Introducing new features into any operating system — whether that’s Linux, macOS or Windows — is a tricky proposition. How do you educate your users about those features without inundating them with pop-ups or other annoyances? The developers at elementary OS recognize that the majority of PC users probably aren’t tracking release notes about their operating system, or religiously following updates on Twitter or Medium. They aren’t subscribing to mailing lists, and they probably don’t even dig deep into their system settings. So how do you get the word out in a subtle but helpful way? That’s where elementary’s new “Onboarding” app comes into focus.
“[…] if you need a tutorial, your product is likely too difficult to understand and may lead to long-term dissatisfaction,” writes elementary’s Cassidy James Blaede on Medium. And that’s likely why elementary hasn’t implemented any kind of onboarding process until now. The developers, however, aren’t afraid to embrace a little change.
An Elegant Welcome
Other Linux distributions like Ubuntu MATE and Ubuntu Budgie have great Welcome apps that pop up after you’ve installed the OS, giving you a tour (albeit a wordy one) of key functionality and features. I have to say I sincerely love elementary’s take on the first-run experience, because it’s not only elegant but modular.
Let’s say you’re a first-time user. You’ve just installed elementary OS. After you create your user account and log in, you’ll see the optional six-step Onboarding app. Here, you can switch on the Night Light, toggle on or off Location Services, set up some Housekeeping (this periodically deletes temporary and trashed files for you), or jump into the AppCenter to download some software. it’s not wordy, and the associated icons alone are enough to explain what each feature is.
It gets better though, and this is where I think elementary separates itself from the pack.
The elementary OS devs entertained what might happen if major new features were introduced “mid-cycle,” and not during a typical point release upgrade. The solution was to simply show existing users a scaled down version of the Onboarding app with only those new features. It avoids repetition and keeps things streamlined.
Behind The Scenes
You can stop reading now, but you shouldn’t. In fact, I would encourage anyone who’s interested in how these types of decisions are made to go read Blaede’s post on Medium. It’s a rare glimpse into why these decisions are made and includes tons of detail surrounding why the app looks the way it does, why they chose 64-pixel icons, the various revisions and more. It’s a fascinating read, and this total transparency is something I really appreciate.
You can read more about elementary OS in this series which took place during the elementary OS Challenge. Better yet, you can just download it and take it for a test drive.
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