Monday, March 28, 2016

Usability issues with PlayOnLinux

By Harsha Cherukuri

In most of the popular open source operating systems like Ubuntu/Linux Mint, when it comes to run Windows applications on the Linux environment, one of the best option is using Wine. It is not an emulator but runs the Windows API on top of Linux. We can define Wine as an open source compatibility layer software application that aims to allows users to run applications designed for Microsoft Windows on Linux. Wine provides a software library, known as Winelib, which can compile Windows applications to port them to Linux-based operating systems [1].

PlayOnLinux is graphical user interface for the Wine software-compatibility layer which allows Linux users to run their Windows-based applications. This tool was developed using Bash and Python. It also includes some advanced features, like creating scripts using Bash while controlling  the installation process [2]. From my personal experience with PlayOnLinux on Ubuntu, I found this application has usability issues and some options were bit unusual when compared to other applications. In this blog post, I would like to mainly focus on the issues when the user starts using PlayOnLinux for running Windows-based applications.

1. Design problems with application interface:

When we launch the application, we can see two buttons Run and Close as shown in the Fig 1.

Fig 1. Design interface having meaningless presence of Run/Close buttons.

The user may be confused by having these buttons, when no application is installed. Upon clicking any of these buttons, we get a prompt asking to “select a program” to run. When we click the Run or Close button, it would be running or closing the program accordingly. There is also a possibility that user may try to run his windows application, but for this we have Install button.

Solution: When no application is installed yet, one possibility could be, we can grey out these buttons. When the first application gets installed, then we can make this buttons visible. Another possibility could be, when a user clicks on Run/Close buttons and no application is installed yet, then it can prompt to install an application/program first, instead of asking to select a program.

2. Design problems while installing listed/non-listed programs:

When we are trying to install listed/non-listed programs on PlayOnLinux, we can encounter the following issue as shown in the Fig 2.

Fig 2. Installation failed, on clicking Next we end up to make a shortcut page.

When the application installation has failed to configure the Wine software compatibility layer, We have two options, one is to click Cancel to exit installation and other is to click Next. On clicking Next we get create shortcut page, where we are asked to create a shortcut for the application we are trying to install. But, in our case application installation has failed.

Solution: When application installation has failed, on clicking the Next button, we need to get the page that allows the user to choose whether to reinstall the application or to terminate the installation. Instead the user get a page to create a shortcut, for the application that is not installed.

3. Nothing happens on clicking Twitter, Facebook and Google+ buttons:

When we choose Support we see some options like Twitter, Google+ and Facebook

Fig 3. Twitter, Google+ and Facebook options doesn't work

as shown in the Fig 3. When we click on them we are expected to open up the support/discussion pages for PlayOnLinux on respective social networking sites. Unfortunately, nothing happens on clicking them.

Solution: Applications must be able to open up respective social networking sites when the user clicks on them. They need to update the links at those options. If the application doesn't have its supporting/discussion pages on social networking sites, it should remove those options under Support tab.

4. Issues while configuring virtual drive:

While installing the application using PlayOnLinux, we are expected to configure a virtual drive. We have two options, one to create a new virtual drive and second is to configure the existing virtual drive as shown in the fig 4.

Fig 4. Show virtual drivers button unchecked and no Back button.

he next page asking to select one program. But, if we observe 'show virtual box' check box, it is unchecked. It needs to be checked by default as we need to select the existing virtual drive. It also provides an option to proceed further without selecting resulting an error as shown in Fig 4. We don't even have a Back button to go back and select appropriate virtual drive, in this scenario we need to restart the installation process.

Solution: By default, ‘show virtual drivers’ button must be checked. The Back button need to be added on each dialog box, so that user can go back and change settings. In the above scenario if the user doesn't select any virtual drive, the application is allowing to move further. The error message must prompt the user to select an existing virtual drive or allow him/her to create a new virtual drive.

5. No filters have been provided for searching:

Form the existing listed application from the install menu as shown in fig 5. If the user wishes to select one from the listed categories and makes a search, we get the results from all the categories ignoring the user selection for a filter.

Fig 5. Confusion over search results.

If we observe, when we select Accessories and search for 'office', we are expected to get ‘not found’ as office is listed in the Office option. But when we start typing in the search bar, we observe that the Accessories option gets unchecked and we get the results from all the categories.

Solution: In the search bar, ‘filter option’ needs to be added so that user can make his/her choice to get the results from all the categories or the one he/she selected.

6. Conclusion:

PlayOnLinux is open source application and an innovative idea to to configure the Wine software compatibility layer. This application has some usability issues as mentioned above. It can be improved by providing some extra options like adding Back button, improved search bar, adding help buttons while configuring virtual drivers and improving feedback mechanism.

7. References:

[1]”Wine (software)”. Accessed 27 March 2016.
[2] "Play on Linux". Accessed 27 March 2016.

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