CS 889: Open Source Usability

Term and Year of Offering: Spring 2010

Course Number and Title: CS889, Advanced Topics in Computer Science


Professor Michael Terry (mterry@cs.uwaterloo.ca)
Office: DC 2118
Office hours: By appointment

Meeting Time and Location
MC 2036
MW 2:30PM - 3:50PM

Course Description

Over the past two decades, free/open source software (FOSS) has made a dramatic impact on computing and, more broadly, society at large. While FOSS means many things to many people, there is one, single, unifying factor: It is, at its core, software released under a license that enables individuals to freely modify and redistribute that software. This seemingly simple, innocuous attribute has led to multifaceted sociocultural, political movements; new business models (often at the cost of disrupting existing business models); an outpouring of software; new computing ethoses; new ways of interacting with computers; and clear changes to academic, teaching, research, and government institutions.

Much of the past and current research on FOSS has examined the phenomena through the lens of software development, particularly by volunteers. However, as this software is increasingly used by more "average" computer users, it is critical to consider end-user concerns: The overall usability of the software, how usability issues are perceived and addressed by FOSS developers, current practices and needs related to FOSS usability, and so on. This course will examine these latter issues in depth.

Course Objectives

This course has two aims: 1) To cover what is currently known about FOSS usability, and 2) to "give back" to the FOSS community and/or research community with respect to FOSS usability. Your time will thus be spent reading essays, opinion pieces, and research papers on FOSS, and working on a project that benefits FOSS usability in some way. More details on this project can be found below.

After completing this course, you will:

Course Overview

The course will be taught as a round-table discussion of papers for most of the term. The latter part of the term will be focused on course projects.

The specific topics to be covered include:

It is highly recommended (and encouraged) to combine the course project with your thesis work or other course projects, pending approval by all parties.

More details and specific deadlines will be forthcoming.

Course Marking