the more typical use of menus. The application top bar is reserved for the program name plus a few window controls (minimize, maximize, close).
Overall, the new Xfce seems very nice, and should provide a very positive user experience. Judging by screenshots, I think the Xfce project made huge strides in usability.
I'm sure Xfce 4.12 will appear as an available "spin" of the next Fedora Linux distribution. The Fedora 22 release schedule suggest the new distribution will be available in May, and I look forward to testing it. I especially would like to compare Xfce's usability to 4.10, which was overall very good but had a few usability issues, notably in installing printers and adding new software. Will the new Xfce still be an improvement? I can't wait to find out.