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When “choice” becomes a burden

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A recent LWN article on the openSUSE desktop debate has an excellent quote from user Naheem Zaffar: “Choice is only good if you are informed enough to exercise it.”

Those of you who may have read Barry Schwartz’ “The Paradox of Choice” may already be familiar with the idea of choice paralysis though information overload. One of the reasons I’ve stayed out of the conversation is that I feel that openSUSE should not offer a choice at all. Not supporting “freedom of choice” is a very controversial position to take in a free software community, but many fail to realise how much “choice” can hurt a user.

The current design places a burden on the user. Two options of seemingly equal importance are presented and the user is asked to make a choice. This choice requires the user to be knowledgeable enough about each option to make a decision. Normally, defaults help guide the user in making a decision. Having one selected by default is helpful, but this “hint” is offset by the purposeful neutral presence of an alternative. The list is in alphabetical order and not order of importance and both options have the same visual treatment. How can the user know that the selected option is the best option for them and not simply the first item on the list? This isn’t very user friendly.

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