Exploratory inspection-a user-based learning method for improving open source software usability

Luyin Zhao, Fadi P. Deek, James A. McHugh

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


The increasingly widespread use of open source software (OSS) is an indication of its success. However, as a software development model OSS still has shortcomings that need to be resolved. In particular, the question of usability and its improvement in an OSS context remains a significant ongoing issue that demands further investigation. This is especially so given the unique manner in which OSS diverges from traditional software development models. Current experience with OSS does not favor the existence of a positive relation between the standard OSS development paradigm and good usability practice. We believe that addressing the inadequacy of usability expertise in the OSS community will improve the quality of its products and enhance their competitiveness. Motivated by the unique user-driven character of the OSS model, we propose an exploratory method for inspection which is intended to assist OSS users in contributing to open source usability inspection. This method provides an effective adaptation of the 'learning-by-doing' approach to the domain of usability inspection. This is accomplished by innovatively applying usability patterns to guide usability exploration, incorporating strategies for 'outlining knowledge' and 'exploration freedom' and implementing both techniques in an integrated inspection environment. The results of an experiment involving a group of OSS users inspecting an open source project called dotproject demonstrate that this method outperforms traditional heuristics-based inspection. The paper also considers the applicability of the usability method and tool developed to usability improvement in the context of traditional proprietary development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)653-675
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Software Maintenance and Evolution
Issue number8
StatePublished - Dec 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Software


  • exploratory learning
  • inspection
  • open source software
  • pattern
  • usability


Dive into the research topics of 'Exploratory inspection-a user-based learning method for improving open source software usability'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this