Sunday, April 1, 2012

Progress on web site redesign

I wanted to share an update on our FreeDOS web site redesign. Again, thank you to everyone who sent us comments on the test design, at either stage of the design process. Your feedback was very useful in improving the usability of the web site, and I think directly contributed to the improved design.

I already provided the background for the redesign project in my other post, but I'll briefly summarize by saying our web site is a good source of FreeDOS information if you were already a FreeDOS user, but is not very approachable by new users. Our new redesign should address that.

Last weekend, I posted the second test web design to our test site, and asked for your comments via a usability feedback form. Here are some highlights of what you told us:

What's working

  • The updated descriptions about FreeDOS in the "Q&A" information is much easier to read. You had very positive remarks here, so I think that's a winner!
  • You really liked the new screenshots of programs running in FreeDOS. I'll keep these updated, and add more as I make this new design "live."
  • The improved link text in the "nav bar" makes it easier for people to see where to go. Several liked that the links use plain language so it was easier to find their way around, even though not all pages are on the test site yet.
  • The new colors look better, as do the new fonts.
  • The new design displays well even on smaller screens (netbooks, iPads, etc.)

What needs work

  • Should mention Dosbox and a few other emulators in the "What do I need to run FreeDOS?" section.
  • Need to add notes in the wiki about how to create a bootable USB flash drive using FreeDOS.
  • Should add some whitespace around the main text so it is easier to read on larger displays. I could do the same for the mobile version, so the text doesn't run up to the edges of the screen.
  • The news feed ("What's new?") may not be helpful for new users.
  • Make the screenshots "rotate" while you are on the front page, rather than displaying a new screenshot each time you load the page.
Most of your suggestions for improvement focused on specific content, rather than design elements, so I'm taking that as a very good sign that I got things "right" in organizing things.


I also asked you to put yourself in the place of 3 new users, and to tell us how these users might use the new web site:

  1. A casual user who wants to use FreeDOS to play old DOS games.
  2. A person who wants to use FreeDOS to run an embedded DOS application.
  3. A user who wants to replace MS-DOS with FreeDOS to run legacy software.

Your response to these scenarios was also very helpful. The consensus was that these new users would be able to easily find the information they need to get started with FreeDOS.

Next steps

If you haven't had an opportunity yet to tell us what you think, please visit the test site and leave us your comments via the online form. Over the next week or so, I may "tweak" some elements of the design based on your feedback. But most of the edits will focus on updating the other pages ("Join the email list", "Links", "Technotes", etc.) and fixing the mobile browser detection so iPads are recognized as a full-size browser. I'll expect to completely rewrite most pages so they are easier to read.

Thanks for your feedback so far! You have played a direct part in updating a very central part of FreeDOS, which just shows you don't have to be a developer to contribute to open source software.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Update on FreeDOS web redesign

Thank you to everyone who responded to the "call for feedback" on the FreeDOS web redesign! Your comments were very helpful, and I am using them to improve the next "test version" of the web site.

A new test design should be out this weekend, and I'm hoping you will take another look and share more comments with me.

I'd like to share some of what I've learned from you in the web redesign process. But first, let me take a step back and talk about my goals for the redesign:

M. "Hannibal" Toal (project coordinator, 1995-1996) assembled the first FreeDOS web site ( in 1995, providing basic information about FreeDOS. Over the years, various webmasters contributed to the site: rewriting old text, growing new content areas, adding new information. However, the web design evolved without a style guide, leading to pages filled with dense paragraphs of highly technical information. Finally, in late 2009, Node Thirty Three Design donated a new web design that updated the look of the web site, but did not address content.

While the design has stabilized, the content remains difficult to use - information is hard to find. These problems were highlighted by an informal survey posted to the freedos-user email list in February. You told me you appreciated the "latest updates" on the front page of the web site, but found the site navigation confusing, and the text on the "About" page too dense to read easily, outdated, or both.

Clearly, we need to improve the web experience for our visitors. This is especially important since we released the FreeDOS 1.1 distribution in early January, which renewed general interest in FreeDOS, and increased traffic to our web site. New users who discover FreeDOS should be able to quickly and easily locate helpful information about the project via our web site.

So, I want to improve the FreeDOS web site, make the site easier to use. But I want to do this the "right" way, not some partial attempt at a redesign. And I don't want to just make the graphics prettier - we definitely need to readjust and rewrite our site content. And I'm willing to do that.

Last weekend, I posted a prototype web design to a new test site,, and asked you to send your comments via a feedback form. Here are some highlights of what you've said:

What's working

  • Many of you liked that we moved the "About" content to the front page, and the "more info" clickable links (although we need to improve that bit.)
  • Screenshots of FreeDOS on the front page. We'll definitely keep this, and would plan to add screenshots of more FreeDOS applications, not just the command line. For example, we'll include screens from Dillo, OpenGEM, Mpxplay, word processors, spreadsheets, games, etc.
  • The "Download" button on the front page (but we need to find a better on-screen location for it.)

What needs to change

  • Most of you said we need to improve the content in the wiki. And we should have more links from the front page that go into the wiki - for example, the "About" content should link to the wiki tutorial on how to install FreeDOS.
  • The new design doesn't display well on smaller screens. We knew this going in, and I plan to address this for the next test version.
  • The links in the "nav" bar should be restructured to be more helpful. For example, "Links" should not be the first one in the list. These links might also be reworded to give better clues.
  • Some broken links (most notably, on our "Links" page) and other site content stuff. We'll get this updated.
  • Colors, fonts, buttons and other specific design issues.

You gave some great feedback to the scenarios, so I'm glad I thought to include that in the survey. I'll do that again for the next test version. The scenario feedback helped provide clues to where people would look to find certain information. Again, it seems clear that we need to add more links to the wiki, tutorials, and other helpful content from the "About" text. Your feedback suggests that would have the greatest positive impact in the new design, so I'll be sure to include these in the next test design.

Thank you for your comments! If you haven't posted your feedback yet, I encourage you to do so, make sure your voice is heard.

In a few days, I'll start work on a new test design, and get that posted on Friday or Saturday. We'll leave that version up for week. Depending on how that design is received, we may do another round of "usability" testing before we're ready to apply this design to the "live" site.