I have rounded up my first victim, er, participant. My participant is a 53-year-old female who now uses Mozilla as her default email tool on a Mac ibook running OS X. She is a novice/casual user.
I used the Xandros Open Circulation Edition (OCE). The ISO is named xandros-201-ocd-installation.iso and is available via bittorrent here. The Xandros website has provided some screen shots of the Open Circulation Edition, which I will utilize below.
This test was performed on a system using a Duron 1.3 GHz processor with 96 Meg of RAM and 144 Meg of swap.
# cat /proc/cpuinfo processor : 0 vendor_id : AuthenticAMD cpu family : 6 model : 7 model name : AMD Duron(tm) Processor stepping : 1 cpu MHz : 1312.958 cache size : 64 KB fdiv_bug : no hlt_bug : no f00f_bug : no coma_bug : no fpu : yes fpu_exception : yes cpuid level : 1 wp : yes flags : fpu vme de pse tsc msr pae mce cx8 apic sep mtrr pge mca cmov pat pse36 mmx fxsr sse syscall mmxext 3dnowext 3dnow bogomips : 2621.44 # cat /proc/meminfo total: used: free: shared: buffers: cached: Mem: 96649216 82923520 13725696 0 6361088 57434112 Swap: 144695296 53071872 91623424 MemTotal: 94384 kB MemFree: 13404 kB MemShared: 0 kB Buffers: 6212 kB Cached: 40616 kB SwapCached: 15472 kB Active: 36008 kB Inactive: 33256 kB HighTotal: 0 kB HighFree: 0 kB LowTotal: 94384 kB LowFree: 13404 kB SwapTotal: 141304 kB SwapFree: 89476 kB
Xandros OCE comes with Opera 7.50 pre-installed for both browsing and email, which is what was used for this test. It was not upgraded to Opera 7.51, which is the latest version as of this writing.
I provided the user with email account information in written form. Specifically, I listed her email address, that this was an IMAP account, the name of the 'incomming' server and the 'outgoing' server, the username she should use on the server, and her password on the server.
I prepared the system by freshly installing Xandros OCE, creating a new user for her, providing her with the username and password to login with, and leaving the system at the login window (Xandrosified kdm). The login username and password were not the same as the username and password required by the IMAP server.
The user entered the username and password and logged in successfully. Upon first login, Xandros presents the user with a first-run wizard, asking the user to select preferences for mouse-handedness (right or left), regional settings (language/locale), printers to install, system behavior (KDE, Unix, Windows, MacOS, Xandros), registration, and an option to start the Control Center and Xandros Networks (a utility to download and install software). I may have violated protocol, but since this was not part of the usability test, I instructed her just to press Next until she reached the end of the wizard.
Starting the Email Application
I then asked her to find and start an email application. She first looked at the icons on the desktop. As it happens, there are icons for Trash, Get Technical Support, Get Xandros Users Guide, Home, Opera Web Browser, Quick Start Guide, Upgrade Xandros Desktop, and Xandros Network, but no icon for email.
She then floated her mouse over the icons on the task bar. There was:
- a red "O" icon with the tooltip "Opera Web Browser - Opera Web Browser"
- a box with two M's on it which I guess is supposed to be a filing cabinet labeled "Xandros File Manager - File System Explorer, Web browser, and network browsing utility."
- a life preserver icon with the tooltip "Help"
- a desktop with pen icon with tooltip "Show Desktop"
She eventually noticed the "Launch" button in the lower-left hand corner (keep in mind that she is a MacOS user, not a windows user). The options on the Launch menu were:
- Applications |>
- Find |>
- Control Center
- Xandros File Manager
- Xandros Network
- Recent Documents |>
- Run Command...
- Switch User
She chose Xandros File Manager. This opened a window with a Desktop icon and a My Documents folder icon. She closed this window.
She then said, "Well, I don't know."
Then she tried the Help option on the Launch menu. This had sections for:
- Welcome to Xandros
- Application Manuals
- UNIX Manuals
- Browse Info Page
She quickly clicked through these top-level sections and did not see anything about email. (Even had she clicked on Application Manuals->Applications->Internet, she would not have found any information about email or Opera.)
She then double clicked on the Opera icon on the desktop. This brought up a license agreement window. She closed this window.
She then double clicked on the Opera icon in the task bar. This launched two instances of Opera. A license window appeared. This time she accepted the agreement. Opera opened to the Xandros home page.
(I attempted to take notes manually as she worked. However, things happened too quickly for me to keep up. If I were to do this again, I would definitely try to video it, either with a camcorder, or with the "movie" mode of my digital camera. So I am reconstructing this as well as I can.)
When Opera opens, it has a sidebar with the following icons and labels:
She noticed the Mail icon and clicked it. This opened a second, inner sidebar having:
- Mail (in large font)
- A magnifying glass icon followed by an empty field (presumably a search field)
- "> All Messages"
- "> Labels"
- "> Attachements"
Configuring the Email Account
She eventually double-clicked on Check/Send which opened a New Account Wizard window. This stated: "Select what kind of account you would like to create". It offered these options, with the first (POP) being pre-selected:
- Regular e-mail (POP)
- Opera Web Mail
- Chat (IRC)
She pressed Next. (Since she needed to set up an IMAP account, this was the wrong thing to do. However, I didn't say anything and let her continue.) The second page of the wizard asked for:
- Real name (she entered her user id)
- E-mail address (she entered this correctly)
- Organization (she left this blank)
The third page of the wizard asked for:
- Login name (she entered her current user id in again, despite having the information in front of her about her email server username)
- Password (I'm not sure what she entered here)
The forth page of the wizard asked for:
- Incomming server (she entered this correctly, this matched the terminology that I used to give her the account information. I probably did this unconsciously and is probably not the form in which an ISP would provide the information).
- Checkbox: Use secure connection (TLS) (this was not checked and she left it unchecked)
- Checkbox: Leave messages on server (this was checked and she left it checked)
- Outgoing server (she entered this correctly)
Then she pressed Finish. This opened a window which said, "Your first account has been set up. ... it is stongly advised that you read though a tutorial. Would you like to read the tutorial now?" She clicked on Yes. The tutorial is web-based and this opened the tutorial in a tabbed web window.
However, a second New Account Wizard window became visible when the tutorial window closed. I think this is because she had originally double-clicked on the Check/Send icon instead of single clicking. She was puzzled but dutifully re-entered all the information again. (This had the effect of creating a second email account with the same information.)
She started reading through the tutorial. There were images of windows and buttons to press, which she attempted to click on, nothing happening.
Had she been by herself, she may have spent the time to go through the tutorial. But having someone watching pressured her to move on, I think. Its worth noting that she could not figure out how to close the tutorial. The tabs themselvs do not have close buttons (like Safari on the Mac) and the close button for the active window is in the top-right hand corner, far away from the tab itself.
At this point she had two incorrectly configured accounts and would not have been able to send or receive email. But since there was no obvious error, I suggested that she try sending an email.
Sending an Email
She located the Compose button which brought up a familiar email composition window that appears as another tab. She had no trouble entering my email address, adding a subject line, and writing an email body. The "Send" button is under the row of tabs in a toolbar that is local to the composition window. She located it, clicked on it, and the window closed immediately.
She got a message that the SMPT server was probably incorrectly configured. It stated that the email was queued for delivery, but she dismissed it without paying too much attention.
After looking around a bit, she said, "I have no idea what's going on now."
Since she could do nothing else, I violated protocol (again) and repaired her email account. I deleted the two she had created and created a correct IMAP configuration. When a correct IMAP configuration is submitted, a "Subscribe IMAP Folders" window is displayed listing all of the folders to which you are subscribed. By default, all the folders in you mailbox are active. You have the opportunity to disable any folder by unchecking its checkbox. I should have let her continue starting with this window, but I reflexively dismissed it.
This results in a screen that has the original sidebar on the left of the screen (Search, Bookmarks, Mail, ...), the inner side bar to the right of that (Mail, Check/Send, Compose, ...), and the tutorial still sitting in a browser window which takes up the rest of the screen.
I asked her to read an email that I had previously sent her. Having seen me use the Mail menu option at the top of the screen during my protocol violation, the first thing she did was click on that. This leads, among other things, to a Read option, which in turn leads to options listing all the possible categories of things you can read:
- Unread (this was in bold)
- All Messaged |>
- Labels |>
- Attachments |>
- Mailing Lists |>
- Mail for email@example.com (66) |>
Since Unread was in bold, she selected that. What this does is open a new tab to a mail reading window. So now we have a left sidebar, an inner sidebar with the large title "Mail" (still there from when it was first opened), and the main part of the screen with the large title "Unread". Below the "Unread" title, the mail reading window has a toolbar with icons for Compose, Reply, Reply All, Forward, Read (meaning, mark the currently selected item as having been read), Spam, Delete, Label, View. Below the toolbar is a list of unread mail items, the sender, the subject, the time and size all in bold blue font. Below this is space for the body of the message.
As it happens, my participant happened to have a lot of unread email in her account, but it was sprinkled throughout her inbox so she did not notice it in Mozilla. In Opera, however, when you are in "Unread" mode, it shows all and only unread messages. On her own, she used shift-click to multi-select and delete a lot of old obsolete unread email.
At this point, a tour through the tutorial may have been useful. Opera provides many ways to slice and dice your email and other types of messages (new groups, RSS feeds, etc). However, it seemed a little over-whelming to a first time user who was surprised by the amount of unread email she had and could not locate the one email (from me) that she was looking for.
Opera also has spam detection and enabling that would have been a useful excersize.
However, it seemed that we had gone about as far as we could go without having gone through the tutorial. So I ended the test having achieved only moderate success.
I think that with a mimimal amount of coaching, the user could have achieved an acceptable level of proficiency with Opera email. This may also have been acheivable by going through the tutorial. But it would have been rather difficult to achieve entirely on her own through direct experimentation. There appears to be only one chance to start the email tutorial. If you miss that chance, its not obvious how you might start it again later. (Note: the tutorial is available here. Opera email looks quite powerful and sophisticated, but intimidating to the new user.
Configuration of the email account is an obstacle. I'm not sure that a casual non-technical user would be able to take the bits and pieces of arbitrary information provided by an ISP (servers, users, passwords, etc) and successfully configure an email account. Part of this is nomenclature (what's an SMTP server, what's an "outgoing" server?). If each data entry field had a help button that brough up a narration explaining exactly what piece of information is being requested, that might help. Opera doesn't seem to have that kind of assistence at data entry time.
Opera also seems to have a powerful email filtering/labeling/searching facility with spam detection. I am actually interested in exploring this further. However, for a casual non-technical user, the sophistication can be overwhelming. In the "Unread" mode, as soon as you've seen the message, it disappears (since it has now been read). This is somewhat unexpected behavior since it is not clear where the message went and how to get back to it. (The way to get back to it is to navigate to your INBOX and adjust the "view filters" to your liking (show or not show trash, spam, mail that has been marked as read, mail that has matched a filter, mailing lists, newsgroups, and RSS newfeeds).)
But managing all of these options is a rather tall order for a newbie. And unfortunately, I didn't get this far with my participant, so I am basically speculating at this point. But I would say that instead of being guided to the "Unread" mode (which was a seductive choice because it was bolded), a novice user would be more successful being guided to their INBOX, making sure that the initial "view filters" on the INBOX results in the least amount of surprise (mail which is read should not suddently disappear).
There are also usability issues with Xandros. It was far too difficult for my participant to find and start the email program. If you have one icon that says "Browser" and another that says "Email" and they both happen to take you to the same application, I think that is better than not having an obvious way to get to the email application at all. Ideally, you would be able to start Opera in "email mode" (like you can with Mozilla) which would open Opera at your INBOX. An email icon on the desktop could then start Opera in the expected mode.
If I do this again, I will definitely allocate more time. I would set aside at least 2 hours. There was a mild feeling of being rushed in this test.