We’ve had an influx of new users with the Virtualmin 5 news making its way around the web. That’s great, and if you’re one of those new users, welcome to the VIrtualmin community!
But, the influx of new users has us staring down the elephant in the room: Virtualmin is too complex to be easy to use for new users. There are too many options, too many menus and items, too many things to learn in order to get the most out of Virtualmin.
Now, don’t get me wrong. Those options are part of Virtualmin’s biggest strength. We don’t tell you how to do things (though we offer reasonable defaults for folks who don’t want to think), and allow a mind-boggling array of possibilities for how to use it (Apache/nginx, Postfix/Sendmail/QMail, ProFTPd/vsftpd, MySQL/PostgreSQL/MariaDB/Oracle/SQLite, Ruby on Rails/Node.js/Django/PHP, mod_fcgid/mod_php, phpMyAdmin/phpPgAdmin/Webmin database modules, Usermin/Roundcube/Squirrelmail, etc.). We aren’t trying to dumb things down to the level of the “simple” control panels out there.
But, we need a better user experience for first-time Virtualmin users, and we need to reduce the cognitive load of using it daily for regular users. I bet the majority of Virtualmin users never click 50% of the items in the Virtualmin, Webmin, or Cloudmin left menu, and I bet most have never seen half of the configuration and options pages in any of these projects, and never needed to.
So, to that end, we’re going to start paring back Virtualmin (and Webmin and Cloudmin), and removing things that no longer have relevance for modern users, and we’ll be re-thinking how things are organized to make the common tasks more visible and the less common tasks tucked away or removed.
Now, I don’t think we can safely do a total menu overhaul from one version to the next (the “I hate change” crowd, of which we have plenty from our ten years as a company, and ~18 years of Webmin development), but, I believe we can kill one or two menu items, or refactor them, in each new release over the next year or two, until we have a very nicely refined menu system and a much simplified Virtualmin experience. Menu overhauls have been suggested in the past, and some good ideas were included in those suggestions…but, they were often pretty dramatic with everything moving around. We’re going to have to take this slowly in order to avoid chasing off all the old guard Virtualmin users who have muscle memory for the tasks they perform every day (and hopefully we’ve got some of those things right already and won’t need to change them much). There are about 100,000 people using Virtualmin, counting GPL and Pro, and many of them are probably comfortable with the way things are today…so we have to keep that in mind.
Anyway, here’s a bunch of screenshots:
Virtualmin virtual server menus:
Holy crap! That’s a lot of menus and a lot of options. And we aren’t even looking at the pages they lead to. So, how do we make this easier to use, without making Virtualmin limited like some of those other “easy” control panels?
Here’s what I’m looking for:
- “I never use this item, you can get rid of it, or tuck it away out of the left menu”
- “I would expect this item to be under this category menu, instead of the one it is currently under”
- “This category should be renamed to …”
- “This item is mis-named. It should be called X”
- “I’ve always been confused by this item”
- “I can never find this item”
General usability stuff is valuable, too, and I might make one of these threads every week or so where we just talk about what’s confusing about Virtualmin, and what we can do to improve it, without making things confusing for all the thousands of users who’ve grown accustomed to how things have been done in Virtualmin for the past decade.