Open source software (OSS) is a paradigm for developing software in a non-proprietary fashion by leveraging virtual communities of independent software engineers. Within these communities, software engineers share source code, contribute new features, and provide bug fixes and patches to a common code base. Eric S. Raymond provided the framework for OSS development in The Cathedral and the Bazaar by discussing the motivations and the social context of individual developers (Raymond 1999). The first rule of open source development is also the reason for an inherent usability problem: “Every good work of software starts by scratching a developer’s personal itch.”
The result is a self-referential system – developers develop for themselves rather than for the average user or the target audience. Usability engineering is considered as superfluous extra (cf. Nichols/Twidale 2003). However, to provide a good user experience, it is the user’s itch that needs to be scratched.
This article presents user experience activities in the context of OpenOffice.org. The author – co-lead of the User Experience Project – will discuss the status of building an open source community of usability professionals to improve the usefulness and usability of the application.