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[P]
An Apology For Simple Software

By Iesu II in Op-Ed
Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 02:18:16 AM EST
Tags: Software (all tags)
Software

There is a trend among armchair commentators to criticize software for perceived oversimplicity or lack of features. I would like to propose an analogy with carpentry which I hope will foster greater understanding of the merits of simple software.


I am terrible at carpentry. Hand me a hammer—one of the simplest tools mankind uses—and I'll probably crush my thumb or mangle the nail. I'll get the nail in eventually, but it's certainly not an elegant process. I could use a nail gun instead; nail guns are more likely to drive the nail cleanly, with little effort on my part, and they take less time per nail. So nail guns are better than hammers, and I should trade in my hammer, right? Unfortunately, nail guns are complicated. I don't know what kind to buy or how to avoid putting a nail through my leg. The hammer represents simple software and the nail gun represents complex software.

I will now proceed to overuse this analogy.

1. Easy is for amateurs.

The average Joe (hereinafter simply "Joe") who needs a nail driven probably isn't doing anything complex. Perhaps Joe just needs a nail in the wall to hang a picture on. Joe doesn't care if he bends the nail or dents the wall. He'll just cover it with the picture when he's done. Precision, efficiency, and experience are unnecessary. Joe could still to hurt himself or screw things up pretty badly, but he probably won't. Conversely, Joe could use some professional experience. For example, he could use a stud finder or nail up a picture hanger. Will he? Probably not.

User interfaces for inexperienced consumers should work in much the same way. If you expect Joe to use your software, it should be simple. If it's a hammer, it doesn't need to also have the option to be a screwdriver. Joe doesn't care about extra or multipurpose functionality. Likewise it doesn't need to be particularly efficient, merely obvious. Joe doesn't care if your hammer has carefully balanced pivoting weights inside the head that impart 10% more force to the nail. He won't even notice. Most importantly, it doesn't need to be very customizable, because that'll just annoy Joe. Say you have a set of ingenious, variously-shaped detachable heads available to supplement the one the hammer comes with. Joe will probably just get angry when the original head falls off.

So give Joe a plain old hammer. It doesn't do much, but he doesn't expect or need much. He needs something obvious and easy.

2. Hard is for professionals.

On the other hand, look at Jane. She's adding a big porch on to her house, and she's going to need a lot of nails driven. She's not getting paid—after all, she's doing it for fun—but depending on how well she does it, she could easily make money doing similar work for others. She already knows how to use a hammer pretty well, since her house has lots of pictures. A nail gun would probably do her a lot of good, though, if she takes the time to learn how to use it properly.

Jane can do two things at this point. She can go out and buy a ton of wood and a nail gun and really screw things up. Or she can do her homework and select her tools based on good information. She might find a shiny nail gun that claims to be easy to use. It'll at least be better than just a hammer. Or she could take the time to learn one of the old, crusty, really powerful tools of the trade. Regardless of what she actually chooses to use, Jane faces a lot of research and a lot of learning before she actually starts to blast nails.

Nail guns are not designed to be simple and obvious, or at least certainly not primarily so. They have two primary purposes, those being to drive nails really well and to save time. Note that the former requires skill and the latter requires expertise, and both of these require a bit of dedicated personal investment. Nail guns are not necessarily easy because comfortable ease is irrelevant to their function.

3. There is no panacea.

Discarding the analogy at this point, I hope I've made clear that there is no one piece of software in a given class that is always the "best", and that the suitability of a given piece of software depends both on the needs of the user and the task at hand. In my experience (and very much in my opinion), this quality of difference between amateur and professional software is present in almost all types of software:

  • plaintext editors (Microsoft® Notepad vs. Emacs)
  • graphics editors (Microsoft® Photo Editor vs. Adobe Photoshop)
  • audio recorders (Microsoft® Sound Recorder vs. Digidesign® Pro Tools)
  • operating systems (Microsoft® Windows® vs. Linux)
  • and even games (Tetris vs. EverQuest)

I am not categorizing the quality or merit of these pieces of software at all; just the suitability of one or another for complicated or simple tasks. I'm not trying to pick on Microsoft® in particular. In the above software, each program on the left is designed for beginning users—amateurs—who don't require powerful features, extensive customizability, or the ability to do complex tasks. Each program on the right is designed to allow professionals to do complex tasks efficiently and skillfully. The social difference between amateurs and professionals is the willingness and need to take the time to climb the learning curve imposed by complex tools. The various tools—any tools, whether they're computer programs or chunks of wood and steel—will necessarily reflect these differing expectations and requirements.

In many types of software, the separate goals of amateur and professional users are well-reflected in the available applications. For example, take Microsoft® Notepad and GNU Emacs. Notepad is extremely easy to use, has few features, and works very well at simple editing of plain text. Emacs is bloody hard to learn, fantastically complex, and provides reams of functions for structured texts. Both do exactly the same thing, but their user interfaces are appropriately miles apart.

On the other hand, the Windows® and Linux platforms both have adherents who would attempt to convince you that their platform is best for all tasks. Both platforms have detractors claiming that the platform in question is generally poor. Meanwhile, other operating system software is clearly aimed at simpler computing tasks (MacOS 9) or complex computing tasks (Solaris). My carpentry analogy and its insights fall short here, because computers are inherently far more versatile than nails and wood. My own experience leads me to consider Windows® an amateur operating system and Linux a professional operating system. I believe that many of the problems that people have with each stem from Microsoft® adding on professional features and Linux adding on amateur features. It may well be possible to design an operating system that addresses the needs of both amateurs and professionals; Apple's OSX is a great attempt. But perhaps Windows® and Linux could benefit from increased specialization, as opposed to increased generalization.

4. So shut up and be nice to each other.

The moral of this article is that amateurs need amateur tools and professionals need professional tools. There is a great deal of conflict among computer users, and I propose that much of it stems from misunderstanding this difference.

Myself, I used to make fun of Emacs. Now I make fun of Notepad and Pico, but I'm still a jerk. Amateurs think they need professional software, and end up denigrating it for being unnecessarily complex or poorly designed, when in fact they don't understand it completely because they have no need for it. Meanwhile, we professionals mock amateur software for being simplistic, inefficient, and weak, when in fact it's simply the best tool for the job.

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Poll
I am a:
o computer amateur. 15%
o computer professional. 84%

Votes: 142
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o nail guns are complicated
o hammer
o extra
o multipurpo se
o very customizable
o annoy
o really screw things up
o do her homework
o claims to be easy to use
o old, crusty, really powerful tools
o Also by Iesu II


Display: Sort:
An Apology For Simple Software | 156 comments (132 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
"The best tool for the job" (4.25 / 4) (#2)
by etherdeath on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 05:11:39 PM EST

This something I think every programmer should keep in mind.  It's not just a skill level thing either.  I often find programmers use the tool they know best rather than the best tool.  I'm guilty of it sometimes, taking the chance it won't backfire on me later.

Excellent!!! (3.33 / 3) (#3)
by mberteig on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 05:12:31 PM EST

This is an excellent presentation of a very fundamental concept.

I am writing a paper on the problems with the analogy between construction and software creation and I expect that some of your points will be referenced. Thanks!

P.S. +1 FP




Agile Advice - How and Why to Work Agile
Editing is a physical process (3.25 / 4) (#10)
by imrdkl on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 05:31:44 PM EST

And, so is swinging a hammer. But I can't write good software in my sleep, whereas I can build you a skyscraper with a good taperule and a set of prints. Generally speaking, while construction work takes a certain amount of concentration, it can get pretty boring, too. Writing good software has not bored me once.

Hmm, where was I going with this?

You're going right to the "Post" button (2.00 / 2) (#45)
by Kalani on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 01:04:26 AM EST



-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Nice line (4.50 / 2) (#47)
by carbon on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 02:54:20 AM EST

Writing good software has not bored me once.

I'd make this my sig, but I want more people to read Sluggy Freelance ;-).

Anyways, I agree totally. When software writing starts to get repetetive, thats nearly always a sign that you need to change the way you're thinking about your design. On the other hand, programmers are often not writing good software: nobody cares if the ten trillionth shopping cart backend has optimized algorithms and good comments. Narf.


Wasn't Dr. Claus the bad guy on Inspector Gadget? - dirvish
[ Parent ]
Strained analogy (5.00 / 11) (#15)
by mech9t8 on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 06:03:45 PM EST

The hammer/nailgun argument works for the editors, but I don't think it applies to the operating systems - as Windows and Linux generally have the same capabilities, and the idea that NT is a "simpler" operating system is a wee bit disingenuous.

The opposite analogy would almost apply, in a sense - Linux is a like a manual tool that generally takes longer to learn but can be faster in the hands of a skilled user (skilled hammer-users can drive in nails with a single blow) whereas Microsoft operating systems try to automate everything, which generally makes things easier until they start breaking down or you want to do something not supported by the tool, at which point they become increasingly useless... the key point being that one can learn to get better with the hammer whereas the nailgun is what it is.

Perhaps a manual/automatic transmission analogy would work better for that point...

--
IMHO

Agree. (4.00 / 1) (#20)
by rhino1302 on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 07:01:47 PM EST

I think it's also strained for the editors - you can use emacs just like notepad if you want, but you'd be very unhappy trying to use a nailgun like a hammer.

The author might be better off comparing Emacs to Visual C++ or some other graphical IDE, but would still run in to the problem you discuss in your second paragraph.



[ Parent ]
Interesting anecdote.... (5.00 / 1) (#62)
by Kintanon on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:39:32 AM EST

Speaking of using nailguns like hammers... My dad was in construction for about 25 years. One day he was building a small barn for some guy, out in the middle of nowhere. About 3/4 of the way through it, he ran out of nailgun nails (Yeah, he could drive nails in one blow with a hammer, but not while braced against the wall and trying to nail something into the ceiling....) so he goes to get his regular hammer, figuring he can finish it out with that. Gets to his truck, his hammer isn't there. Turns out he had left it at home. So he needs to get this barn built today and he's pretty much got a nailgun, an array of saws, an aircompressor, a generator, an array of screwdrivers, pliers, etc... but no hammer. So he grabs a handful of nails and starts setting them up and slamming the nailgun onto them to drive them in. The result was a nailgun covered in dents, and a finished barn. But after that my dad bought 3 more hammers and always kept 2 in his truck...

Kintanon

[ Parent ]

Expertise (4.50 / 2) (#103)
by virg on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:40:12 PM EST

> So he grabs a handful of nails and starts setting them up and slamming the nailgun onto them to drive them in.

The expert, on the other hand, would have asked the barn's owner for a hammer, or picked up a rock.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Heh, (4.00 / 1) (#113)
by Kintanon on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 10:44:22 AM EST

When you are standing in a grassy field, 50 miles from anything, the biggest rock nearby is usually pretty small. Especially if the field has been plowed under a few times.
The owner of the barn was about 50 miles away at the time and my dad couldn't just go down to the guys house and start looting his stuff.

Oh, and I'd like to see you put nails into wood via a rock... heh.

Kintanon

[ Parent ]

More Information (none / 0) (#135)
by virg on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:12:15 PM EST

> The owner of the barn was about 50 miles away at the time and my dad couldn't just go down to the guys house and start looting his stuff.

Well, that's different. Still, I'm surprised that he didn't have anything at all in his toolbox better than his nail gun to substitute.

Also, I apologize if my tone was more insulting than I meant it. I was going for humor, not derision.

Lastly, having been in a similar situation myself (well, lost my hammer), I have driven nails with a rock. Living where I do, they're stinkin' everywhere, and granite gets good purchase on the head of a nail. You bend a few, but it's doable.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Hurts like !@#$!@ (none / 0) (#150)
by Kintanon on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 01:26:32 PM EST

The last time I tried driving nails with a rock the impact was very very painful... Might have just been the kind of rock I was using. But after 3 or 4 nails my hand was cramping something serious.

Kintanon

[ Parent ]

Interesting article and analogy (4.60 / 10) (#16)
by TheophileEscargot on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 06:08:34 PM EST

But it's important to realise that when it comes to designing software, the programmers are the amateurs, and the users are the professionals.

Take word processing software as an example. Most programmers don't do anything sophisticated with their word processor. These prefer simple, reliable software, without extra features which make software harder to use and less stable.

Users on the other hand, are professionals who often have to use some of the extra features. They have to be able to do a mailmerge, or a two-column layout, or double-sided printing, or any one of hundreds of other things. Therefore they need the complicated tool, even if its complexity makes it less reliable, as with the nailgun compared to the hammer.

Amongst techies I see software unfairly criticized for being bloated, rather more often than for being too simple.
----
Support the nascent Mad Open Science movement... when we talk about "hundreds of eyeballs," we really mean it. Lagged2Death

Professionals (4.00 / 5) (#23)
by ucblockhead on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 07:21:57 PM EST

Your example is a very good one precisely because I think it does not support your case. The vast majority of word processor users are no more professionals than the programmers that code them. 95% of word processor users can likely be separated into too classes, home users who use them for letters and the occasional school essay, and work users who use them for memos and perhaps the odd report or two.

The number of real, honest-to-dog professional writers who use them is a very small percentage of users.
-----------------------
This is k5. We're all tools - duxup
[ Parent ]

Not the parent but ... (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by Kalani on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:59:39 AM EST

"Not the parent," you know that reminds me of some cartoon where a character went off saying "not the momma, not the momma" (I don't remember what it was now). OK sorry, so anyway ...

In his example, it's possible that the expert is actually one of those usability people who've done numerous studies on the effectiveness of particular types of controls versus some programmers who think that "usability" is all about making cool controls (buttons that popup on mouseover and blend in with the background, alpha-blended menus, etc). Actually I'm a programmer and I haven't done any usability studies, so maybe I've got the details all wrong -- I don't know. In any case, a product like Word probably involves too many experts to point out one single group and say "THERE! THEY ARE THE ONES TO CONSULT!" That's generally how it is with software though. You wouldn't ask the programmers to write a novel and you wouldn't ask the writers to program the text editor (maybe somebody in one group has a talent that puts him in the other group, but that's not the point).

In any case, the "professional programmer" might be great at writing great algorithms: he understands all of the complicated concepts behind computational geometry to the degree that he can give you the best framework for 3D graphics that you could possibly imagine. However, that doesn't *necessarily* make him qualified to decide what kind of interaction tools are best for artists to use in building models (of course, that doesn't mean that the artist knows best either -- but that's an entirely different point).

The point? There is none so stop looking! I am a useless windbag. However, I am at least wonderful at going on and on about the fact that the best way to analyze a problem isn't always at the most detailed level, but that sometimes it's true that in certain cases, the higher level idea can inform the lower level implementation and that in other cases the lower level details can inform the class of available higher level implementations (it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out -- but like I said, it takes a windbag to go on and on about it).

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Oh I remember (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by Kalani on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 01:09:23 AM EST

It was "Dinosaurs" (the Honeymooneresque sitcom about a dinosaur family growing up in the suburbs [the suburbs of what I don't recall]). Also it was not a cartoon, highlighting once again my uselessness.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
"Agaain!" -nt- (5.00 / 1) (#54)
by tjost on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:48:08 AM EST



[ Parent ]
Notepad and emacs? (4.70 / 10) (#24)
by haflinger on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 07:32:47 PM EST

It's an interesting comparison. You see, I see Notepad differently.

While Notepad is often (mis)used as a text editor, I think its origins lie well outside the text editor world. It does store its stuff in plaintext, but I think Microsoft sees it as the lowest rung on its Trinity of Word Processors. The highest rung of course is Word, and then in the middle is WordPad, and at the bottom is poor old Notepad.

I think the reason why it's there is because Microsoft historically, as a word processor company, cut its teeth on Macs. On Macs in the '80s, there was a similar trinity. The highest rung was Word, in the middle was MacWrite, and at the bottom was SimpleText.

SimpleText and Word are both still with us. MacWrite has been consigned to the dustbin of history, because nobody other than a few deranged lunatics still uses it. (Don't get me wrong; in 1984 it was The Bomb. But now? Move on.)

The reason why I think this is that WordPad can read Notepad files just fine (and it doesn't screw them up the way Word does), and it can also save Word 6 RTF files, which Word (even Word 10, a.k.a. Word 2002, Word XP, and Word v. X) can read just fine.

However, WordPad has almost met the fate of MacWrite. People just don't need three calibers of word proc. It's only Microsoft stubbornness that keeps it around. And I think it was put there in the start because Microsoft looked at the Mac DTP environment and said, "This is great. Let's just remake the whole thing ourselves, our way" - and they got it, complete with its flaws, because they weren't quite bright enough to see which bits were flaws. :)

This is different from emacs. emacs, as its name indicates, started as a humble collection of editor macros for a different text editor (TECO? I forget now), and grew, and grew, and grew. It is the original bloatware. Whereas Notepad is the natural result of deranged-lunatic product design.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey

Two entirely different camps (4.50 / 4) (#27)
by it certainly is on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 08:06:43 PM EST

that spring from the same origins.

Both Word and Emacs are for professionals, but Word is for professional writers, and Emacs is for professional programmers. Notepad is just a bare-bones text editor.

There is the same relationship between Word, BBEdit and SimpleText on the Mac. Or Final Writer, CygnusED and ED on the Amiga, etc.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

BBEdit's more like emacs. (none / 0) (#29)
by haflinger on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 08:25:30 PM EST

Have you used it? It's like a mid-level version of emacs, without all the nutty features that cause some to proclaim emacs the next great operating system. :)

It's not a word proc. Not in the slightest least little bit. I use it daily, BTW.

And, FWIW, I first discovered emacs on my Amiga 500. I used MicroEMACS pretty much exclusively until I finally gave up on the 1200.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

But that's what I said! (4.00 / 1) (#30)
by it certainly is on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 08:53:41 PM EST

Look:
  • Word processor, text editor, simple root to both.
  • Word, Emacs, Notepad
  • Word, BBEdit, SimpleText
  • Final Writer, CygnusED, ED
I'm a professional programmer. I use XEmacs and CygnusED all the time. When I did Mac programming, I used BBEdit. Admittedly, it's branched into HTML "programming" modes more recently, but it's always been a programmer's text editor.

µEmacs is not emacs, it's a workalike clone. And personally, I think the Amiga version of MicroEMACS (based on 1986 code) is absolutely terrible. The provided ED at least went some way to help, but the Commodore-provided text editors were terrible. I moved on to the editor provided with Devpac assembler, which was good, then I moved on to EdWord, EdWord Pro, then to CygnusED. CygnusED, in terms of speed and usability, far outstrips Emacs. But I still like Emacs anyway, it's the best UNIX text editor.

kur0shin.org -- it certainly is

Godwin's law [...] is impossible to violate except with an infinitely long thread that doesn't mention nazis.
[ Parent ]

Wordproc vs. text editor. (3.00 / 1) (#31)
by haflinger on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 09:08:32 PM EST

In the old days, it used to be that if you wanted to get printout, you'd edit some text up (in TECO, emacs, vi, TPU, EDT, or even some cruftmonster like SOS), then run it through a text-formatting program (like troff, LaTex, or whatever), and then send that program's output to the printer using your OS print queue function.

In the late '70s, some bright spark thought it would be cool to combine all three functions into one program. The result was WordStar, possibly the worst word processor ever written, but nevertheless the first one.

Notepad is like WordStar. It has a print function, which actually does more than just run "type foo.txt >lpt1:". Therefore, it's really a word processor, albeit a horrible one. (You can pick which font you want to use for your whole document on printout. :)

I know, BBEdit's print function is similar to Notepad's (thanks mainly to Mac HIG), but the obvious focus of BBEdit is not to be a monstrously primitive wordproc (like SimpleText), but rather to be a monstrously advanced text editor.

And finally, as for the Amiga MicroEMACS. Yeah, I know it was a workalike. You can't run emacs on a machine with 1MB of RAM. :) But I loved it. I actually like it better than any other text editor I've ever had, except for TPU, and maybe BBEdit. Before BBEdit, I was using jed, which is okay, but I really do definitely prefer BBEdit.

But I need a VAX to run TPU on. Anybody have a spare MicroVAX with VMS up? :)

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Time to call bullshit- sorry. (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by nstenz on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:24:32 PM EST

Notepad is like WordStar. It has a print function, which actually does more than just run "type foo.txt >lpt1:". Therefore, it's really a word processor, albeit a horrible one. (You can pick which font you want to use for your whole document on printout. :)
    The print function:
  1. Send printer font control code to printer
  2. Send header to printer
  3. type foo.txt >lpt1:
  4. Send footer to printer
So, notepad can print a header, footer, and change the font, rather than just copy the file to the printer. I guess that makes my accounting software and my web browser a word processor too, eh?

[ Parent ]
Excel, etc., yes, they've got wordproc tendencies. (none / 0) (#121)
by haflinger on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 10:49:35 PM EST

If you hop back to the '80s, the spreadsheet print functions were basically like Notepad. It's Excel that really launched the whole modern spreadsheet printed reports.

As for your web browser - web-surfing is such a post-wordproc technology, it's really quite absurd to even consider it in '70s terms. Which is what I'm doing. The text editor/word proc distinction comes from the '70s. Probably before you were born.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Wordstar (4.00 / 1) (#120)
by epepke on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 10:46:10 PM EST

You can dis Wordstar if you like, but it had one feature I wish subsequent word processors had: responsiveness. If you recall, when you typed into it in auto-format mode, it just got the characters on the screen as fast as possible, and it reformatted during pauses in typing. The upshot was that you didn't get that annoying subconscious annoyance even on a 2 MHz machine.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
BBEdit for HTML. (none / 0) (#40)
by haflinger on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 11:42:05 PM EST

The reason the advanced version of BBEdit comes with all those HTML doohickeys is because it integrates with DreamWeaver in silly ways. So seriously geeky web designers generally use DreamWeaver with BBEdit. After this started happening on a large scale, the BBEdit people realized that it wasn't just programmers who were using their program anymore, and adapted for the new market.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]
Humph (none / 0) (#123)
by odaiwai on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 03:15:03 AM EST

*Seriously* geeky webdesigners use vi, not some GUI tool.

The latest vim, with syntax highlighting, is great.

dave
:wq
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

I use wordpad (4.00 / 1) (#52)
by Stick on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:35:48 AM EST

Notepad can't handle a Linux text file properly, so I need wordpad to read them.


---
Stick, thine posts bring light to mine eyes, tingles to my loins. Yea, each moment I sit, my monitor before me, waiting, yearning, needing your prose to make the moment complete. - Joh3n
[ Parent ]
*nix text files. (4.00 / 1) (#60)
by haflinger on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:07:20 AM EST

*nix ends a line the C way: with just an LF.

MS-DOS and its descendant Windows use the CP/M and teletype way: they put a CRLF in.

Incidentally, other oldschool operating systems mostly used to use just a CR (except for VMS, which as usual does everything its own way, in this case using an end-of-record marker in the file).

Notepad isn't bright enough to convert LF into CRLF, and instead gives you the funny black boxes that it's so fond of. Incidentally, SimpleText will do the same, on a pre-OSX Mac anyway. (Macs before OS X use a CR. Oldschool.)

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

what's amazing is it's been like this for years (4.00 / 1) (#86)
by ethereal on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:14:29 PM EST

I mean, come on - would it have killed Microsoft to add CRLF/CR/LF line recognition to Notepad? I could probably do it in a couple minutes with the appropriate sources. This is a shining example of how there isn't much real software innovation going on in Redmond, either.

--

Stand up for your right to not believe: Americans United for Separation of Church and State
[ Parent ]

Notepad. (none / 0) (#91)
by haflinger on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:35:26 PM EST

I don't think the source has been edited since some early 16-bit release of Windows. I think all they do with it now is recompile it with the latest VC every so often.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]
Notepad NT != Notepad 9x (4.00 / 1) (#131)
by pin0cchio on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 05:59:31 PM EST

I don't think the source [for Microsoft Notepad] has been edited since some early 16-bit release of Windows.

The Notepad that comes with Windows 2000 has real find and replace and support for documents bigger than 32 KB, unlike the Notepad that comes with Windows 9x and ME.


lj65
[ Parent ]
Okay, I admit to not using Notepad on NT5. (none / 0) (#151)
by haflinger on Fri Oct 25, 2002 at 03:10:34 PM EST

Well, not much anyway. I seem to recall NT4's Notepad being basically like Win 3.1 though.

However, the limit on old Notepad files was 64K, not 32K; 32K is SimpleText.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Viewing vs. editing in Notepad 9x (4.00 / 1) (#152)
by pin0cchio on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 09:16:24 AM EST

However, the limit on old Notepad files was 64K, not 32K

I seem to distinctly remember that Notepad 9x could view files up to 64 KB without handing them off to WordPad but only edit files up to 32 KB. It would give a ridiculous "out of memory; try closing some apps" message when I tried to add one character to a file that got long enough, even on a machine with 128 MB of physical RAM and 1 GB of potential swap space.


lj65
[ Parent ]
It depends. (none / 0) (#153)
by haflinger on Sun Oct 27, 2002 at 12:25:14 PM EST

As always.

Notepad's RAM handling routines are broken. I've gotten that error, however, on files less than 10K in size; and I've successfully edited files over 32K. Let's just chalk it up to buggy software. :)

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Wordpad is useful (4.00 / 2) (#75)
by Fon2d2 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:35:17 PM EST

It has more advanced features and can handle larger files without going through all the annoyance of having to open a simple text file in Word.  Word only treats text as a document which can be a lot trickier to deal with in some instances than plaintext.  And that's not really a good solution if you're deciding against using Notepad because the file is too large, it has Unix style endlines, you want control over tab spacing, or you even just want to format a file nicely for printing.  If Wordpad dies, all of these situations will become much more obnoxious.

[ Parent ]
Yup. (none / 0) (#76)
by haflinger on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:37:49 PM EST

The Win32 world will finally need to get a decent text editor. Why hasn't this happened yet?

Oh yeah. It's because all the Win32 programmers seem to use the integrated editors in their IDEs, thus depriving text editor coders of a market.

Did people from the future send George Carlin back in time to save rusty and K5? - leviramsey
[ Parent ]

Decent Text Editors (4.00 / 1) (#125)
by odaiwai on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 05:47:36 AM EST

Well, you can stick Cygwin on your PC and use Vim and Emacs.

There's always TextPad, which is pretty good.

dave
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

Textpad (none / 0) (#148)
by ScudEast on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 12:22:16 PM EST

Try Textpad. It is great, I swear by it, it does binary files, unix files different character sets, customisable syntax highlighting, macros. Basically it's the mutts knuts.

[ Parent ]
TECO? (4.50 / 2) (#92)
by kyfung on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:39:50 PM EST

I used TECO on a DEC10 (that really shows my age). For what it is worth, I seem to remember it more like vi than emacs, needing the ESC ESC (showing up as '$', I remember) at the end of quite a bit of commands. I wonder whether my recollection is accurate. I also used visual on DEC10, but it was too expensive to use (we used funny money to regulate how much access we got on a machine). I remember ed on Unix to be quite a poor cousin of TECO, and ex to be much better, and vi was too cpu-intensive to use most of the times. I did start using Bill Joy's (Is it him or somebody else?) version of emacs (uses mock lisp rather than emacs lisp) for one year before discovering Stallman's GNU emacs.

My point is that something like vi that seems to define "simple software" for a lot of people was really fancy and complex for quite a while. (The funny thing was that it was regulated the same way as rogue on our Unix machine: they both could not be used during business hours.)

[ Parent ]

Emacs came from the TECO community (none / 0) (#130)
by pin0cchio on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 05:57:14 PM EST

I used TECO on a DEC10 ... I seem to remember it more like vi than emacs

Actually, the first prototypes of Emacs were TECO macro sets.


lj65
[ Parent ]
I see it differently. (4.00 / 1) (#94)
by mindstrm on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:01:31 PM EST

Notepad is a straight text editor.

Wordpad is a minimal word processor, that can write to several formats.

These are the only two that ship with windows.

WORD costs extra, and is a full blown word processor.

[ Parent ]

Good article but... (4.75 / 8) (#26)
by JetJaguar on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 08:04:41 PM EST

As I write this, I am wondering if the simplicity/complexity argument is really the issue. It certainly is the one that seems to get a lot of headlines, but I really think it's a red herring, or is only a part of the real problem. If given the opportunity to make a knowledgeable choice, most people will choose the tool that best fits their needs. Having multiple options and making knowledgeable decisions about those options is precisely where things start to get sticky.

Having good, intuitive interfaces is all well and good, assuming those interfaces do what users need them to do. In many cases, however, the Microsoft Way just isn't the right one. A lot of Microsoft's anti-linux marketing strategies are the technical equivalent of trying to market MS Photo Editor as a replacement for Adobe Photoshop, all with the intent of locking in suckers^H^H^H^H^H^H^H customers that fall for it into a proprietary technology that they can't get away from once they've switched to it. To me this is the real problem. Let MS have the desktop as far as I'm concerned. But if I want to, if I need to, I should be able to interact with that "world" if you will, without having to go through nine stages of hell, and violate 57 patents to do it, simply because I have chosen a different way of getting a job done. Pundits and users alike can argue until they are blue in the face about one interface being better than the other, but as long as you have the perverbial 800 pound gorilla trying to shove a one size fits all single solution down your throat, all the blather about who's got the better interface seems pretty irrelevent to me.

One of the most insightful comments... (3.66 / 6) (#33)
by dieMSdie on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 09:38:33 PM EST

...I've ever seen on the whole Linux vs. Windows thing: "I believe that many of the problems that people have with each stem from Microsoft® adding on professional features and Linux adding on amateur features."

But not correct (4.75 / 4) (#42)
by Kalani on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:31:23 AM EST

Microsoft was the first to come up with a distributed component standard (COM was thought up back in the very early 80s) and to come up with a standard for database access (ODBC might be pretty lame now, but at the time it was a useful [and in some respects clever] compromise between the various RDBMSs). Yes they do have stuff like Access, but they also have SQL Server (a very minimal version of which is going into the newer "professional" editions of their OS I think). It's overly simplistic to say that MS is tacking on "professional" features and Linux is tacking on "amateur" features because, provided that you accept that SQL Server is a proffesional RDBMS, MS is tacking on professional features that Linux doesn't even have (or is only recently starting to have). Also, MS has only very recently started using "amateur" features (themed UIs -- I consider most of the functionally pointless GUI stuff "amateur features" and of course that's a very debateable point) which X window managers have had for a long time.

Personally, I think that a more accurate (and more precise really) statement of the differences between the approaches taken by Windows and Unix is that Windows tends toward centralization and synthesis of services, while Unix tends toward decentralization and diversity of services. This has made Microsoft successful with both "common" users and a large number of developers because it simplifies everything as much as possible (although it's taken them quite a while to get it right -- and I don't mean to imply that Microsoft is the only group that takes this approach). For instance, there's only one DCOM service provider (there are a few if you count the evolution of COM and different OSs, but generally only one provider). This can be bad when the implementation is young and has lots of exploits, but it can be good when the product has matured and eventually becomes fairly solid (whereas it takes quite a bit more effort over all the programmers working on the various ORB implementations available). The biggest benefit of Unix, at least from my point of view, has been that it fits both the low and high end very well. Because there are a lot of redundant programs and limited interdependencies, you can strip it down to work well on small systems (an embedded version of Linux is still much lighter than the embedded version of NT and it does quite a bit more -- CE was an attempt to answer this, but it is going to wind up being killed because it really is separate from the core version of Windows). Unix also works well on large systems (obviously) because there's a large amount of software available and for most tasks over the last few decades, the minimal functionality philosophy has kept machines running Unix capable of handling high loads (you have lower overhead under high loads and your latency times for all affected tasks go down). However, the "Microsoft approach" is moving into the higher end markets because the hard tasks are consolidated and brought into the core of the OS where they're available for all services that want them. For instance, there's no need to standardize specifically on Beowulf in one case and some other distributed task management program in some other case when all of the clustering services are built into the OS (and of course once the implementation becomes mature enough to be useful to a wide audience). Then it becomes trivial for the web server software to make use of that feature (and of course now the web server is also integrated with the OS -- or rather the system that's built up to make the web server accessible in many different ways -- so the behavior of the web server can be programmed and controlled with the same script interpreter that is used to program an Office application, and complicated data [eg: lists, images, formatted equations, other objects, etc] can be shared between the two processes using standard interfaces).

Yes, Microsoft did start out with an OS that was a horrible hack (Windows 1.0 - 3.11) built on top of another horrible hack (DOS) built on top of yet another hack (PC BIOS) built on top of a pretty bad processor architecture, but they have come a long way since then (besides that, the market was saturated with hacks at the time). Judging by your name, I don't expect to get an impartial reply (which is fine), but I hope that with this message I've at least shown to fencesitters that the differences between the current states and the approaches of Unix and Windows are much more complicated and much less clear than "Microsoft® is adding on professional features while Linux is adding on amateur features." Besides that, if you want to be literal and use the correct meaning of the word "amateur" and you stick to the stated comparison of "Windows vs. Linux" then it's actually the case that Linux is an amateur project slowly adding professional features. I don't mean that as an insult against Linux, which is a fine kernel and a very interesting project, it's just that it's true by definition.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Well, (none / 0) (#126)
by odaiwai on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 05:50:20 AM EST

another way you could look at is that MS seemed to go for looking good initially and are only now making it stable, while Linux was more or less the other way around.

dave
-- "They're chefs! Chefs with chainsaws!"
[ Parent ]

That's an oversimplification of the whole issue (none / 0) (#127)
by Kalani on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 07:09:51 AM EST

but I think that it's correct to the extent that Microsoft first attempted to rush something that could be put to immediate use and Linus took his time developing the kernel well from the very beginning. That's to be expected though. The Windows project was handled by a businessman and the Linux project was handled by an (in essence) engineer. In that context, the priorities on the different projects makes sense (if you accept the bit about businessmen/engineers), so we agree on the origin of the projects. That's fine for historical purposes but not for describing the philosophies behind the projects for the last five years.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
awesome (4.00 / 4) (#34)
by rev ine on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 09:50:33 PM EST

+1 FP cause nailguns are rad.

Hilarious -- it works on so many levels! [nt] (3.00 / 2) (#41)
by Kalani on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 11:47:47 PM EST



-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
I like it... (2.66 / 3) (#36)
by p3d0 on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 10:07:48 PM EST

I like this article for the links.
--
Patrick Doyle
My comments do not reflect the opinions of my employer.
Acolytes (4.77 / 18) (#39)
by epepke on Wed Oct 16, 2002 at 11:32:08 PM EST

I categorize people a little differently, as novices, acolytes, and experts. One of the things that has happened and has driven computing in a direcion that makes me unhappy has been the predominance of acolytes over the past few years.

Traditionally, the term "acolyte" has meant someone studying to be a priest. A computer acolyte is somewhere between an amateur and an expert, who very much wants to think of him and/or herself as n expert but isn't quite there yet.

Hard systems are for acolytes, not experts. When you get into the expertlevel, the tools get simpler. Consider cooking. A blender for the home cooking acolyte typically has buttons for 14 different speeds, labeled creatively as chop, whip, beat, liquefy, puree, and nine others. If you go into a restaurant, the blender has a single toggle switch: on and off. The acolyte will use a Kitchen Magician or a food processor; the chef will use a knife. The acolyte will have a smart, self-cleaning range and oven with all sorts of features. The chef has a chunk of iron with fire inside it.

The acolyte gets off on the niftiness of a complex system, because succesfully using the system is in and of itself an ego boost. Acolytes also love words like "professional," which originally applied only to medicine, clergy, and law, but which is a good chest-swelling word. The disdain for anything but Emacs is an acolyte characteristic; experts generally don't give a rat's and just use what they have. I've been doing this stuff for a quarter of a century, and I think I'm an expert. Back during the dot com boom, when the world was swarming with acolytes, I was talking to another expert. He said that on his resume, as one of the tools he knew for web development, he put "notepad." I thought this was great.

Novices generally prefer simple tools that do one thing they want to do. Acolytes prefer complex tools. Experts prefer simple tools that have the property of synchronicity. Un*x is an expert system not particularly because it is complex, but because it's synchronistic. There isn't a single executable in Un*x which is anywhere near as complex as, say, MS office, but the tools fit together in ways that allow the expert to do anything.

Another thing is that acolytes feed acolytes. Acolytes are good at producing programs that satisfy acolytes. You need experts, though, to produce tools that will satisfy novices or experts, and experts often look at acolyte tools with some disdain, talking about featuritis and windowitis.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


You hit the nail right on the head (4.00 / 1) (#50)
by Chakotay on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:10:59 AM EST

The same thing you will see in virtually all fields of technology and machinery. Beginners use simple tools because they neither need nor want any complex options. Experts also use simple tools, because they too have no need for complex options - they can rely on their own expertise. And inbetween there are the acolytes who like flashy options and gaudy features.

Where do I consider myself? Expert. Not that I consider myself a computer expert. I work in tech support, and have nowhere near the computer skills of your average Debian hacker, but I subscribe to the expert's philosophy that a simple tool that does its job correctly is a much better option than a complex tool that does many things, but none of them quite right.

--
Linux like wigwam. No windows, no gates, Apache inside.

[ Parent ]

Bingo (4.00 / 1) (#58)
by synaesthesia on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 07:42:30 AM EST

But we need some way to connect simple tools together other than character streams. Is Squeak the closest we can get?



Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]
Squeak? (5.00 / 1) (#70)
by Cro Magnon on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:31:56 AM EST

I don't know anything about Smalltalk, but I'm not quite comfortable with a product whose website explains where they're going in 2000.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
I don't know (4.00 / 1) (#100)
by epepke on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:18:00 PM EST

Back in the day, I can remember some good research on this. There was a project by Paul Haeberli at SGI that was pretty good. Of course, because it was in the SGI world, the primary examples were of connecting windows together to do 3-D modeling and manipulation. But it was very much analogous to a multidimentional, graph-based extension to Unix pipes. I think he used files for communication, but it could as easily be done with IP sockets and/or shared memory.

The trouble is, you really need the 500 pound gorilla to define the standards and, at least at first, almost coerce other people into using the system.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
You seem to be missing any real examples (3.50 / 2) (#65)
by MVpll on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:49:40 AM EST

I don't understand what you are trying to say?

So:

A novice will use a computer connected to the internet without a firewall because they don't know any better.

An acolyte will install a firewall because he wants to keep intruders out and he gets off on opening and closing ports, logging statistics, etc.

An expert will;

a) Use a computer without a firewall because she can;
   i) Detect and fix any damage done by intruders on the fly?
   ii) Filter the packets by eyeball?

b) Not use the internet (Simple way to keep the intruders out), because adding a firewall increases the complexity of a computing system and complex systems are hard and hard systems are for acolytes only?

 

[ Parent ]

The expert (4.50 / 2) (#68)
by farmgeek on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:10:07 AM EST

The expert will properly secure their damn machine, and will check their logs from time to time just to be sure.


[ Parent ]
the expert... (4.00 / 1) (#71)
by Eivind on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:41:02 AM EST

You're rigth. The novice will not have heard of a firewall, nor understand why he would want one.

The Acolyte will install "ZoneAlarm" aswell as 50 other programs that "improve" your download-speed, "secure" you against hackers, report "intrusion-attempts" and then post to newsgroups asking if he should be worried that there seemed to be a connection-attempt to the identd-port when he was using irc.

The expert will simply shut off all unwanted services and use and realizes that he will not get any viruses with a real Os and some common sense. (i.e not running any random executable as root)

Why would I want a firewall ? The *one* service that's listening to the network at all is sshd. And it only answers calls from one spesific ip-adress and is regularly updated.

[ Parent ]

Levels of Tools, Not Functions (4.00 / 1) (#99)
by virg on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:08:38 PM EST

You've come up with an example that can extend for this point, but your extensions are on tools, not functions. For your example:

Novice: Install ZoneAlarm in default mode. Quick, relatively painless, and it does the job.
Acolyte: Install a commercial grade FW package pirated off IRC, or spend much time reconfiguring what's there, possibly without really knowing whether it's working correctly or not.
Expert: Configure IPChains by hand and check the logs regularly to discover intrusion attempts.

See, in each case, the goal is to use a firewall. The novice wants an easy, simple firewall. The expert can use a simple tool (ipchains) in an expert manner (knowing how ipchains rules work) to achieve the same goal more elegantly or completely. The acolyte throws complexity at the problem with sometimes unexpected results. As the novice improves, he'll lean toward more complexity as he gets to know more about the idea of a firewall and wants to improve his level of protection. As the acolyte improves, he'll move toward a simpler tool because he'll no longer need the assistance of the busy user interface and will find that editing files gets to be easier once he thoroughly understands what's in them.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Thank you. (3.00 / 1) (#82)
by RevLoveJoy on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 01:54:21 PM EST

Novices generally prefer simple tools that do one thing they want to do. Acolytes prefer complex tools. Experts prefer simple tools that have the property of synchronicity. Un*x is an expert system not particularly because it is complex, but because it's synchronistic. There isn't a single executable in Un*x which is anywhere near as complex as, say, MS office, but the tools fit together in ways that allow the expert to do anything.
This is perhaps the best explaination of unix I have ever read.

Cheers,
-- RLJ

Every political force in the U.S. that seeks to get past the Constitution by sophistry or technicality is little more than a wannabe king. -- pyro9
[ Parent ]

Taking it a step further (4.00 / 1) (#112)
by DaChesserCat on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 10:26:25 AM EST

Unix isn't just a tool, but a toolbox.

Years ago, I'd be helping my dad work on a car. If he had a bunch of combo wrenches handy, but his sockets and long-handled ratchet were in the tool box, he'd tackle a stubborn nut or bolt by hooking the box end of an appropriate combo wrench on the offending nut/bolt, then hooking ANOTHER combo wrench onto the open end of the first combo wrench. In this fashion, he lengthened the handle of the combo wrench, giving him more leverage (he'd usually look at me about this time and say "repeat after me: only with a Snap-on").

Did the original manufacturer have this use in mind? Maybe, maybe not. The simple fact of the matter, though, is that simple tools can frequently be combined in previously unimagined ways to accomplish more. This is why Unix is still so powerful today. Awk, sed and grep are somewhat powerful by themselves, but they are tools. Hook them together with pipes, and you can do much more than any one of the tools could do on its own. This can be said for a very large quantity of software available for Unix. The ability to use cdparanoia to extract a .wav from a CD, pipe it through SOX to normalize the volume, then hand it off to lame for encoding (all in RAM; only an .mp3 file goes to the disk) is quite useful. So, the power implied doesn't ONLY apply to textual data. If you really want to, you can write some kind of GUI-based app which does all this behind the scenes (xcdroast, my personal favorite for burning CD's, uses cdda2wav for ripping, mkisofs for mastering CD-ROMs and cdrecord on the backend, while giving you a point-and-click interface my wife can use). For those who don't want to, however, the simple tools are there.

Note: these would probably be considered "expert" uses. Inexperienced users can learn a great deal from watching an expert at work. They also rapidly learn a deep respect for what can be accomplished with simple tools and a little thought.

Trains stop at train stations Busses stop at bus stations A windows workstation . . .
[ Parent ]
Ack! Oh, lites.... (4.00 / 1) (#84)
by unDees on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 02:51:04 PM EST

The prevalence of software design for acolytes isn't necessarily a bad thing. After all, if there's a piece of software you use often but not every day, there's a chance you'll benefit from a little complexity in the software's behavior (not in its interface!) to accomplish the occasional complex task. Having a bunch of simple tools may not help if you can't remember all the different ways to string them all together. On the other hand, you don't want the functionality to be gone, or crippled by being forced through *shudder* a wizard. So hopefully there's a happy middle ground.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've needed the UN*X find command--you bet I have to read the man pages to remember all those little options. Why not have a graphical shell where I can right-click and pick my search/sort criteria and change them on the fly? Five years from now, I'll still remember how to do that, whereas I can almost guarantee you I'll have to read the man page for find if I have to use it tomorrow. And there's no need for gooey wizard-drivel at the other end of the spectrum: "Welcome to the Find Files Wizard! This wizard will help you find files on your computer. Click Next to continue, or Help for help."

So a little sophistication in a tool is not necessarily a bad thing. But the way that complexity is controlled shouldn't have to be complicated. Those fourteen-speed blenders--at least you're picking verbs and not RPM speeds. But perhaps a single on/off toggle and speed knob marked "Fast" at one end and "Slow" at the other would be even better. I don't care whether I'm liquefying or frappeing my pesto--I do, however, know whether the blender is spinning too quickly or too slowly right now, though.

And being an acolyte doesn't necessarily mean being an apologist for unnecessary complexity in the software. It can simply mean being familiar enough with a well-designed tool to use it without thinking for some tasks, and to know where to look for help on other, more complicated tasks.

Your account balance is $0.02; to continue receiving our quality opinions, please remit payment as soon as possible.
[ Parent ]

Not necessarily (4.50 / 2) (#101)
by epepke on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:23:37 PM EST

The prevalence of software design for acolytes isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Not necessarily. The problem is that there was an overabundance of acolytes during the dot com boom, and they forced acolyte-based software to become The One True Way to Go. Only Palm, I think, bucked the trend by keeping their device novice, and of course, Palm is taking serious hits from the Pocket PC devices, which are more acolyte-based. And most of the efforts to develop true expert systems (other than simple Un*x, which hasn't advanced the paradigm in decades) have been stillborn.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
User "evolution"... (none / 0) (#155)
by Gooba42 on Mon Nov 04, 2002 at 03:51:28 PM EST

I like this model of how a user might develop to be an expert and I think my experience bears it out fairly well. By no means am I a wizard at web design or coding but as far as this model of tool use goes, I think I'm at the expert level.

As a novice I started using the page builder tool that my original webhost offered to make my site. It came out okay and I was happy with it. It was pretty basic with no ups or extras.

As I progressed into the acolyte I played with FrontPage, Dreamweaver and HoTMetaL which did a lot of the work for me, but still gave me the feel of doing it "for real". These also gave me some glimpses at the underlying code which sparked my interest. I went out and learned a bunch of HTML so I could do it from scratch without the tools and rank that much higher on the "I know something" scale.

As time has gone on I've done less hand coding but still don't use the ultra-newbie inflexible tools of the first stage so much. I'll use Screem, Bluefish or Quanta, I'm still trying to figure which I like better, and then tune the code as I see fit. For the simplest jobs I'm still hand-coding in vim because it's faster to start vim and crank out a page than it is to start X, a desktop of some sort and a GUI editor.

I think at the expert level it's not so much a matter of what tool you use but how effectively you use it. I know enough to know where to find the things that I don't know. Plunk me down in front of a tool I've never touched before and I know enough to not be completely knocked out.

[ Parent ]
Mac and Unix (4.22 / 9) (#48)
by hernick on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:29:21 AM EST

Unix gives you an efficient hammer, which is very versatile and lets you work the way you want (at some risk to your fingers).

The Mac is an expensive, foolproof nail-insertion device. It has two pounds of chrome on it and looks very nice. In a truly simple process, you put it against the wall, and click its single button. From its internal nail supply, it promptly delivers a nail to the wall. You can hardly miss a nailing, hurt yourself, or do anything else than drive a nail through the wall with it. If something goes wrong, you have no way of fixing anything besides taking it to the dealer. It also takes 10 minutes to insert a single nail.

Windows is a similar nail-insertion device. It's twice as fast at the Mac for half the price. It lacks chrome, and unless you pay 500$ extra for a brand-name, you don't get any support. As you press it against the wall, loaded with a proprietary nail, it connects to the internet to activate your nail. You are then presented with a dialogue offering you a couple of options as to how the nail is to be nailed. The default settings, as with most  possible settings you can choose, will drive the nail through you hand, or if you're real unlucky, through your brain. However, if you manage to get all the settings right, it'll do the job twice as fast as the Mac, for half the price.

+5, humor (4.33 / 3) (#49)
by epepke on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:57:09 AM EST

I like it! But you forgot one: The proprietary nails dissolve in two years, and you have to buy new proprietary nails. Then you find they only work with MS Wall, which comes free with every new version of MS House but requires a subscription otherwise.


The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett


[ Parent ]
And (4.50 / 2) (#51)
by kb5 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:31:49 AM EST

the nail-gun always comes with a crappy hack-saw for a handle, which you are told is an integral part of the nail-gun.

[ Parent ]
But the Funniest Part Is... (3.50 / 2) (#97)
by virg on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:38:33 PM EST

...how the whole thing becomes an overextended joke.

Er...um...ahem. Sorry.

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
These days Mac *is* UNIX (4.00 / 2) (#59)
by synaesthesia on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 08:01:19 AM EST

Some years ago, I worked for a man who had worked building wooden houses all his life.

I never saw him drive a nail in more than two strokes: one tap to position the nail, one whack to send it home. He didn't need anything other than a hammer. But who knows, maybe he had spinal problems later on in life.

Perhaps he would have benfitted from a nailgun which you can open up and discover that the part of the mechanism that drives the nails is actually a hammer, which can be removed for normal use if any other part of the nailgun fails.

The nailgun is a bit expensive because it's made out of borosilicate glass and the hammerhead is titanium, but hey, iBooks aren't any more expensive than x86 laptops really.


Sausages or cheese?
[ Parent ]

Unix hammers... (5.00 / 3) (#67)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:08:28 AM EST

the problem with UNIX hammers is each brand has a different handle, and half the time the guy before you replaced the vendor handle with one he customized himself. Which means you spend the first three days hitting yourself in the head, before you figure out how to get the hammer aimed at the wall.


--
Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.


[ Parent ]

Better an apology for the complex. (3.75 / 4) (#53)
by mdevney on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:45:57 AM EST

I have no objection to simple software. Simple software is what makes unix the only 30 year old operating system today, and it's still cutting edge. Simple tools doing simple jobs, working together to do complex ones. I am tired of complex tools. They don't add any value, only price. Phones, for example. I am looking for a telephone for my grandmother, who is aging and easily confused. It needs to have a few options, such as a cordless handset and a corded handset, big buttons, loud speaker. Anything more complicated will confuse her. (Yes speed dial is too complicated.) Just as an exercise, you try to find one. I challenge you, find a simple phone. There are the simple phones that don't do anything, but that's no good, I need 2 features. But if you get one feature, you get speed dial, built-in answering machine, variable settings, hell half of them have a built-in calendar. Every single electronic item in my home has more features than I use, and I knew that when I bought it. But I bought it anyway because I can not find feature-free hardware. In the windows world, software is the same. Microsoft Word is half a gig of eleventy grillion features that I'll never even hear of, much less use. But I have to use it anyway, because I haven't found anything simpler with the 2-3 features I actually do need. In the unix world software is trending the same way, and I don't like it. I currently do most of my word processing in nedit. I see no need to waste disk space or ram or cpu cycles or, most importantly, aggravation, dealing with the "features" of staroffice, openoffice, kword, etc. And I should mention the most feature-heavy software out there, GNOME. Linux is just as aggravating as Windows whenever I have to deal with GNOME. I have a plea to all the software developers out there: Keep it simple. Really, simpler is better. That's what makes unix great.

simple != weak (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by Scratch o matic on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:40:48 AM EST

I agree. The author makes an interesting analogy, but I tend to think the other way around: in computers, the real experts will often seek out the simplest tools. When I want to perform some major, "godlike" function on one of my webservers, I go straight to the command line. I do all of my programming (mostly php apps) on gnotepad, the simple gnome text editor (or vi over telnet.) Complexity in modern software is generally intended to automate tasks for unskilled users rather than to add power.

[ Parent ]
Unix is not the only 30 year old Software... (5.00 / 1) (#69)
by wumpus on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:22:55 AM EST

You may look up something called MVS. It is hardly simple. On the otherhand, IBM mainframes have a historical attachment to VM, an "OS" that supplied a virtual machines relatively simply (at first anyway). VM was even more important in that the "real" OS is supplanted was late, slow and buggy. Noted disclosure. My alltime favorite editor was a little program (5k?) called ted that had 10 commands (maped to the function keys). Nothing is faster on any hardware than ted on an XT. Scott

[ Parent ]
Ted (4.00 / 1) (#78)
by Anonymous 7324 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:49:52 PM EST

yes. For those who haven't used it, it feels like an even more stripped down version of Nano/Pico. Has no help, and definitely nothing fancy like spellcheck. I forget if it even had cut & paste, although it might have. Was freeware from PC Computing or maybe Byte or PC Magazine or somesuch.

It was remarkably small, the 5k figure sounds about right. :-)  The selling point at the time, was that it was a full-screen editor that was actually smaller than edlin.com (a DOS line editor that had resemblances to ex/ed -- maybe clone?), which weighed in at a bit over 6k.

I think I theoretically even still have a copy up at my old webpage: here. No laughing at my old webpage -- I was a 12-year-old scr1pt k1ddi3 back then!

[ Parent ]

Single Line Description (4.00 / 1) (#96)
by virg on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:31:45 PM EST

> Microsoft Word is half a gig of eleventy grillion features that I'll never even hear of, much less use.

This one sentence is the most eloquent description of feature bloat that I've ever read. Thank you. I intend to use this liberally. I'll even make it my .sig if you approve (sorry, Yellowbeard).

Virg
"Imagine (it won't be hard) that most people would prefer seeing Carrot Top beaten to death with a bag of walnuts." - Jmzero
[ Parent ]
Do Both (5.00 / 9) (#55)
by bugmaster on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 06:17:33 AM EST

I believe it is possible to achieve both simplicity and complexity in software, as self-contradictory as that statement may seem.

For example, consider mIRC, a Win32 IRC client (yes, yes, I am WinWeenie, so all of you penguins can stop reading now if you want). At first glance, it appears to be really simple: you open it up, it asks you for your nickname, and then you can connect to a channel and chat on it. You can right-click people to kickban them, or send them files; you can click the channel window for options, etc. However, if you so chose, you could also go deep into the program, and change every aspect of the interface with a script. You can enable all kinds of crazy syntax highlighting, customize the menus, etc. However, and this is crucial: all the extra features don't get in your face. Once you are done customizing them, they retreat back into the configuration menus, to wait until you need them again.

For another example, consider geoShell, a replacement for the Windows Explorer (disclaimer: I haven't tried the new release yet). When you install it, it replaces your desktop with a really clean, simple version that is usable right out of the box. However, should you choose to, you can download all kinds of plugins from the Internet -- from a CPU monitor to a mail reader. If you are feeling really smart, you can write your own plugins in C/C++. Once again, all the advanced features are easily accessible, but they do not jump out in your face.

Finally, consider the proliferation of games such as Morrowind or Neverwinter Nights. You can simply sit down and play those games. But, if you chose to do so, you could open up the editor, and create a whole new world. You can only go as far as adding custom events and locations -- or you can go all out, and upload new character models and textures. Other games, such as Unreal, even give you access to the programming language which was partially used to build the game engine itself.

In conclusion, complexity and simplicity can coexist -- and when they do, results are spectacular. It's a pity this does not happen more often.
>|<*:=

This idea is really important (4.75 / 4) (#56)
by daragh on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 06:29:38 AM EST

Cheers for this article, you've summed up something I've always felt was important. It's like designing the internals of a piece of software: the best designs are often the simplest, and are certainly not more complex than they have to be. That adds usability to the design, i.e. the guy who comes along to build it will have a clue what's going on.

I'm a developer, and so far today I've used a number of tools of various degrees of complexity. I fired up JBuilder to write some test code, then decided I didn't need it and wrote it with emacs (I keep my emacs use very simple) and compiled on the command line (another simple interface). I've checked the source of a C++ library I'm developing by looking through files with notepad, then used visual studio to make some changes and rebuild. I've found before that the simple tools can often get you out of a crises by their very ubiquity - especially if you are at a client site and all you can use is notepad. So I guess professionals can really use the simple (amateur) tools too...

No work.

The best software combines simplicity and power (4.85 / 7) (#57)
by sebpaquet on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 07:34:36 AM EST

The best pieces of software I have used provided an easy interface for beginners. However, as I got more experience and dug a little, I progressively uncovered more complicated and powerful interfaces. Good games are just like that. Simple enough at first that you are drawn in; then, as you get addicted, more features come in.

I guess my point is that simplicity doesn't preclude power, when the issue of user learning is well understood.

However it's probably easier to design software for a specific range of uses.
----
Seb's Open Research - Pointers and thoughts on the evolution of knowledge sharing and scholarly communication.

VI is a great example (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by ph317 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 04:42:16 PM EST


Compared to the likes of emacs, vi falls into the simple category.  It's great for simple precise work.  It's also exceedingly powerful in the hands of an experienced user.  To add to your analogy - some carpenters start with a very high quality simple plain old hammer, and become very gifted at using it, and they can out-carpent a nailgun wielder any day because of their masterful technique with the simple yet powerful tool.

[ Parent ]
Right...... uh hu.. (sarcasm) (5.00 / 2) (#117)
by bored on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 12:36:01 PM EST

Vi is a prime example of this not being the case. For someone who has a rough idea how to use a computer a basic text editor should come up with a default document open. At this point the user should just be able to type like a typewriter and use the keys defined on any modern keyboard (and anyone who hasn't been living in the dark ages or can read knows what the arrows, backspace, delete, insert, page up, page down etc. keys do). When they are done typing their file it should be reasonably obvious how to save or print it. Modern computers have menu bars with 'File' selections that usually have a save option. Pre GUI editors usually have a line or two (see pico) of basic help which might say something like "Press ESQ for menu" where the user is presented with a list of choices. They aren't expected to read a 10 page help file to figure out how to save their document. Ever wonder why most newbie unix people use Pico? Its because it has a functional user interface. Emacs is a pain in this regard too, but not as much as VI since the 19.x series it has had a menu bar which allows basic save/load/print/spell check/etc. The user starts by learning that they can save by using File|Save and later they will discover the keystroke to do the same thing. In windows the keystrokes are often displayed to the right of the menu item. So after going up and clicking File|Save 10 (or how ever many times it actually takes) times the user has to be an idiot not to notice and remember the ctrl-S next to the save option.

This is sort of the point, a good application is both simple (easy for the novice to use and understand) while still being powerful for the power user who has been using it for a while. This is the problem with pico. After a few months the pico users discover they need more functionality and then have to choose a new editor. The problem with vi is that its not simple. All the arguments to the contrary. If you don't know that Esq-:-w enter saves your file, you won't be able to figure it out without busting out the vi users guide or the quick reference. This makes it non intuitive. Maybe this is the reason there are 100x as many people who can use M$ Word than who can use vim. This is something I have been seeing more and more of in the linux mindset. The concept that for a program to have a powerful feature set it has to be complex and difficult to use. Just because windows looks simple doesn't mean that its not doing more complex operations under the hood than linux. Evidence of this is everywhere if you care to look. Buy one of those cheep usb scanners, plug it in, press the scan button on top. Watch how windows responds vs linux. Install SQL-Server and configure it for use vs mysql. Pick something you don't know how to do and then try it under both linux and windows. Then I will tell you why I think windows is a more productive environment for doing the kind of development I do. Hint: it has something to do with learning how to solve my problem vs learning how to use a bunch of tools to solve my problem.



[ Parent ]
Learning MySQL or flipping burgers? (none / 0) (#129)
by pin0cchio on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 05:43:22 PM EST

Install SQL-Server and configure it for use vs mysql.

A one-processor license for MS SQL Server costs five thousand dollars. That's equivalent to about half a year of flipping burgers full-time to pay for a license. Do you think you can learn how to configure MySQL in the time it takes to flip enough burgers to afford MS SQL? I certainly think so.


lj65
[ Parent ]
Excellent point (none / 0) (#134)
by bored on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:46:40 AM EST

I wasn't necessarily referring to people who are trying to get into the computer business. In those cases open source is a wonderful thing. Actually, its really nice to have source code for professional stuff too, I use lots of open source programs (in fact i've ported and written assorted things for the OS community, so I contribute too :> ).

On the other hand, in a professional environment, the learning curve for something like mysql (not that it is particularly hard to learn, usually the pain is the tools around it) vs SQL server must be multiplied by the number of people who have to learn it. If I have 10 people working on a project and it takes each one of them an extra week then I have just paid many thousands more in salary than the cost of a SQL server license.



[ Parent ]
Maybe ) (none / 0) (#142)
by ph317 on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 08:45:43 PM EST


Yeah I know about frustrated first-time vi users.  I highly recommend having a pico-class editor around for newbies on a unix box.  However, I don't think vi is all that difficult to learn once the users get used to the idea of their keyboard having two "modes", one for vi commands and one for entering text.  Default is command mode, ESC goes back to command mode, commands like "add" get you into edit mode.  Vi is in my opinion the perfect editor for a unix environment, if you've caught the philosophy of unix.  It's programmatic and can be scripted, it always does exactly what you tell it to do (no extra linebreaks of converting between tabs and spaces, very important when editing config files sometimes), it can work with any terminal type no matter where you're coming from.

So yeah, it's not ideal for an entry-level "user".  BUt for a unix user that knows basic vi, it still fits the model of a simple and powerful tool that grows in power as you grow to use it better.

[ Parent ]

The best software combines simplicity and power (4.00 / 1) (#108)
by vagabond on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 11:22:08 PM EST

Agreed, one does not preclude the other in software.

Unfortunately real-world analogies just don't work, because nothing in the physical world can be as flexible and transmogrifying as a computer interface (did I actually use that in a sentence).

Also, don't confuse millions of interface customization options with professionalism. They are usually a sign of a deficient interface and generally only lead to confusion.

[ Parent ]

Old software is often best (5.00 / 1) (#61)
by IHCOYC on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:39:30 AM EST

As an amateur computer artist, I have over nine years experience with the Corel line of art software. The package I use most often is PhotoPaint.

By way of background, one important thing in making a comic-book style "inked" image look lively is to use lines of varying thickness. This represents the interplay of light and shadow over the human form. The way I do this electronically is by drawing thin curved lines and filling in the space between them.

Corel PhotoPaint 3 has the most intuitive and easiest French curve tool I have yet encountered. Much easier to use than anything in Adobe PhotoShop, which I have also tinkered with. Now PhotoPaint 3 goes back to 1992, and I've been using it since 1994.

Later versions of PhotoPaint have a line drawing tool that involves editing nodes. I'm sure it's theoretically much more powerful. It also adds many more steps to the process, and makes it much more cumbersome. I have never bothered to try to master it. PhotoPaint 3 makes a smooth curve easy.

So what I do is to produce my black and white "inks" in PhotoPaint 3 and then colour them with PhotoPaint 9 for Linux. It's easier this way than it would be to try to do the whole thing in the more "advanced" programme.

GraySkull is home to the anima, the all-knowing woman who gives power to the otherwise ineffectual man. -- Jeff Coleman

oooo yeah. (4.00 / 2) (#66)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 10:05:44 AM EST

While I'm graphically challenged, I find the same behavior even with tools like VI and EMACS. I like VI. I like EMACS. But I especially like the simplicity of VI. What I don't like is suddenly discovering that someone "improved" VI and I have to figure out how to turn the colors off so I don't go blind. And then I have to deal with 5 different versions of VI on 5 different Linux boxes that all process .vimrc slightly differently.

I still haven't figured out how I keep dropping into "macro recording mode" on one machine. WTF is VI doing with a "macro recording mode"? If I wanted a complicated editor, I'd start EMACS. Except, of course, EMACS has become so baroque and multiply-versioned that I'm never sure I'm editting my source or playing nethack. Sigh.


--
Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.


[ Parent ]

Pico is my editor of choice (4.00 / 1) (#81)
by wiredog on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 01:47:11 PM EST

Well, for small text files anyway. fstab, rc.n files, etc. For larger text files I fire up X+Gnome and use gedit.

Earth first! We can strip mine the rest later.
[ Parent ]
VI? Simple?!? (4.00 / 1) (#85)
by unDees on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:13:06 PM EST

I'm not trolling here:

You've got to be kidding. Well, maybe it's the implementation shipping with my distro that's complex. There are about a million commands, and most of them are easy to trigger accidentally. Let us not forget that giving software a bunch of "modes" adds complexity. If I'm not careful to be in insert mode and just stupidly start typing, who knows what will happen to my document? I have to switch modes just to move the cursor!

And no, I'm not confusing complexity with non-intuitiveness. Sure, it's not obvious to everyone that "k" stands for "up," but that's not the same thing as claiming that VI is complex. However, if I have to dig through ten pages of :xyzpdq command sequences to find out that "k" is "up," I think I have a sufficient claim for needless complexity. No doubt many people benefit from all that power, and no doubt if vi were my daily editor, I'd want all that stuff too. But even then I'd admit that my tool of choice was complex.

Your account balance is $0.02; to continue receiving our quality opinions, please remit payment as soon as possible.
[ Parent ]

Like I said. (5.00 / 1) (#93)
by porkchop_d_clown on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:58:45 PM EST

They keep adding "features" to it - I guess the VI developers get files-size envy when they look at visual studio.


--
Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.


[ Parent ]

"k" is up in a few apps (4.00 / 1) (#109)
by cicero on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 03:21:08 AM EST

I don't see what's so un-intuitive about that. of course, I realize that these applications were written back in the good old days of, oh, the early 1980's, before we all had ms natural keyboards with 5 different meta keys.


--
I am sorry Cisco, for Microsoft has found a new RPC flaw - tonight your e0 shall be stretched wide like goatse.
[ Parent ]
Early eighties (none / 0) (#137)
by unDees on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 06:33:51 PM EST

I used plenty of crappy word processors in the early eighties (well, okay, two), and they both at least had the good sense to allow you to open your document and just start typing, without having to ask first for permission to type. True, they did use meta keys (three, not five, by the way), but this was still a good decade or so before that curved, wrist-cramping Micromonstrosity hit the shelves.

Your account balance is $0.02; to continue receiving our quality opinions, please remit payment as soon as possible.
[ Parent ]
i actually like the mciromonstrosity (none / 0) (#140)
by cicero on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:40:58 PM EST

but my pinky starts to hurt if I type for too long. too much extension to hit the "return" key.

and I made the meta-key number up, but upon thinking about it, 5 is right.
Ctrl
Alt
Shift
"Windows"(Alt_Gr)
and possibly your numlock.


--
I am sorry Cisco, for Microsoft has found a new RPC flaw - tonight your e0 shall be stretched wide like goatse.
[ Parent ]
Take control of your environment! (none / 0) (#124)
by enkidu on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 04:28:41 AM EST

First, you could always download and install the newest vim and unify your vim versions. Or you could alias vim to start in 'vi emulation' mode.

Second, you are setting up macro recording because you are touching 'q' while in the command mode. 'qa' will start recording your keystrokes into buffer a. You can get out of it by pressing q. (':set showmode' in vim will always display your mode.)

Yes, vim is not the simplest editor in the world, but vim, in my opinion, is the fastest once you get experienced with it.

EnkiduEOT

[ Parent ]

Right. (none / 0) (#128)
by porkchop_d_clown on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 12:18:57 PM EST

So, each time I go to a customer site, I should install my personal editor on top of theirs. That should go over a real treat.


--
Once one sock is sucked, the other sock will remain forever unsucked.


[ Parent ]

Your environment, not your customer's (none / 0) (#132)
by enkidu on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 10:10:27 PM EST

That's not what I meant and you know it. The first poster was complaining about the several different flavors of vi in his workplace.

If you are going to a customer's site and you are only going to be on site for a couple of days, it doesn't make much sense to install your own editor. BUT, if you are going to be working for more than one week, I think it makes perfect sense to install software to make you productive. And you don't have to install it "on top of" theirs. Ever heard of the PATH variable?

And it helps if you don't become so reliant on custom macros and shortcuts that you can't function in a bone dry stock environment.

Of course, I'd rather carry a CD with a vim install around than use notepad.

EnkiduEOT

[ Parent ]

VI issues.... (none / 0) (#154)
by Gooba42 on Mon Nov 04, 2002 at 03:07:45 PM EST

I'm taking a UNIX class so that I get it all on paper that I know things that have been self taught 2 years ago. In any case, I'm used to VIM and its reasonable behaviour in dealing with .vimrc and .exrc.

In our computer lab at school we're running Solaris 8 with, so far as I can tell, no fixes/patches/updates applied. It has a non-standard version of VI which completely ignores the .exrc file that we were assigned to create and use.

Furthermore they haven't even set up their keyboard maps to handle the delete and backspace keys properly or redraw the screen when you do finally figure out which of the delete or backspace keys is working on the station at which you sit down for a particular session.

Never had a problem with VIM, maybe you just need to turn off the syntax highlighting as described in the on-line manual available when you hit F1.

[ Parent ]
Not so sure (4.00 / 1) (#64)
by hardburn on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:48:24 AM EST

I believe that many of the problems that people have with each stem from Microsoft® adding on professional features and Linux adding on amateur features.

GNU/Linux does make it easy to do complex things, but I don't think that has gotten in the way of doing simple things. Almost all the difficulty in a GNU/Linux system is in the initial setup. My Mom probably can't install even an easy GNU/Linux system like SuSe, but she probably can't install Win2k, either.

For my personal use, I like Debian for much the reasons described above for "expert users". OTOH, SuSe is a nice, easy distro that, once setup, the whole family can use. After I installed it, there was no problem getting other family members to use SuSe on the family computer. I just had to point, saying that the web browser was here, and games were over there. It really is that easy.


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


I disagree (4.00 / 1) (#74)
by Fon2d2 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:14:05 PM EST

The difficulty lies throughout the entirity of the GNU/Linux system.  Many of the useful programs under Linux are still console based and require intermediate to advanced knowledge of the Unix shell environment.  Also, Linux doesn't hide its architecture, which can be baffling to the beginner trying to install and remove applications.  It doesn't help that programs usually come as gzipped sources or binaries.  Uncompiled sources are pretty bad for the beginner but he would still have to know his platform to select the correct binary.  Granted RPM goes some way to ammend this but it's not too hard to break a package dependancy chain.  I would also contest your claim of there being an easy distribution.  Granted most of my experience is based on RedHat, but two other distros failed to even install (can't remember which two, but one was probably SuSe).  Even RedHat failed to set up the partition table correctly.  And that's not mentioning all the time I spent learning LILO and device names just to get it to boot.  The package manager still crashes when I try to extract individual files from RPMs and a lot of my graphical setup utilities are completely broken.  And none of this says nothing of the immense learning curve for each new task an average user might want to do (i.e. networking with a Windows PC, something I never got working).  I can't imagine what an "easy" Linux system would be like, or one that "the whole family can use".  Do I just have bad luck with Linux or is it really just this bad?

[ Parent ]
Those are all setup issues (4.00 / 1) (#80)
by hardburn on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 01:10:47 PM EST

Almost everything you said is an issue with setup. Except maybe two things:

Many of the useful programs under Linux are still console based and require intermediate to advanced knowledge of the Unix shell environment.

If all you need is Internet access, playing music, and some games, you have no need to touch the shell. Granted, games often require a reboot into Windows, but that's a compatibility reason, not an ease-of-use reason.

Also, Linux doesn't hide its architecture, which can be baffling to the beginner trying to install and remove applications.

apt-get install [package]

That's how you do it in Debian. Dependancies are automatically handled. SuSe's YaSt also makes this easy. Easier, IMHO, then most Windows programs. (And certainly easier to uninstall properly later).

Oh, and stay away from Red Hat's x.0 versions. They're often broken until the x.2 version. Personally, I like to stay away from Red Hat altogether.


----
while($story = K5::Story->new()) { $story->vote(-1) if($story->section() == $POLITICS); }


[ Parent ]
setup issues (4.00 / 1) (#114)
by bored on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 11:22:06 AM EST

Almost everything you said is an issue with setup... If all you need is Internet access, playing music, and some games, you have no need to touch the shell. Granted, games often require a reboot into Windows, but that's a compatibility reason, not an ease-of-use reason.

The problem is that _NONE_ of the distributions accually have resonable setup defaults. In fact its basically impossible to have resonable defaults. One of the fundamental diffrences between linux and windows is the way these defaults are handled. In linux, you have to spend a whole bunch of time playing with the configuration to get acroread to run in your browser. All this work just so simple things like the table of content in a pdf get properly displayed. Windows on the other hand just tends to 'work' because they default enable everything. This results in security problems because 100x as much stuff is running. When someone configures sendmail incorrectly on linux, because they need a mail transport agent, the admin gets blamed for poor knowledge. When someone installs exchange, and doesn't turn off some fancy questionable feature they arn't using, exchange gets blamed for having crappy defaults. If linux systems shipped with everything default enabled like windows there would be 1000x as many problems with linux systems.



[ Parent ]
VI, offtopic (3.25 / 4) (#72)
by mpalczew on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 11:15:10 AM EST

What's all this talk about emacs.  Us vi users are getting left out.  When you are talking about simplicity,  vi is king.  It is completly unintuative, but it is simple and powerfull.

Doesn't everyone know that emacs stands for
Escape
Meta
Alt
Control
Shit

Use vi, or some variant. Vim is great.
-- Death to all Fanatics!

Hey, don't make fun of notepad (3.00 / 1) (#73)
by Fon2d2 on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 11:50:16 AM EST

I wrote a whole brick-breaker style game using only Notepad and Masm.  You know, like Arkanoid with the paddle and the ball and the bricks.  It has bricks that give one-ups, make the paddle longer, make it shorter, and even split it into several balls.  Oh, and they drop when you hit them, like in Arkanoid, so you have to catch them with the paddle, except for the multi-ball brick.  Yeah, and other cool features.  Lots of source files.  Lots of code.  I suppose emacs would have been better, if I knew how to use it, but hey, Notepad fit the bill.

You're missing something (4.00 / 1) (#77)
by nazhuret on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:46:17 PM EST

In the analogy, you point out hammers and nail guns.  Fine, I agree.  But you also have to consider the reliability.

Hammers work 99% of the time for their intended purpose -- hitting something.  Nail guns have a lower reliability rate (I'm guessing) solely due to complexity.  The more parts you have, the more things can go wrong.

Unix has a lot of things, but it's been constructed well enough over the years that it's very reliable.

So Windows may be an amateur OS, but it's not a good choice for an amatuer.  Do you really think that someone who has difficulty remembering when to single click or double click is going to understand a stack trace from a GPF?  Have you ever actually read the majority of error messages that Windows provides to an amateur user?  (Specific example: "Abort, Retry, Fail?" -- what's the difference between Abort and Fail?)

For ease of use and reliability, I suggest Macs.  For professional level users (whether they be developers or writers or scientific types) I suggest Unix.  But as has been pointed out, OS X is both.  I'd never suggest Windows for a new user solely due to reliability.

And I'm not trying to sound like a troll -- I believe every OS has its place.

really? (3.00 / 1) (#107)
by Josh A on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 09:56:13 PM EST

I believe every OS has its place.

Between Linux, Unix, and OS X, what place do  you see for Windows?

---
Thank God for Canada, if only because they annoy the Republicans so much. – Blarney


[ Parent ]
re: really? (3.50 / 2) (#116)
by nazhuret on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 11:40:10 AM EST

Heh.

First reaction?  Windows belongs to /dev/null.

More un-troll-like reaction is that Windows works well when you need specific software.  There are emulators for Windows in OS X, but they really don't run as quickly as Windows itself (so I've heard, no experience with 'em).

[ Parent ]

Re: You're missing something (4.00 / 1) (#110)
by phr34k on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 06:46:15 AM EST

I use Windows XP to get around that problem. In fact, I've had more OS crashes in an old redhat distro that I had to use in college than in XP.

The "Abort, Retry, Fail?" message is definitely something I haven't seen since the DOS days.

I'd consider myself to be a professional level user (developer for imbedded systems), and I'm certainly running Windows. I've installed a Cygwin distro to get a hold of all the command line tools (all running in a Command Prompt), so above and beyond that I don't see a reason to switch to a flavour of Un*x for development purposes.

I'm just trying to prevent the normal bashing given to programmers that chose the Windows way of doing things.

I'm not trolling either -- And the fact that I live under a bridge is entirely inconsequential.

[ Parent ]
Amateur & Professional are poor terms (5.00 / 1) (#79)
by Sloppy on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 12:56:22 PM EST

I don't think those are the right words to use, since those words really just indicate whether or not someone is getting paid for what they're doing. The stereotypical kernel hacker is often an amateur; the Visual Basic programmer who doesn't know what a binary search is, is often a professional.

I'd recommend alternative terms, such as "casual" vs "expert", or something like that.
"RSA, 2048, seeks sexy young entropic lover, for several clock cycles of prime passion..."

Yeah (2.00 / 1) (#89)
by p0ppe on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:25:05 PM EST

Those words you suggest has much better conotations.


"Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."
[ Parent ]
why? (3.00 / 1) (#105)
by ThreadSafe on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 07:32:27 PM EST

What is it with elitist nerds always bashing programmers who don't know how to do binary searches?? I program so that I don't have to do them.

Make a clone of me. And fucking listen to it! - Faik
[ Parent ]

It's an important technique (4.50 / 2) (#106)
by Kalani on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 07:53:20 PM EST

You don't HAVE to know Calculus to write programs either, but if you don't know it then you'll limit the number of things that you can make. I think that most programmers just want to see other programmers strive to understand as much as possible (and where you decide not to follow a particular avenue of interest determines how you'll become specialized). It's not just about binary searches, it's about a philosophy on learning and developing new things. The reason that so many "elitist nerds" care so much about it, I think, is that they want to avoid jobs where programming is seen as an assembly line sort of task. Advocating a philosophy of perpetual exploration is the best way to make sure that you'll be allowed to do that.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
yes (none / 0) (#136)
by pantagruel on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 01:47:22 PM EST

That is actually very good. Unfortunately I do think programming promotes too much of an elitist attitude.

[ Parent ]
Programming does? (none / 0) (#139)
by Kalani on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 09:17:45 PM EST

I think that there will be overinflated hacks in any profession. It has been my experience (and of course this is purely worthless anecdotal evidence) that the most egotistical programmers (or mechanics, or physicists, etc) also tend to be the most myopic when it comes to viewing their field. Once you get a good idea for the sheer volume of knowledge and information that's been collected over the centuries, you start to get quite a bit less cocky.

-----
"Images containing sufficiently large skin-colored groups of possible limbs are reported as potentially containing naked people."
-- [ Parent ]
Heh (5.00 / 1) (#115)
by Sloppy on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 11:22:41 AM EST

That is almost too funny.

Yeah, I remember the day I joined the elite. I was wondering how to search for things quickly, and I found out the answer. It was a momentous occasion, and all sorts of doors opened for me. Binary search is what caused me to get phone messages such as "You-know-who called to mention there will be a wink-wink at the you-know-what."

C'mon, ThreadSafe, give in. Learn binary search and join us Elitist Nerds in ruling the world!
"RSA, 2048, seeks sexy young entropic lover, for several clock cycles of prime passion..."
[ Parent ]

I find this article insulting (1.25 / 4) (#83)
by Big Sexxy Joe on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 02:32:54 PM EST

How do you know what I want lesus? I want a customizable, multi-purpose nail-gun with a drill on it. Who are you to tell me I must use a hammer?

I'm like Jesus, only better.
Democracy Now! - your daily, uncensored, corporate-free grassroots news hour
To quote B&O... (4.00 / 1) (#87)
by p0ppe on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:21:38 PM EST

To quote Bang&Olufsen; "Less is more".

Love their systems btw.


"Democracy is three wolves and a sheep voting on what to have for dinner."

B&O (none / 0) (#141)
by jonny 290 on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 10:24:23 PM EST

To quote Bang&Olufsen; "Less is more".

So says the company that charges $800 for a single bookshelf-quality CD player.

How about I pay you less for your product and you give me more reason to spend money on it? ;)

-- brojames@ductape.net ----here to flip the script and channel your aggression inside----
[ Parent ]

worthless generalizations (3.00 / 1) (#90)
by avdi on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 03:28:23 PM EST

Calling Linux "Complex" and Windows "Simple" is silly.  If I use Kedit on Linux and CodeWright on Windows, does that make Windows the "complex" OS and Linux the "simple" OS?  Of course not.  At that level of generalization comparison is meaningless.

I do agree that a lot of the religious bickering over tools is pointless.  On the other hand, I think there's a place for polite advocacy.  A number of the tools that I can't live without today were introduced to me through someone's advocacy.  And I regularly introduce other programmers to tools which they later thank me for.  The advocacy of a trustworthy source for an unfamiliar tool is very important to me, because I know that if they found it useful than it may be worth the time it takes to learn about it.

--
Now leave us, and take your fish with you. - Faramir

you missed the point, methinks... (4.00 / 1) (#111)
by vyruss on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 07:55:45 AM EST

I think the author referred to the operating systems as _operating_systems_ alone, not as tools you can use to load up codewright, etc. ;)

  • PRINT CHR$(147)

[ Parent ]
Simplicity (4.75 / 4) (#102)
by Jackster on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 05:31:42 PM EST

Simplicity permits understanding, which is the true source of power.


I just finished... (1.00 / 1) (#104)
by sanity on Thu Oct 17, 2002 at 06:53:28 PM EST

...an evaluation beta of a rather complex piece of software, with a deceptively simple user interface.

The software uses sophisticated pattern matching algorithms to allow a user to "teach" macros by modifying a HTML document (using the editor of their choice). The software can then apply those macros to other pages which might be significantly different to the original.

Our Software has adopted a simple Wizard UI, and one of our concerns was that it might look so simple that the sophistication beneath was unappreciated.

If anyone wants to decide for themselves, find it here, your comments are welcome.

Hammers and nailguns (3.50 / 2) (#118)
by bored on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 01:49:07 PM EST

Having used both Hammers and nailguns as well as Linux and NT. I can say that Linux is definitely the hammer and windows is definitely the nailgun.

A hammer takes quite a long time to become proficient enough with that you can drive nails with two blows, combine that with the fact that there are lots of hammer customizations. Hammer weight is adjustable to the size of the nail and the material. Small finishing nails in furniture require small hammers, big railroad spikes require sledge hammers. Some jobs require the claw in a claw hammer to pull nails some require a big rubber head to drive two soft pieces of wood together. Being proficient with a 15 pound hammer doesn't mean that you can swing a sledge. Unix like a hammer, has a good chance that if you borrow someone else's, you will have the wrong size and hit your finger, drop it on your toe or have the head fly off.

Windows on the other hand is a nailgun with an automatic density detector and a nail selector. You put it against the wall select what size nail you want to use (or leave it on the default 1.5"). It figures out what kind of material the wall is made out of and automatically selects the proper driving strength. All the nailguns look and work almost exactly the same, old nails continue to work in newer nailguns not the other way around. Some users don't know about the nail size selector and just use more than one of the default nail if the boards are coming apart. Other users need to drive nails to big for the gun so they either switch to a sledge and spend a month getting used to it, or they buy two nailguns, and a welding machine (programmer) to weld them together to make a super nailgun capable of driving railroad spikes. The welding machine is also useful for welding the nailgun to a car, and someone tries that. The result is a big nailgun on wheels which puts all the guys using sledge hammer out of business. Sometimes the density detector doesn't work right for a new material, so the company making the nailguns makes a new nailgun. Everyone using the old nailguns feels inferior and buys the new model even if they don't drive nails in the new material. Everyone complains about how unsafe the nailgun is because getting a nail though the hand is a lot worse then hitting your hand with the hammer. The hammer guys always like to talk about the two idiots who put nails though their heads with a nailgun even though the nailgun manufacture made safe nailguns (the density detector won't work on flesh) for 7 years (New Technology!) before they stopped making the unsafe ones. The only problem with the new model is that the density detector is wired to a switch which disables the safety feature to allow nailing bear skins to the wall. The nailgun manufacture also left it turned off by default because they figured a lot of people might not be able to figure out how to turn it on. Old hammer guys continually complain about the nailgun because they use it like a hammer and it doesn't work very good that way.

Since there are so few people buying hammers, it actually cheaper to buy a nailgun. Recently some people discovered that you can actually get just the hammer head out of the nailgun and stick it on a random piece of wood which is cheaper than a normal hammer or the nailgun itself. This new hammer is pretty popular although you can only drive one size nail with it and you need to still buy expensive big hammers or small finishing hammers for a lot of jobs. These hammers tend to have their heads fly off a lot but everyone blames that on the people who made them poorly.



Re: Hammers and nailguns (none / 0) (#122)
by gjetost on Sat Oct 19, 2002 at 01:05:02 AM EST

Windows on the other hand is a nailgun with an automatic density detector and a nail selector...
...that every few minutes will send nails flying in your face...

[ Parent ]
Nail what? (none / 0) (#133)
by Egant on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 12:59:53 AM EST

Having been in construction for over 30 years, I can tell you from experience that the right hammer to use is "the one that gets the job done" You will never find the perfect hammer until you can answer what it is you are trying to do. I can tell you that your grandma could set a finish nail using a good pneumatic nail gun. Chances are she can drag out the compressor, unroll the hoses, plug it in, hook it up and pull the trigger. Done, finish nail set. Can she hang a picture on it? Not a chance, the nail is set with the head below the surface. Good for finish carpentry but very poor for hanging a picture on. (try a drywall anchor and a small screw, you don't even need to hit a stud) Before you can advocate a simple or complex solution you just HAVE to know what you are trying to do. It would be nice if there was a class of 'Voodoo' software that could devine your intent and complete your task but that just ain't gonna happen until the software gets to tell you what you want to do.If you want to retain your choice on what, when, where, be prepared to carry a large tool box with you, and that still will not save you from a half baked plan.

[ Parent ]
ed (4.27 / 11) (#119)
by acoustiq on Fri Oct 18, 2002 at 06:54:10 PM EST

When I log into my Xenix system with my 110 baud teletype, both vi
*and* Emacs are just too damn slow.  They print useless messages like,
'C-h for help' and '"foo" File is read only'.  So I use the editor
that doesn't waste my VALUABLE time.

Ed, man!  !man ed

ED(1)               UNIX Programmer's Manual                ED(1)

NAME
     ed - text editor

SYNOPSIS
     ed [ - ] [ -x ] [ name ]
DESCRIPTION
     Ed is the standard text editor.
---

Computer Scientists love ed, not just because it comes first
alphabetically, but because it's the standard.  Everyone else loves ed
because it's ED!

"Ed is the standard text editor."

And ed doesn't waste space on my Timex Sinclair.  Just look:

-rwxr-xr-x  1 root          24 Oct 29  1929 /bin/ed
-rwxr-xr-t  4 root     1310720 Jan  1  1970 /usr/ucb/vi
-rwxr-xr-x  1 root  5.89824e37 Oct 22  1990 /usr/bin/emacs

Of course, on the system *I* administrate, vi is symlinked to ed.
Emacs has been replaced by a shell script which 1) Generates a syslog
message at level LOG_EMERG; 2) reduces the user's disk quota by 100K;
and 3) RUNS ED!!!!!!

"Ed is the standard text editor."

Let's look at a typical novice's session with the mighty ed:

golem$ ed

?
help
?
?
?
quit
?
exit
?
bye
?
hello?
?
eat flaming death
?
^C
?
^C
?
^D
?

---
Note the consistent user interface and error reportage.  Ed is
generous enough to flag errors, yet prudent enough not to overwhelm
the novice with verbosity.

"Ed is the standard text editor."

Ed, the greatest WYGIWYG editor of all.

ED IS THE TRUE PATH TO NIRVANA!  ED HAS BEEN THE CHOICE OF EDUCATED
AND IGNORANT ALIKE FOR CENTURIES!  ED WILL NOT CORRUPT YOUR PRECIOUS
BODILY FLUIDS!!  ED IS THE STANDARD TEXT EDITOR!  ED MAKES THE SUN
SHINE AND THE BIRDS SING AND THE GRASS GREEN!!

When I use an editor, I don't want eight extra KILOBYTES of worthless
help screens and cursor positioning code!  I just want an EDitor!!
Not a "viitor".  Not a "emacsitor".  Those aren't even WORDS!!!! ED!
ED! ED IS THE STANDARD!!!

TEXT EDITOR.

When IBM, in its ever-present omnipotence, needed to base their
"edlin" on a UNIX standard, did they mimic vi?  No.  Emacs?  Surely
you jest.  They chose the most karmic editor of all.  The standard.

Ed is for those who can *remember* what they are working on.  If you
are an idiot, you should use Emacs.  If you are an Emacs, you should
not be vi.  If you use ED, you are on THE PATH TO REDEMPTION.  THE
SO-CALLED "VISUAL" EDITORS HAVE BEEN PLACED HERE BY ED TO TEMPT THE
FAITHLESS.  DO NOT GIVE IN!!!  THE MIGHTY ED HAS SPOKEN!!!

?


Plagarism (none / 0) (#147)
by NoNeckJoe on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 11:21:57 AM EST

Hey jerk, posting a message and passing it off as your own is called plagarism. It's fine to post a classic Usenet article because it's relevant to the dicussion, but it isn't ok to pass it off as your own. Respect is due to the original authors, and until you figure that out you will just be a pathetic fake. The original post is by Patrick J. Lopreski.

[ Parent ]
Not exactly... (5.00 / 1) (#138)
by skintigh on Mon Oct 21, 2002 at 07:10:40 PM EST

Using the hammer and nailgun analogy:

Notepad is a hammer with a thick claw that makes it incapable of certain delicate tasks, but it's also not big enough for large tasks.

Emacs is a nailgun with 40,000 features and 200 buttons and switches, none of which are labeled nor look different than the next, but each is critically important and can blow your foot off.  Just turning off the nailgun requires a combination of buttons to be pressed followed by a few more presses.  A few buttons appear to look like a recognizable simbol, but when pressed have a random result (the backspace-looking button causes annoying beeps, windows to break and other options to change).  This nailgun takes weeks to learn to do simple things, and years to truely master.  Once mastered, the users the smuggly look at hammer users and say "you should use this nail gun, it's really easy once you get the hang of it."

Good article, but... (5.00 / 1) (#143)
by zoarre on Tue Oct 22, 2002 at 09:01:29 PM EST

From the title, I originally thought that this article was about software design, which it is not. :(

With respect to user interfaces, I believe the author is right on. Unfortunately I'm not so sure a parallel can be drawn for someone's choice in operating systems. I think the applicability of one operating system depends more on the task at hand than the user's ability to deal with complexity. If I can be permitted to generalize, I think it's safe to say that Linux tends to be better at server tasks, Windows tends to be better for office applications, and Macintosh has historically been the choice for multimedia composition.

-z



Zawinski's Law (none / 0) (#144)
by mabman on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 12:11:43 AM EST

Worth reminding people about Zawinski's Law, copied verbatim from the Jargon File: " 'Every program attempts to expand until it can read mail. Those programs which cannot so expand are replaced by ones which can.' " Coined by Jamie Zawinski (who called it the "Law of Software Envelopment") to express his belief that all truly useful programs experience pressure to evolve into toolkits and application platforms (the mailer thing, he says, is just a side effect of that). It is commonly cited, though with widely varying degrees of accuracy." So, in software, this is akin to a nail gun that eventually includes a hammer component. See Mozilla.
--------------
Mmm, forbidden donut....
unlike the analogy... (none / 0) (#145)
by dirvish on Wed Oct 23, 2002 at 01:39:29 AM EST

simple software is usually faster.

Technical Certification Blog, Anti Spam Blog
No. (none / 0) (#156)
by vectro on Sun Nov 10, 2002 at 08:32:35 PM EST

Simple software is easier to learn, but an experienced user of both will find the more professional option faster to use. Consider, for example, Windows Explorer and a bash prompt as different ways of viewing a filesystem. While an novice user will certainly save time by just using the point-and-click interface, it is much faster to type "cd /My[TAB]/1999/W[TAB]o[TAB]/let[TAB]/evi[TAB]" than to repeat the process of finding an icon and double-clicking it five times.

Or, ask someone experienced with both emacs and notepad to write a program in each. Odds are the emacs version will come out quicker, because emacs has essential features (such as automatic indentation and pretty printing) that notepad lacks. On the other hand, a novice might be initially confused by the fact that one must incant "C-X C-S" to save, or that [TAB] moves the line to the "correct" indentation rather than to the right.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]

But it's the "tool" part that causes tro (none / 0) (#146)
by dcobbler on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 12:54:12 AM EST

You've made a good effort at trying to figure out how to approach the subject but, if I might say so, I think one of the problems is the "tool" analogy, itself.

In almost all cases, computers and their software are more complex, and their design and development inherently carries more decisions and biases that affect their end-use than does a simple tool (even a fancy nail-gun). Viewing them as a tool tends to disregard these affects and then one never gets to the bottom of why people tend to use them this way or that way.

There's quite a bit written on this topic (although I don't know of anybody who actually has the right answer yet). A book called 'Information Ecologies' by Bonnie Nardi & Vicky O'Day might be interesting reading.

dcobbler

With the greatest of respect I disagree (none / 0) (#149)
by ScudEast on Thu Oct 24, 2002 at 12:50:18 PM EST

The moral of this article is that amateurs need amateur tools and professionals need professional tools.

Not at all. It is possible to make a piece of software in which it is easy to do easy things and possible to do tricky things. Examples of software which can be used by both amatures and professionals:
  • Paint Shop Pro - easy to open files, resize them, save them in different formats and add captions. However, it is possible to do much more complex things.
  • Textpad - easy to do simple editing of text files (like notepad in your example), possible to do most of the useful things you can do with EMACS.
  • Opera - easy to do straighforward web surfing and searching, control your cookies, popups and security settings but with many many options for the expert.
Examples of Software only for people who are prepared to spend time learning the interface:
  • The Gimp - it may have got better but the last time I used this it was an immortal pain in the ass to do the simplest tasks
  • EMACS - ye gods, they couldn't make simple things harder if they tried.
  • Installshield - pet peeve at the moment, I don't think they could make it harder or less intuitive to do the simplest task if they set out with this aim in mind.


An Apology For Simple Software | 156 comments (132 topical, 24 editorial, 0 hidden)
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