How to make open source projects care more about usability and user experience?

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Open source projects have historically suffered from featuritis and poor usability (even WordPress, which this blog runs on, has a cumbersome software update). Now a private company is investing in improving Ubuntu, the Linux desktop poster child:

Canonical, the corporate backer of the Ubuntu version of Linux, is hiring a team to help make open-source software on the desktop more appealing and easier to use.

The company plans to sign up designers and specialists in user experience and interaction to lead Canonical’s work on usability and to contribute to other free and open-source desktop-environment projects, including Gnome and KDE, Mark Shuttleworth, Canonical chief executive and founder of the Ubuntu project, wrote in a blog post on Wednesday.”

Why do we need a private company to do this? Why are usability and user experience still issues that open source is grappling with? Why are some of the best software development projects in terms of usability still privately developed projects? What would need to change in the open source movement so that these issues become engrained in development? Are there some serious best practices, aside from the encyclopaedic approach taken by such initiatives as OpenUsability and Interaction-Design.org?

Canonical’s Ubuntu initiative: article 1 | article 2

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  1. I think the major flaw with OSS is a cultural one. Almost all OSS projects are about “code contribution”. This makes it exceedingly difficult for design/usability oriented suggestions to get met b/c most of us don’t code.

    Until this cultural change is fixed, or with the help of orgs like Canonical (Mozilla.com does this for Firefox and Google for Chrome) it is really difficult to change this.

    — dave