Open Source Interfaces

Open Source and Free Software projects have historically had terrible interfaces, due mostly to their volunteer community nature. Most often, the people that create the program and write all the code end up being the ones that also create the interface. Most projects are too complex to allow for interface contributors, so what we’re often stuck with is lots and lots of open source software that was designed by an engineer and is difficult for most to use.

This past weekend I started looking for software to rip a few DVDs to Divx so I could watch them on a plane (without carrying around the discs or cases). I used Mencoder for OS X and although it was easy to create the movies once I had the proper settings, the interface was needlessly complex. Mencoder OSX is an open source port of linux tools. While searching for alternatives, I found another port of mencoder for os x called DVDibbler. If you check out the screenshot, you’ll see it has the same functionality, but in a simplified and straightforward interface. And it’s open source as well.

Screenshot of Mencoder OSX on the left, and DVDibbler on the right (111kb jpg)

Now that there is a recently-formed open source software usability group, I’m hoping that improvements such as this will someday become common.