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[P]
Don't put down the

By orichter in Technology
Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:29:48 AM EST
Tags: Culture (all tags)
Culture

I find it incredible and sad that so many 'IT' and 'security' people discredit the average person or their intellect for using their PCs "naively" and not realizing or paying "enough" attention to the operating system, hardware, and security aspects.


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I find it incredible and sad that so many 'IT' and 'security' people discredit the average person or their intellect for using their PCs "naively" and not realizing or paying "enough" attention to the operating system, hardware, and security aspects. When, in fact, it is the case that many average users have become dependent on the Internet and their PCs for their living, their communications, their medical information needs, etc. Their intellect is spent on other "more important things", such as finishing up work tasks from home, doing school assignments, paying bills, doing research on whatever topic they normally are very creative with, or just keeping in contact with friends and relatives. Yet they only have enough knowledge about PCs to turn it on, get email to work, and the web browser to work, and the printer.

We 'IT' people tend to forget that 95% of all people are users of computers, not programmers with a deeper understanding of how the CPU works, or how the Internet works. I have been in IT for more than 20 years and still try to do the Industrial Engineering/ Operations Research thing of simplifying what is complex so that the average person can use it more efficiently and effectively. We need to use forums such as Slashdot, kuro5hin, etc. to help the average person find out how to improve on what they know and simplify the computing experience for them. The average PC user will not update, secure, modify, or fix what he does not have any knowledge about.

Taking the attitude that it is up to the end user to build in new hardware, software or security is like asking him to build into his car the bumpers, engine, air-bags, and seatbelts, all by himself. Should we force travelers to build in the safety features normally built into an airplane while waiting for their flight at the airport? We have left the average PC user hanging without proper forethought on the part of software and hardware designers about what could go wrong, how to make it easy to use, how to make it easy to integrate with other computers or the internet or with other hardware and software, or preventing it from being broken into by malicious people. People will use a Palm Pilot in preference to a PC just because it is simpler.

As an example of what can be made simpler I would like to take a look at email security. Already many ISP email services are starting to scan email attachments for viruses. This central scanning was common in the corporate world several years ago. This was not inexpensive in the end user PC world until recently. So, we know that these kinds of threats are better handled at the central server level. Why do we insist that it is the "naive" end user that must have the security features and knowledge required for server level security products? This shows that the trend is toward and should be toward more centralized and simplistic services that work behind the scenes to protect and make it easier for the user to use their computer safely.

What does an end user need for security? The average user will not have the money for routers, firewalls, and other specialized products. The average user has just spent 1 to 2 thousand on a PC for Internet access, first of all most do not know there is a possibility of hacking, second they do not have the money or expertise to know what to get or do about it. Are we to say to them, "Do not get onto the Internet for email, research, work, etc. without a costly router, more costly firewall, and professional equipment for protecting your PC?" Should we propose a cost that is similar to or higher than the PC they just purchased? This may be affordable for corporations but is not for the average home user.

The home user does not have the expertise to use products (hardware or software) that require steep learning curves, classes, large and involved manuals, or just much time to learn. So, simplicity is the second most important aspect.

The average user will not use a product or tool or will quit using it if it is not easy to use, setup, hookup, update, or secure. We cannot assume people have the time or patience to do this kind of "work". They are using the PC to do their hobbies, their jobs at home, their schoolwork.

In the corporate environment we can afford to pay a sys. admin. to do these things. Not at home.

Again, simplicity should be the goal. Simplify the process of setting up, hooking up by automatically detecting and installing hardware and software. Features that are built in must be turned on by default in the OS, or in the applications so that the user does not have to know how or what to do. People cannot be expected to know such settings or tools even exist if there is no tutorial in the OS or applications, or if it is not the default. In many cases the options are left up to the user to decide, specifically when they do not know what to do or what they are. This might appeal to the programmer who knows what the options mean. But how can we expect the user to know? We must make these assumptions for the user. Or he will simply not use it.

Many times I like to tinker with my hardware and software. Mostly, I just want it to work when I turn it on without having to tinker with it. The average user wants to just use it without having to think about the rest. Remember the average user when we design software and hardware and we will have products they want to buy and use. Anything else and he simply will not use it twice.

Before cars had computerized ignition systems, and computerized carburetors I used to get under the hood and adjust timing, lube and oil the car and change spark plugs myself. Now I don't have the time, expertise or equipment to do this. So I go to the dealership and JiffyLube to do these things. They can do it a lot faster than I can anyway. I am now one of the 95% who are users of cars but not a builder or maintainer or upgrader. My car is now a tool to get to work, travel, take the kids wherever, etc. I could not get along without one.

My "Aunt Minnie" is a farmer. She uses her computer to do email, browse the web for information on crops, crop rotation, weather, animal husbandry, veterinary medicine, how to repair the tractor, order repair parts, and etc. She does not care that she could program the email tool to send out 20,000 emails, she just wants to send an email to the veterinarian or the feed store to order a truckload of hay. She does not want to burn CDs, but she wants to track weather information over time. She wants to use a calendar program to plan planting dates and when a cow will have a calf. Where have I mentioned programming a calendar program or programming an email package, or even modifying them? I haven't. If it doesn't work as-is she won't use it. If it is not self-installing when she buys it, it gets returned. If it is not intuitive she won't look at it twice.

If we have to say to ourselves "Aunt Minnie would not, or can not use this PC without my having to teach her how." We have failed. Our job is to simplify and make it so "Aunt Minnie" can use it out of the box, efficiently, intuitively, and without risk. "Aunt Minnie" is not the technologically adept programmer. She is one of the majority (95%) of people who do not want a computer to program or tinker with but to get something done with. We should not demean her for not being a sys. admin. or for not being technologically knowledgeable about the PC itself. It is a tool. She is using a tool. She doesn't care about the inner workings of the tool, as long as it works "good enough". She can no longer get along without it.

We should be programming and designing for "Aunt Minnie" to get more done with her PC with less effort. We should not complain that she is "naive" and "technically illiterate". She makes a lot more money than I do by running her farm using a PC as a tool to make things more efficient.

Sigh. I have been tinkering with computers too long; maybe it is time to become a farmer. Maybe it is time to see what I can make a computer do for a farmer that it isn't already doing. Someone else has already made our cars into multi-computer systems that I can no longer repair without yet more special computers, making me into one of those lowly and despicable end users - a driver. :)

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Don't put down the | 109 comments (87 topical, 22 editorial, 0 hidden)
Computers are applied math (4.11 / 9) (#4)
by DesiredUsername on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 11:58:39 AM EST

(if this story survives, I'll expand maybe)

Computers are generalized algorithm devices. They perform preset mathematics at high speed. The power of the computer resides in the users ability to harness mathematics. Making icons prettier or Yet Another Mouse Replacement is about as useful towards this goal as using color swatches instead of letters in mathematical formulas.

I agree that *for a given level of fundamental understanding* a better interface provides higher user-performance. But the first thing to optimize is that fundamental understanding. Most computer users today are like my roommate from college who, when he was in grade school, made an "electric car" by taping a cord with plug onto it. "Just plug the numbers in", "put it in a database" and "run it through a computer" are phrases exasperated "IT people" hear all day long. Educate people about what computers can do and what they can't--then stand back and watch the fur fly. Upgrade them from Win95 to WinXP because the "UI is simpler" and they'll just be confused because the icons have moved around.

Play 囲碁
People should know what computers can and won't do (5.00 / 1) (#59)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 12:13:38 PM EST

I agree with you that people should be taught what a computer can or cannot do. It is with that knowledge that they can then decide to use one for a specific purpose or not. But it does not preclude them from asking someone like me or you to program a solution to an algorithm they use daily but cannot program on their own. I love to do this myself and have for over 20 years. It makes my day when someone says "Hey, those numbers you calculated for me made the spread sheet I use successful with the executives so that they can get financing for the company!" We do these things so that others do not have to. They don't know how because their specialty is in some other field. Without their specialty we may not have a job. Those who know the limitations of their computers are the ones who can get the help when they need it. As you mention a UI is just a way to make it easier for more people to use with less effort. The more that is automated, the less they have to know to use a system effectively. That is our purpose. We get to play with these marvelous systems (computers, Linux, C++, Java, mainframes, UNIX, PCs, LANs, Internet, servers, RAID, etc.) just so we can make them easier for others to use. ;-)

[ Parent ]
no. (4.00 / 6) (#8)
by Defect on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 12:13:35 PM EST

If we all program for Aunt Minnie, then who programs for us? If Aunt Minnie knew her shit then we wouldn't have to work hard to dumb our programs down and everyone would be much happier.

The problem with people only knowing simplified programs, is that they can only use those programs.

There are too many morons in the world as it is, and i don't want to help make that number any larger, thank you.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
Moron? (5.00 / 7) (#12)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 01:09:40 PM EST

So anybody who doesn't have a deep knowledge of a tool he uses is a moron?

Tell me, does your plumber snicker at you because you're too much of an idiot to run a simple hot water line to new tub? Does your payroll department question your intelligence because you're not familiar with the tax rate in Broward County? Does your attorney mutter, "What an asshole" when you ask him to look over a contract?

Maybe if we all concentrated on giving Aunt Minnie a simple tool that did a good job, instead of a nifty tool that usually works, Aunt Minnie could get on with her real work, which might even be something of actual value, like baking bread or curing diseases. Take a look around at the computer field and I think you'll find that it has little inherent value -- it exists (and we are paid) to help other people do things that may be useful, rather than nifty shit in a dorm room.

Take away all the computers and the world will survive (it did before). Take away all the users who pay the bills and computers would last maybe a year.

[ Parent ]

you're missing something in your metaphors. (4.66 / 6) (#16)
by Defect on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 01:50:18 PM EST

If i were to try to alter my plumbing in a way that flooded the first floor of my house and permanently damaged the woodwork, i'd not only be laughed at but, yes, i'd also be a moron. If i decided to do my taxes on my own, messed them up to all hell, and ended up getting screwed every which way by every government who knows i exist, then i'd be a moron and i'd get laughed out of my accountant's office.

These are things that i'd need to learn more about if i wanted to do them on my own, i'm not expecting fisher price to come out with a plastic do-it-yourself home plumbing kit.

I learn. If i can't or don't, i pay for it; i don't want the world to simplify because i can't understand something.
defect - jso - joseth || a link
[ Parent ]
Your plumbing (5.00 / 7) (#18)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:22:45 PM EST

What you're missing is that the so-simple-even-you'd-have-a-hard-time-screwing-it-up plumbing is already installed, which is why you can flush and even make simple repairs with reasonable confidence. Your plumber is not likely to look at you and suggest that if you want to do that, you'll need to upgrade -- Toilet 2 is only a urinal. He's also not likely to install a toilet that uses a foot-pedal ("Yeah, they all work like that now"), or that requires you to stand on one foot in order to use it. This year's toilet will fit in last year's bathroom -- in fact, this year's toilet will fit on a ~1900 drain. You may or may not understand why the damned thing flushes, but nobody particularly expects you to know hydrodynamics in order to pee. It's literally been made so simple that even a child can do it -- some people have trained their cats to use the toilet.

Your car probably doesn't require you to double-clutch (it may not require you to shift gears at all). You may not know why the ignition timing has to change with engine speed, although your grandfather, who advancd the spark with a hand-control, might think you're a moron.

Have you ever had reason to refer to the owner's manual on most of your appliances? I can wash the dishes, do the laundry, drive to work, keep the house warm in the winter and (reasonably) cool in the summer, and so can my mother, who has me change flashlight bateries for her, because these functions are performed by machines designed to work, not half-assed experiments that nobody expects to last more than a year or two ("we'll fix that in the next version").

Let me ask you this -- when you open the refrigerator and the food is warm, does "operator error" even cross your mind? When you call for service, does some bored kid ask you, "Are you sure you didn't leave the door open? It's not supposed to get warm in there". Is he likely to ask you, "What kind of refrigerant does it have? Is it R12, or Freon?". If he did, would you feel stupid because you didn't know? ("Jesus, you only use the thing every day -- how could you not know how it works? Honest to God, some people are just too damned dumb to drink cold beer!")

[ Parent ]

Interfaces (4.00 / 1) (#34)
by ubernostrum on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 04:52:17 PM EST

Computers have them, refrigerators and plumbing don't. Nobody would laugh at you if you didn't know the kind of refrigerant your appliance used. But pick a better analogy - what if you called tech support because you couldn't figure out you had to open the door to get to the food? That's about the level of many of the more egregious things tech support folks face. And the problem is that people won't learn the interface - with the refrigerator, there is a door, and that's simple. OK, so I lied when I said it doesn't have an interface, but it's hard to have trouble with a door, so we don't normally think of it as an interface.

With a computer it's not so intuitive. You have to learn how to use the mouse and the keyboard, so you can "talk to" the computer, and you have to learn how to use point-and-click, drag-and-drop techniques, etc., but once you've got the interface down, you should be set for life, because everything uses the same interface - if you know one, you know them all. But people won't learn the interface...they'll take instructions from tech support along the lines of "move the mouse until the arrow is over that button, then click", but they won't generalize it or learn the patterns involved. It's quite literally as if they were told to open the door to use the refrigerator, then had to be told to open the door to use the freezer, and then had to be told, "No, use the door on the freezer to get to the freezer". And I think I'd be justified in laughing at someone who needed that.


--
You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]

The same interface!? (3.00 / 2) (#40)
by davidduncanscott on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:59:07 PM EST

What, are you insane?

Let's take a few easy ones. Let's assume (odds are good), that our "luser" is running Windows, and let's assume he wants to find something.

In most programs, that's Edit|Find, but sometimes there's a button as well.

In Notepad, a basic system utility, it's just Search.

In Windows Explorer there is no Find function. You go to the Start menu for that. (No, not under Programs -- well, yes, I suppose it is a program, but that's not where it is...)

In most programs, (Notepad is still the exception), <CTRL>F will bring up Find, but on the desktop it has no particular effect. <CTRL><ESC> followed by F will work, though.

Now shut your eyes and tell me where to find spellcheck in Word, WordPerfect, and WordPro. I've got a dollar says it's in different places in each (I don't have any of them installed here). I wouldn't even bank on it being in the same place in diferent versions of the same program.

If that's too much fun for Aunt Minnie, let's drag and drop a file. Hey look, if it's a program and we drop it in a folder on the same drive, we create a shortcut and leave the original. If it's not an executable, than we move it into the folder, losing the original, unless the folder is on a different drive, in which case we copy it and keep the original.

You can get your files back from the recycle bin -- if they were deleted from the local drive (and we all encourage our users to use the home folders on the server, don't we, because it's safer?)

Can I recomend The Interface Hall of Shame? It's an enlightening experience.

The wonder of it all is that most Aunt Minnies put up with this, instead of throwing a rope over a tree branch.

[ Parent ]

Whoa there cowboy... (4.00 / 1) (#44)
by ubernostrum on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:44:46 PM EST

Did I say anything about specific implementations? Nope. My point is that, if you understand the basic ideas of the interface, you're self-sufficient. You may not know where something is automatically, but you know how to find it - need [feature x] in the program you're using? Well, since you know the interface, you know that you can find it by going to the menus at the top of the window. You don't have to know which one it's in, but you know how to look in them to find it, and if you're really good, you know that the one labeled "Help" might tell you where you can find [feature x]. Need to run [program x]? You have a friendly, clearly-labeled button at the bottom of your screen that you click to bring up lists of all the programs you can run...that's a consistent interface, and simply learning that will work wonders for the average user's self-sufficiency.

And complaining that the "Find" feature is in different places in different programs, or the spell-checker, or whatever (I find F7 is good for spell-checking, though...works in most everything I've ever used, except Emacs) is kind of like complaining that there's no consistent interface in a car, because in a Ford the button for the air-conditioner is second from the left on this panel, but in a Chevy it's fourth from the right on that panel, or complaining that refrigerators don't have a consistent interface because a Maytag has the handle thirteen inches down from the top while a Frigidaire has it nineteen and a half...the location of the button or the location of the handle isn't the interface. The concept of "button" or "handle" is the interface...you know that "to turn on the A/C, I find a button that says 'A/C', now let me look..." And also "to open the refrigerator, I pull the handle on the door, I know what a handle looks like, oh, there it is..." Location is specific to the particular implementation, but the basic nature of the interface is globally consistent.

But people won't learn the interface with the computer. They'll poke the machine a couple times to see if it magically decides to do anything, then they'll call tech support. Reading the manual and/or actually learning how the thing works never crosses the mind. So we get the analogy of people who can't figure out that the refigerator works by having you open the door to get to the food, because they won't learn the interface.


--
You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]

Your subject line... (5.00 / 1) (#84)
by davidduncanscott on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 11:50:10 AM EST

suggests that I was getting carried away. I'll calm down.

Let's be reasonable to Aunt Minnie, though. Your refrigerator hides very little. None of the controls in your car, I would wager, are in the glove box. Automotive controls are in plain sight, no nested menus. Never once have I found that the transmission had "Park - Reverse - Neutral - Drive - Low - AM - FM", or that the brakes were in the trunk. I've never been told, "Well, yes, this one turns like a boat, see, so just steer like you're backing up".

I did once spend 15 minutes figuring out how to shift some little Japanese car into reverse, but in fairness the owner had swapped the shift knob for a plain wooden ball (down and to the left? up and to the right? do I push down on the stick, or is it just a spring?), and another five minutes just finding the ignition on a Saab (on the transmission tunnel -- go figure), and I used to drive a Beetle so I know that the gas cap release was, in fact, in the glove box, and the battery under the back seat, but those are the exceptions, and yes, they confused the hell out of most people.

[ Parent ]

Controls in the Car (4.00 / 1) (#95)
by vectro on Sat Aug 25, 2001 at 07:41:16 PM EST

Actually, the car hides a large number of controls and displays. You can't use them without a Computer Diagnostic Tool, which is very expensive and generally found only in auto shops. These are not only for maintainance, but also for tuning.

Also, your car radio may in fact have "nested menus" - for example, a button may do three different things depending on whether you are in tape mode, CD mode, radio mode, etc. And the gas pedal does something drastically different depending on whether you are in forward, reverse, or neutral.

But finally, I think the car analogy as a whole is flawed, because a computer is vastly more complicated - yes, the engine of a car may be very complicated, but the user interface is not - just as you a network appliance with a simple user interface may be based on an x86 core. But the number of things you can do with e.g. a typical workstation far exceeds the number of things you would concievably do with a car.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
More compilicated? (4.00 / 1) (#97)
by davidduncanscott on Sat Aug 25, 2001 at 10:46:55 PM EST

Frankly, I doubt that a computer is "vastly more complicated" than a car. In fact, in almost every way I can think of, except interface, it's simpler.

I'd be hesitant to include the diagnostic stuff as "controls and displays", unless you consider a torque wrench part of the controls as well. Still, those interfaces are kept there in the shop precisely because the car contains several computers, in addition to an already complex group of mechanical systems (the parts count for a hard-drive is trivial compared to a four-speed syncromesh gearbox), and by and large those computers simply do their jobs. I've never had to reset my fuel injection or reinstall the elctronic ignition firmware, and Aunt Minnie probably hasn't either (although I no longer pump the gas before starting.)

The parts that matter for normal navigation are reasonably consistent. They don't have to be intuitive per se -- a tiller is arguably simpler to grasp than a steering wheel -- but they should stay roughly the same. I can grasp the essential controls of a Buick, a Toyota, a Kenworth tractor, or a Greyhound bus. I may not be able to get the radio off that horrible country station, but I'll probably be able to turn it off, and I'll almost certainly be able to get the thing out of the parking lot (Disclaimer: I can't double-clutch, so I might stall as soon as I hit the street.) The same cannot be said for Apples, PC boxes running Windows, PC boxes running *nix, and mainframes running OS/390, and that's just a sampling of the machines available for purchase right now, never mind legacies that Aunt Minnie may have used every day for years before you were born.

The real point here is that we, as an industry, need to understand that users pay the freight. We are all free-loading on Aunt Minnie, who pays the bills for us by using the machine to do something. Without her, these things would be hand-made. In fact, without people who had mundane tasks like reading German mail and blowing the fuck out of the Japanese, computers pretty much wouldn't exist at any price. Turing and Aiken and those guys didn't whittle these things in their spare time, they worked on projects funded by regular people with regular tasks to perform (mostly involving tools like the M1). Neither those tasks nor those people are trivial, and we need to stop dismissing them for failing to keep up with our field, because our field is very young and very much unfinished. I read half a dozen printed periodicals, any number of web sites, and chatter with coworkers and still miss most of it, and Minnie has better things to do than keep up with our fashions, like cutting my paychecks.

(The gas pedal, BTW, does not do different things depending on gear. It makes the engine go faster. Whether or not this makes the car go faster depends on circumstances, including the gear. This is what keeps people here in Baltimore stuck in our infrequent snows, spinning their wheels furiously.)

[ Parent ]

But computers are more complicated. (4.00 / 1) (#98)
by vectro on Sun Aug 26, 2001 at 06:19:18 PM EST

The insides of a car may have many more parts, but that does not in and of itself make them more complicated. Consider: The complicatedness of your hard drive derives itself not only from the various pieces of silicon, ceramic, metal, and PCB, but from the design itself. Inherent in the design of the hard drive is the hardware design of each of the ICs, as well as the overall circuit design - which is very much complicated. It may not have as many parts, but that's not what specifies how complicated it is.

But I digress. Ultimately, no matter how convoluted the insides of a car might be, the person using it is only going to use it to accomplish a small number of things - go faster or slower, and occasionally change direction slightly. Even the simplist of computers is used for far more things.

It is possible to build a computer with a simple interface. But to do this you also need to have simple functionality. An internet kiosk is an excellent example of this - you get a web browser (which has a very consistant interface, across implementations) in which you can click on links, type in text boxes, and occasionally hit a submit button. Even this tiny subset of things one can do with a computer has infinately more possibilities than with a car, and only slightly harder to understand.

“The problem with that definition is just that it's bullshit.” -- localroger
[ Parent ]
menus... (none / 0) (#107)
by ubernostrum on Thu Aug 30, 2001 at 11:26:13 AM EST

OK, so how does Aunt Minnie order dinner when she goes out to a nice restaurant? The options are all hidden inside that menu, and it's pretty hard to figure out that you open it to read the options, right? Well, somehow she manages it. Some menus open up into two pages, some menus are folded in thirds, some are like small bound books, but for some reason Aunt Minnie doesn't need an instruction manual to figure out how each type works. Why is that? Because the menu itself is a consistent interface that she knows, and she can grasp the different implementations of it. And while you have never been told to steer a car like a boat, if you weren't told, how long would it take you to figure it out and make the necessary adjustment? A couple of minutes? But people refuse to learn the interface with computers, and that's where they get in trouble, because then they don't have the generalized knowledge they need to cope with the different specific implementations of the interface.


--
You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]

The right tool for the job (4.00 / 1) (#70)
by Mitheral on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 04:28:52 PM EST

Let me ask you this -- when you open the refrigerator and the food is warm, does "operator error" even cross your mind? When you call for service, does some bored kid ask you, "Are you sure you didn't leave the door open? It's not supposed to get warm in there".

Well they should. As a former major appliance technician I used to save about one customer a week an expensive call out by asking "Is your (fridge/stove/washer/freezer/ac) still plugged in?". And on one occasion I had a customer go ballistic that I dared ask him something so "foolish". "Of course its plugged in, did I think he was stupid?" Not at the time; however, two hours later after a 75 mile trip, one way, I didn't feeling guilty in the least charging him $1.50 a kilometre to plug his freezer in.

As an aside germane to the conversation, I believe that a lot of people get themselves into trouble because they don't know the right tool for a job. And that applies to everything from farming to toilet repair to computers. And often the right tool to fix your toilet is a plumber :)

[ Parent ]

Confession (5.00 / 2) (#71)
by davidduncanscott on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 06:06:48 PM EST

It undermines my point, but in fact I used to do apartment maintenance in Ann Arbor, and we just about had it down to a script with the college students who made up our tenant body:

"The fridge is broken!"

"OK, is it dark in there?"

"Yeah, it is."

"How about the rest of the apartment?"

"Yeah, must be a fuse, huh?"

"Well, look in the mailbox. Is there an orange envelope in there? Does it come from the power company?"

"Yeah, how'd you know?"

"Well, pay the bill and call us back..."

But (and this is important), I didn't argue with them. I asked the question because it needed to be asked, not because I assumed that the client was an idiot. I never once told a tenant "That's impossible", and yet I've stood there and watched a support chimp say just exactly that when a user complained that the software misbehaved (I might add that it was not only possible but quite repeatable).

[ Parent ]

Common Denominators (5.00 / 1) (#102)
by Mitheral on Mon Aug 27, 2001 at 04:03:26 PM EST

But (and this is important), I didn't argue with them. I asked the question because it needed to be asked, not because I assumed that the client was an idiot.

Your exactly right of course and I agree totally. The problem is, of course, not that the user is an idiot; but that we don't know what the users knowledge level is. So we run down our check list starting with the most fundemental item. Reason being, otherwise we'd spend alot of time and energy trying to figure out that the reason the user can't print is that the building is experencing a blackout (real life, happened to me, wasted 35 minutes figuring out example).

Additude is everything and anyone working support should have the ability to treat users with respect and caring or they shouldn't be working support.

[ Parent ]

You missed something in the article... (4.66 / 3) (#50)
by Dr Caleb on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:03:35 AM EST

Ok, you aren't a plumber. You aren't a lawyer. You aren't an accountant.

You do know how to work with a computer. So does Aunt Minnie. You drive a car. So does Aunt Minnie.

Do you know how to fix a car? Does Aunt Minnie? (I'll assume negative to both questions - it makes the rest easier...) Does Aunt Minnie know that the fuel pressure in her fuel delivery system must be regulated so the fuel injectors work properly? Does she have to adjust this by hand? No.

Her car has been engineered so that when she turns the key, a relay engages that provides power direct from the battery that engages the starter (so she doesn't have to get out and crank that big V-8 Diesel) and the vehicle starts. It has been "dumbed down" so she can use it.

One point of the article was that; this is the way Aunt Minnie wants it. This is also the way she wants her computer, and the way most of the Plumbers, Lawyers, Accountants and Mechinics want it too.

They are too busy learning and expanding thier skills in their trade to have to learn our trade. If we enhance our skills and techniques to help Aunt Minnie use her computer instead of having to fix her computer, then we help her farm better.
Vive Le Canada - For Canadians who give a shit about their country.

There is no K5 cabal.
[ Parent ]

Prejudice (5.00 / 1) (#109)
by epepke on Wed Sep 05, 2001 at 05:31:03 PM EST

This prejudice (build a system a fool can use and only a fool will want to use it) is one of the reasons that well designed systems fail in the marketplace.

Aunt Minnie may have a use for a well designed system, but she isn't going to buy one. If she buys a computer, it's going to be based on three factors:

  • What her friend the local computer genius likes, which isn't going to be a system that is easy to use
  • The cost of the single most expensive component (not TCO)
  • Whatever she uses at work, if she does, which is going to be an overcomplicated system with featuritis designed to attract purchasers. Remember, medicine has to taste bad to be professional.

I am sympathetic to the desires of the author of the original article. I, too, have been in the biz for a quarter century and am passionately inclined toward making everything as usable as possible. It can be done, even for complex systems. It isn't even that difficult to do with just a little bit of thought. The problem is that usability just doesn't sell. Time and time again, I've seen mediocre, klunky systems outsell much better designed ones, even to the extent of wiping the usable systems off the market.

By all means, find the unifying concepts, think of clean layout, build in tolerance of mistakes, and make things as simple as possible (but no simpler). However, unless you have a captive audience that doesn't buy your systems, don't expect your company to stay in business long.


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


[ Parent ]
Computers (2.66 / 9) (#15)
by raaymoose on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 01:36:17 PM EST

Computers are not simple machines, and they are not simple to use - nor should they be!
This is just more fallout of the mass marketing campaigns of Microsoft, IBM and whoever else has been touting the 'easy to use' line for years. It looks like you've fallen for it quite well. Computers are tools, but they're the most complex tool we've come up with -- no one should expect them to be as simple as a screwdriver, but yet that seems to be what you're proposing here in a way.



Why not? (3.60 / 5) (#21)
by finial on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:46:04 PM EST

A machine should be hard to use because it's are complex on the inside!?!?

An automobile is a complex machine yet you certainly wouldn't argue that it should be hard to use, would you? They've been getting more complex yet simpler to use for 100 years, and that is not a bad thing. You no longer need to calculate the mixture of air and fuel with the choke, for example. Now, you just turn the key. You don't have to shift (or double clutch) if you don't want to. Now you've got automatic transmissions and synchronized gearing. Should I have to know the chemistry behind a catalytic converter in order to use a car?

I guess I don't understand that argument that just because a machine is complex it should be hard to use.

Regardless of whether MS or IBM or anyone else thinks ease of use is a good idea or not, I think it is. The purpose of a computer is to solve problems. I shouldn't have to sacrifice a goat to get it to work.



[ Parent ]
It's not the complexity of the TOOL... (4.75 / 8) (#27)
by DesiredUsername on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 03:10:36 PM EST

...it's the complexity of the TASK.

Automobiles are (relatively) simple to operate because the TASK they perform is simple. Convert chemical energy to kinetic energy at a high enough rate to carry me and my groceries along. Add some steering and brakes plus a safety system and viola you've got an automobile. The fact that the actual implementation is complex (carbeurators [or however you spell that], etc) means nothing.

Same with telephones. It's just a way to shout loud to an exact person. Therefore the interface is simple (although again the internal details are messy).

But what one simple task to computers perform? None. Computers are meta-tools. They contain word-processors, web browsers, simulation engines (which are in turn meta-tools), music creation and playback "devices", mathematical modeling devices, etc. If you had to control all those things as physical devices inside a physical box, wouldn't you expect the knobs, levers, grips and buttons to be somewhat complex? Now add the fact that any user can add a new device to the box....

What you've got is the makings of a combinatorial explosion. Which is exactly why people are talking about "appliances"--computers dedicated to a single task. It cuts down on the combinations. When you limit the computer to a single task, the interface becomes simple again. But then you need to buy 500 different devices and you haven't solved anything. If appliances ever make it big, expect there to be a big market for "general computers" a few years later: "Cell phone, web browser, word processor, home automation--who has room for all that crap? With our General Computer (tm) you can have all those tools in one!"

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
OK (4.00 / 1) (#43)
by finial on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:02:21 PM EST

Ok, I see the difference in what you're saying: tool v. task. I guess what I found most problematic is the fatalistic attitude of the original post.

Computers are not simple machines, and they are not simple to use - nor should they be! [emphasis added]

It doesn't translate to this specific example all that well except that it illustrates that something very, very complex and detailed can be presented in a simple way that gets all of the information across, but take a look at Charles Joseph Minard's map of Napolean's march to Moscow. Here is a beautiful (literaly) example of how complex data can be displayed in a immediate and meaningful way. Yes, I know this is not a computer but it does show that, with imagination and, dare I say the word "Innovation," solutions can be arrived at to make it simpler. And in the same way that this map displays complex data simply and meaningfully, there should be a way to create an interface to a complex device that is relevant, meaningful and easy to use.



[ Parent ]
Apples vs Oranges (none / 0) (#51)
by DesiredUsername on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 08:11:26 AM EST

Napolean's march, however important historically and however many details there are, is not complex. They walked to Russia and back.

I think you are vastly underestimating the power of computers. Generalized. Simulation. Meta-tools. Any tool that could logically (not physically, logically) exist in the Universe can be programmed on a computer (of sufficient size). That's a lot of power for Aunt Minnie to keep on her desktop.

But exploiting that power requires understanding it. If all you understand is "I press this button and text written by my children appears on the screen" all you'll be able to do is read email. If you understand basic concepts related to networking (and no one is saying Aunt Minnie needs to create her own TCP/IP stack) you can immediately generalize beyond email to all kinds of communication. If you understand some basic coding theory (she doesn't have to be Aunt Minnie Huffman) you can grasp and use the idea of data abstraction. With just a small introduction to encryption/security (Minnie Scheier? No!) you can understand the need to not write your password on a postit as well as understanding why you shouldn't open .exe attachments from anonymous sources. Best of all, once you understand the meta-tool concept you can create your own tools. Which is exactly what Aunt Minnie might need.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Napoleon's March to Russia was complex (4.00 / 2) (#62)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:20:19 PM EST

The march of any modern military (Napoleon's was one of the first truly modern armies) is an incredibly complex task. The infrastructure to move any army of 300,000 is at least ten times that in terms of people, a hundred times that in terms of population of a country to support this size army and its materiel needs. Not to mention the huge amount of supply and transport to get it there. In fact, modern militaries can be considered the single largest self contained systems around. Their internal systems run into the tens of thousands. Standards and conventions have been applied to make this task easier to control and command. Why not for a single PC? A PC is no where near as complex as an army, no matter how many pieces of hardware or software you include in the PC (including the millions of lines of program code included).

(Reminder: need better Thesaurus.)

A military fighter plane or commercial airliner have far more than one PC in them and far more than several million lines of code. In an aircraft all of this has been made to be transparent to the pilot and passengers. The pilot concentrates his attention on the piloting, not the internals of jet engine design and construction. His safety checks are the ones he has been trained to do. Does he reboot all computers by hand, reprogram them on the fly? Does he use specific interfaces? Many interfaces are APIs other computer systems on the plane use, the pilot never sees these. But if they don't work he does not have to call the manufactureer or look up "System code 003h at address 0213598323659". He gets a "subsystem not working" message that tells him his left aileron trim tab actuator is not working. This is what he uses to decide go/no go on the flight.

Again, complex systems can be made easier to use. That is what we do.

I'll bet you write programs specifically to do something you or someone else has never done before. But, I'll bet it is not something you will never use again or will never re-use in a later program, or never give to anyone else. I'll bet it makes some task you do easier to do. I'll bet you tinker with Linux or other components just to get them to do something your way, or better than in the past. Well at some point that method, script, or program will make other people's lives easier with their computers, at which point you can give it to them or sell it to them. Then their lives using computers will be easier or maybe just possible when it never was before.

[ Parent ]
Once again... (none / 0) (#80)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 09:08:17 AM EST

...think TASK not TOOL

I don't care how many parts there are in an airplane (or a PC). I don't care how difficult it is to find food for a million hungry mouths. Those are all implementation details.

The TASK of a computer is much more complex than the TASK of a march. A march's TASK is: get us to Russia. Again, there are details like food and shelter and medical supplies, blah blah blah. Doesn't matter. The TASK of a computer is to perform or at least simulate with arbitrary precision the TASK of every logically possible tool in the universe (include a march). If task A is a proper superset of task B, A must be more complex.

Forget about soundcards, motherboards, harddrives and wires. The TASK potential of a Turing Machine is all we need.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Task or Tool? (5.00 / 1) (#85)
by orichter on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 12:10:16 PM EST

What is the task you want? A single computer that will just compute everything in the universe for you, but which you cannot possibly understand, or one which you can use for some purpose? Well, does not a word processor do some task for you (yes it uses algorithms)? Is it not complex? You would not have a computer at all if someone had not figured out how to make something complex and "theoretical" into a computer, electronic circuit, computer chip, storage media, operating system, programming language, etc. That is, IMO, taking something complex that has many possibly infinite applications and making use of them. It only takes one general to run an army because of the standards and complexity that have been addressed with regard to his type of system (he makes the same mistakes you do on your computer, hopefully with specialised training - in running an army - he makes less mistakes than you do on your computer - that is called losing a war, in your case it is called having a program crash).

Does the general need to know how to compile his communications programs? No! He just needs to have multpile routes of communications at his disposal. Do you know how to run an army in combat? No! Could you have commanded that "Walk to Russia and back"? No! For the same reason Napoleon's system is very complex your computer is very complex.

Make something everyone can use on their computer. Theory is not everything. Yes it is nice to know that a computer is a Turing Machine. I had to look into those proofs when I was in college taking Industrial Engineering/Operations Research, but the reason it was being looked into was to design better, easier to use software, and AI software. Your planes don't crash as much because of such software. Your car runs 5% more fuel efficient and 20% less polluting because of these programs. So there is reason to make computers better and not just look at it in awe as a "theoretical device". UNIX and Linux came out of these needs for easier to program computers. They were originally programmed by hooking up wires on a board, then using assembly language, then using programming languages that compiled into assembly language.

Any task is accomplished with tools. The computer is a tool to accomplish a task. That there are perhaps infinite tasks a computer can do is debatable. But first you must make the computer able to accomplish those tasks. Software, hardware are how you do this. In all tasks you must first break it down into component parts so that each one can be addressed. Then you can accomplish the task with the created components.

A computer is used for a fraction of the possible tasks simply because we do not yet know how to program all tasks, and do not have hardware to accomplish all tasks. Our challenge is to make the computer useful to as many humans as possible without them having to know ALL details about how it works. Just as you do not know how to accomplish the task of running an army the general does not need to know how to build a computer. The general uses computers in the same way you use the army to keep foreigners out who might take your computer or your rights to use a computer away from you.

[ Parent ]
Exactly! (4.00 / 1) (#86)
by DesiredUsername on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 12:30:30 PM EST

"Does the general need to know how to compile his communications programs? No! He just needs to have multpile routes of communications at his disposal. Do you know how to run an army in combat? No!"

And here we have the crux of the matter: I don't know diddly about armies, therefore I can't run one. Aunt Minnie doesn't know diddly about computers therefore she can't use it effectively.

Exactly the point I've been making all along: The power of tool is only available in proportion to your knowledge OF that tool. All Aunt Minnie knows is "press the button to send email". She can therefore exploit very little of the power. Our (you and me) knowledge of the tool is much deeper, therefore our use is much more effective.

Would I be able to say "March to Russia" if the army had a nice point-n-click interface where all I had to do was fill in some supply numbers, check a few officer positions checkboxes and then click "March!"? Probably in some simple scenarios, yes, just like Aunt Minnie can perform some of her farm functions because they've been pre-programmed. But my orders (and Aunt Minnies efficiency) would be greatly improved by a fundamental understanding of the tool. UI's can be made simpler and simpler--but you eventually reach a point where the UI is so simple the program can't perform the required task. Users need to be educated up past that point.

Play 囲碁
[ Parent ]
Like the architect she doesnt need to know all (none / 0) (#91)
by orichter on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 04:06:50 PM EST

You miss the point. Aunt Minnie uses a lot of tools on the PC but does not care or need to know how they work internally. Except for the purpose she uses them for. She is not a programmer, she does not have time to be - she could hire you to program a specific application to do a specific thing better. She knows what she needs to make her business work better, she knows farming, she knows what software is available for farming, she uses some of it, she knows how to use the specific software for farming she has.

The PC is a tool and if it does something for her she can use it. If there is no software she can use to make her farm run better, more efficiently, cheaper, at higher profit, then she wouldn't need it at all. Economic decisions would then dictate she not waste her time on such a useless tool. A computer can be made into many different tools but if none help in farming it is still of no use to her. As I said earlier, if she thought a process on her farm could be made more efficient with a computer program she would go to an expert and have it programmed for her, provided it is not already available on the market or it is not excessively expensive. All of this boils down to economics.

If there are tools available she can get ahold of for farming then she doesn't have to know about the computer itself if she can buy the software packages she needs and use them on it. These are specific packages that she requires specific knowledge about, they are about farming so she already knows how they might apply to her business. THEY ARE NOT general knowledge about everything else in the computer, or general knowledge of astrophysics per se. I repeat she is not a programmer or astrophysicist and does not have the time to take away from her farm to program. Nor can she hire one on a permanent basis.

She knows enough to be able to turn on the PC and effectively use the software she uses. If it is so difficult that she must run a program for an extended period of time and she must check many different things to get it to work she has to balance the cost of sitting there away from the farm and the loss of time (and financial loss) she might have not running her farm. There must be a Return on Investment for her to use the computer and its software. There is a limited time and budget for her to learn to use these things. There is limited time in her job of running the farm to use the computer. A week long training class for something that does not immediately pay back bigtime is not going to fly with her. Neither is a long and involved process on the computer going to be used if she must lose more money than the program helps her make.

She HAS to leave it to others to figure out how to use a computer more effectively on a farm, and to write the applications, and build new hardware interfaces, new hardware, new OS's, etc. She needs YOU to make the use of the computer simpler for farming so she can spend the minimum amount of time getting the largest return on her investment - the FARM. Again, she knows how to farm.

What she needs is not a computer as you define it "an infinitely maleable Turing Machine" she needs a computer that is specific to her farming needs. Repeat FARMING. She needs the tool to fit the work. Not the tool to be the work. Unless she wants to switch careers to be a farm tool programmer, and not a farmer. Believe me she uses the computer as a tool for her farm effectively and has a fundamental understanding of how to use it as a tool for farming, she doesn't care about the rest. She also understands the economics of computing power available for her farm. She cannot buy a large system such as an AIX or SUN box. Even if they had better tools she can't and doesn't have time to use such tools.

For example, lets take a look at email. She is not in the league of farmers or email users that would need a server to spam the entire US to sell her farm goods. So she does not need a deeper understanding of the intricacies of email servers and targetted marketing/spamming logic and databases. She uses email to send requests for farm or veterinary help or information, to keep in contact with her suppliers and the farm goods purchasers. So there are several items she does not need a deeper understanding of. And so it goes for many other parts of the computer. Her system is not big enough to require RAID, so she does not need to understand that technology. She doesn't make music CDs but uses a Zip drive for backups of specifc data she needs to keep. So there again, she does not need deeper understanding of disaster recovery methods and Veritas for PCs, and/or MP3 technologies and CD burners.

The distinction is that the tool is not the work. A task can be achieved by using tools, but the tools must be focused on the task at hand. If the tool requires more effort or cost to use than the task then you have lost the need for or value of the tool. Again, a focused tool is far more efficient and cost effective than a general purpose tool. Building the tool is not time efficient or cost effective for the end user. Not when they can buy one ready made and don't need to understand how it is made. The enduser needs to just know how to use the TOOL to make the TASK at hand more efficient, faster, and cheaper. Economics again.

The wonderful thing about the computer is that it is general purpose and specific purpose at the same time. I can configure it many ways for many specific end users each of which has different needs for different technologies available in the computer. They don't ever use it the same way as someone else does. So they don't need to know specifics about much more than they use regularly. They need a basic understanding, enough to get it up and running for the purposes they need it for. Beyond that it becomes a question of "Do I need to know more for my job, schoolwork, or family use?" For the average user the answer is no. They do need a general understanding of the basics, to as you say, decide what it is they could use it for.

But this requires that the computer be general purpose to begin with, then customizable for the specific uses the end user has for it. In this case a general purpose computer provides the basis for a specific toolset.

Do I think that schools are doing a good job of teaching to this basic level of understanding? No, US elementary and high schools are teaching how to use the computer for keyboarding purposes, as a glorified typewriter. They are not teaching how to use one at work or even for research and schoolwork.

Anyone with even the slightest understanding of or experience in the military would realize that you have tremendously oversimplfied the system that an army represents. Yes, an army is a tool that the generals have spent their entire lives learning to use at a deeper understanding level. But they cannot and do not need to know how every piece is built, manufactured, or even the technology it is based on. They too rely on specialists for this. A nuke is not difficult to understand from a strategic bombing viewpoint as a tool to accomplish a task, but it takes many hundreds of specialists to understand the science of how to design one, and it takes many political decisions to use one. Yet those who used one understood only its potential outcome militarily/politically not its technology.

Today nuclear weapons technology has been simplified to such an extent that it no longer takes hundreds of specialists to build one if several special parts are available and refined weapons grade material is available. Probably one or two people could put one together. But again they do not need to know the basic underlying technologies and science of the parts production process if the parts are readily available. They just need to know how to put the parts together correctly. Then as an end user they decide what to do with it. Yeh gods.

Thanks for the naive attitude. You are helping me to write the next article and a training class for basic IE/OR, basic systems analysis, and basic economics. Three subjects lacking in most curricula taught to most programmers today. Most programmers learn only a specific set of OSs, programming languages, concepts, and database technologies. Even they are not taught all the technologies inherent in even the desktop computer from an engineering standpoint. Then again, do they need to know how the disk drive writes to the disk? Normally not, only if they are writing a driver program. Most programmers use the inherent drivers that come with the system or the disk drives, and never see the system at such a low level.

[ Parent ]
That Graphic of Napoleon's March on Russia (4.00 / 1) (#63)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:40:58 PM EST

That graphic is considered one of the first graphical representations of numerical data, calculated, computed (as they would have said at the time) manually and illustrating the computed output. It took an algorithm and made it usable in the sense of what it represents and means. This is what we Industrial Engineering/Operations Research people have been trying to do all these years. The graphic mentioned above allows the average person to use the data in a way that makes as you said immediate sense. It allowed a researcher to provide his specific research data and results in a way that the average person could easily use to make decisions (vote for Napoleon, or against, or support his opposition).

Thanks for the reference.

[ Parent ]
Because: (4.50 / 4) (#29)
by pauldamer on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 03:26:18 PM EST

A machine can be hard to use because of what it can do.

A car is (relatively) easy to use, but very limited in application. you can accelerate, decelerate, turn, and switch on and off a variety of accesories like wipers, or a radio.

A computer is capable of infinitly more operations than a car (being a universal turing machine) so clearly attempting to take advantage of all these capabilities will add to the complexity of the interface.

If you want a word processor that is easy to use get a pencil. It has a transparent archetecture, an intuitive interface, and is very easy to troubleshoot.

If you want ease of use you have to sacrifice adaptability. If you want a wordprocessor that will check your spelling and do fancy formatting, etc. then you have to expect it to be more complicated to use.

[ Parent ]
Odd you should choose that metaphor... (4.00 / 7) (#31)
by ubernostrum on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 04:25:06 PM EST

You are familiar with the familiar tech-support analogy of "What if people treated cars the way they treat computers", right? I have no idea who originally came up with this, but I've seen it so many different places I can just semi-quote it for you off the top of my head):

Tech support: "General Motors Technical Support, how can I help you?"
Customer: "Hi, I just bought a new car, but I went out and got in and it won't work. It won't go anywhere."
Tech support: "OK, well, did you try putting the key in the ignition and starting the engine?"
Customer: "Key? Ignition? What are those? I'm not a technical person, you'll have to talk in terms I can understand."
Tech Support: "Well, the engine is what makes the car run, and you start it with this thing called the ignition..."
Customer: (angrily) "I told you I'm not a technical person! I don't want to know all these terms, just tell me what's wrong and how to fix it!"
Tech Support: "OK, well, do you know how to drive? Do you have a driver's license?"
Customer: "I SAID I'm not a technical person! I told you, I went out and got in the car and it didn't go anywhere! Now I don't want lot sof boring technical detais, I want you to tell me NOW how to make it go!"
And so on. The automobile isn't "intuitive" by any means (try switching from a manual to an automatic or vice-versa), it's just that people learn the interface without complaining, and we see nothing wrong with this - in order to use a car, you have to learn how it works and how to operate it. Yet computers, which are horribly more complex, are supposed to require no effort and be so easy that anyone can just sit down and go? I'd have to say no to that.


--
You cooin' with my bird?
[ Parent ]
yeah but just once (5.00 / 1) (#108)
by anonymous cowerd on Sun Sep 02, 2001 at 04:07:19 PM EST

It wasn't all that easy learning how to drive a car but for one thing I was an enthusiastic teenager with a lot of energy and motivation when I did it, and in my whole life I've only had to do it that once. Here's the curriculum: The seat belt fastens across your lap. There's a little key slot; insert key and rotate to turn car on. Rotate the steering wheel clockwise and the car turns right, counter-clockwise left. The more pressure you apply to the pedal under the right foot the more the engine pulls. The pedal under the left foot slows the car down. There are gears in two basic types, the real easy one goes PRNDL, the other one which goes H involves a third pedal and is lots more fun to drive. Maintenance: gas gauge/pump/filler/cap, oil dipstick/filler, tire gauge/valve/hose. Look out for the cops. Be careful. That's it and the same instructions have worked for every car or truck I've climbed in for the last thirty years.

Now how many times have you had to relearn, not how to "run a computer" in a global sense, but one simple task among many, say, how to copy a file on or off a floppy disc, in the years you've been using computers? I can think of at least five systems for which I had to figure that out and they were all completely different; knowing the technique for one computer gave me barely a single clue how to do it on the next one.

Comparing the mature technology of automobile driver interfaces with the immature one of computer interfaces, it doesn't help that the business interests have hijacked the patent and copyright laws, to where copyright extends unto the heat death of the Sun and corporations are awarded patent lock over every trivial commonplace action all the way down to scratching your ass. In an atmosphere like that, one can never hope to see computer interfaces get standardized - the minute vendor "B" uses the same controls as vendor "A" he promptly gets sued over "look and feel" - except possibly in the Microsoft millenium where they own literally everything including the entire customer population so the whole issue of copyright violation becomes moot.

Yours WDK - WKiernan@concentric.net

The one thing that really disturbs me about America is that people don't like to read. - Keith Richards
[ Parent ]

Hard to us? (3.50 / 2) (#53)
by pyramid termite on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 08:34:42 AM EST

An automobile is a complex machine yet you certainly wouldn't argue that it should be hard to use, would you?

Condidering that tens of thousands of people die in car accidents a year, I would say they ARE hard to use.
On the Internet, anyone can accuse you of being a dog.
[ Parent ]
Or you could say (4.50 / 2) (#58)
by finial on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 12:10:32 PM EST

Or you could say that they are too easy to use and so people don't pay enough attention to what they're doing and think they can use cell phones, put on makeup, read the paper, brew coffee, send a fax, check stockquotes and check on Ben Afleck's condition while they're driving.

[ Parent ]
Complex systems can be made easy to use (2.00 / 1) (#56)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 11:47:56 AM EST

The idea is that there are many complex systems or set of systems that an end user can use without having to know all the "innards". Their support system is WE the programmers, designers, builders, and upgraders. This means that WE make using complex systems possible for the end users. WE remove making everyone else have to know about the "insides" so that they can easily use some complex system.

[ Parent ]
no kidding. (3.85 / 7) (#17)
by rebelcool on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:03:16 PM EST

and the nerds wonder why linux isnt #1 yet....

Just remember: It's the techies who 'get it' and bring computation to the masses who will become really successful, while the ones who sit around and moan about how 'computers should be for the enlightened!' will be stuck in their cubicles.

COG. Build your own community. Free, easy, powerful. Demo site

From the stables... (4.33 / 6) (#19)
by jd on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:25:25 PM EST

Different horses for different courses.

The problem is not in having one OS/App/Whatever that does one thing well and other things badly, the problem is in EITHER trying to have that one thing do EVERYTHING well (impossible), OR not trying to have the other horses for all those other courses (lazy).

There will never be an ultimate OS/App/Whatever, but if there were to be, it must be truly skeletal, with the flesh being added by the user, to tailor it to what THEY need.

Linux is close to this kind of state - you can compile a great deal as modules - but there is still WAY too much that you can't, and there are WAY too many stupid dependencies and unnecessary interconnections. (Why would an IPv6 stack depend on an IPv4 stack??)

I honestly believe that the "essential" part of an OS kernel should be smaller than 8K, but that it should be as extensible as programmers have imagination. The developer would then get a developer's OS. The web admin would get a web admin's OS. The artist would get an artist's OS. The PHB would get a PHB OS, with added arrows and boxes. Etc. Nothing need be the same, including the system calls, the interface, etc.

The reason such an "ultimate" OS will never be written? It would be impossible for application writers to keep up with. It would be just too fluid. No two users would see the same system. With no commonality, there could be no certainty that any given thing would work.

In the end, we compromise. We find the best balance between the different needs of different groups, and try to keep the system from either imploding or exploding. It's a difficult balance and one that both techs and non-techs tend to ignore, in their quest for What They Want.

As for techs deeming non-techs as "ignorant", name any group that doesn't deem "outsiders" as the "unwashed masses"! It's not a problem of techies, as it is a problem in our culture as a whole. The bug is in society, and any attempt to supply a patch must look THERE. "Fixing" techs is to obscure the error in one very tiny segment of the population. The challange is to eliminate that problem entirely.

Microkernels (4.00 / 2) (#23)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 02:59:15 PM EST

Too bad HURD is all but dead. That's the exact sort of thing it was tending towards.

Fortunately, MacOS X is alive and well, and is very much so an extensible, skeletal microkernel.
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Atheos (3.00 / 1) (#38)
by John Milton on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:50:19 PM EST

I'm watching Atheos. It looks very promising. As far as I know, it is sort of microkernel. I installed one of the earlier versions. It wasn't bad, but there was no app support.


"When we consider that woman are treated as property, it is degrading to women that we should Treat our children as property to be disposed of as we see fit." -Elizabeth Cady Stanton


[ Parent ]
AtheOs with marshmallows (3.50 / 2) (#45)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:45:35 PM EST

It is not a microkernel. It is message-passing, but not a microkernel; it's more like the Minix model where the kernel processes all sit in a single address space. (Because of that, Minix isn't really a microkernel either.)
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Hurd is not dead (3.50 / 2) (#41)
by BlckKnght on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:01:45 PM EST

The Hurd is certainly not dead. See here for development discussions. The GNU/Hurd and Debian GNU/Hurd project pages are here and here.

  • 40% of the Debian archive ported to the Hurd (many remaining packages use Linux specific syscalls or features like the Linux /proc filesystem)
  • PPP support (based on BSD usermode PPP)
  • great stability increases (just in the last few days)
I'm mostly a lurker on the Hurd mailing lists, but I wish I had the time to do porting and bugfixing. The Hurd is a really well designed OS, allowing far greater flexability than monolithic kernels like Linux or BSD.

-- 
Error: .signature: No such file or directory


[ Parent ]
Ah (4.00 / 1) (#46)
by fluffy grue on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:49:16 PM EST

Last I checked, development had been pretty much stagnant, and the only thing which was being worked on was the Makefile-like dependency-enriched init scripts (which are IMHO a brilliant idea). I guess it's turned around again.

Are there still the crappy stability issues where the ext2 driver occasionally frotzes the whole drive, or is it considered stable enough for use as a workstation OS at this point?

The lack of sound drivers is somewhat annoying, though. I need my music! :)
--
"Is not a quine" is not a quine.
I have a master's degree in science!

[ Hug Your Trikuare ]
[ Parent ]

Given all the grief RMS gets lately (5.00 / 1) (#64)
by yesterdays children on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:50:45 PM EST

I bet he's working on hurd just out of linux-spite :-D

(does he do any kernel type work?)

[ Parent ]

You get it (none / 0) (#68)
by xdroop on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 03:19:55 PM EST

I think you are just about the only one here who gets the "Right tool for the job" argument.

I wish I could give you more than +5 for that alone.
---
xhost +
[ Parent ]

Thanks (none / 0) (#89)
by orichter on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 01:46:06 PM EST

I like how your last two paragraphs summarize the issues so well. We have to make the effort to work together to balance the issues, and at the same time work with the end users without being condescending. Our society does do this "small elite" group versus "the unwashed multitudes" thing. We do need to get past this as a whole. We can help in our small way, in our industry. The OS building block approach is not bad. As Microsoft sees it as there are two building blocks: MS the OS, and MS Office. If we can come up with a better, easier way to insert and replace these building blocks in order to provide the same functionality to the end user we can make Linux into the next desktop OS. For servers, Linux is already competitive, and has superior qualities in many areas both price-wise and feature-wise. For the desktop all that really has to be there is: 1. An installer that recognizes 95% of hardware and correctly installs and configures it. 2. A compatibility module that allows MS Office 2000 to run out of the box. 3. and a GUI interface that allows configuration for new hardware and software and is similar (90%) to Windows. It does not need to have all the servers and programming languages installed. Those can be added later as needs require. If Linux can meet these 3 requirements it will have met 90% of all desktop requirements of all desktops around the world. Why? Because 90% of desktops use MS Office and look like Windows (or Mac). Because the standard for delivery of documents in school, work, and home is MS Word and MS Excel at the 100% compatibility level. Notice that the Mac runs MS Office. Notice that the Mac has UNIX underneath. If Linux is to compete with Windows and Mac it needs to function like they do. We KNOW this can be done!!!! It has been done by others before (Apple, Win4Lin, Mandrake installer, etc.). When is the Linux community going to do this? When are these pieces going to be put together by someone in the Linux community? Or will it be a commercial outfit that will charge for it?

[ Parent ]
a car without bumpers would go faster (4.16 / 6) (#35)
by professor bikey bike on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:04:45 PM EST

We 'IT' people tend to forget that 95% of all people are users of computers, not programmers with a deeper understanding of how the CPU works, or how the Internet works.

Just to start off, 95% of all people most definitely don't have access to computers...but this is not why I replied.

You state that asking consumers to install their own security features would be like asking them to do the safety inspection of an airplane before take-off.

I respond by stating that computers give people the option to do just that, instead of having Bill Gates do it, or James IBM. There are probably a lot of people who would like to be able to do a safety inspection of an airplane before they board, but are unable to because the damned things are so complicated, and the laws that govern such things make it impossible.

The whole point of computers is that they are powerful tools, and offer individuals the possibility to have control of their system and have it do exactly what they want it to, rather than a neat little package that supposedly takes care of everything and then plummets burning jet fuel into the ocean.

cheers.

Complex systems can be made accessible to endusers (4.00 / 1) (#55)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 11:45:35 AM EST

The idea is that there are many complex systems or set of systems that an end user can use without having to know all the "innards". Their support system is WE the programmers, designers, builders, and upgraders. This means that WE make using complex systems possible for the end users. WE remove making everyone else have to know about the "insides" so that they can easily use some complex system.

[ Parent ]
Needs to be discussed (3.00 / 4) (#36)
by mami on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:23:20 PM EST

(great topic, bad title, a bit too long, but a highly desirable subject to discuss).

I don't know, but your "Aunt Minnie" might have long discovered that there is some software out there for free and she might have gotten all exited about doing something with it. But then all these geeks come along and tell her how darn she never "gets it".

Aunt Minnie asks herself how in the world those starving geeks want to sell their free software to her, but at the same time are not shy to tell her that she is a "retarded" person. You all might have guessed it already. She sinned and now is condemned to suffer eternall. She did something that stupid as to buy a boxed version of a Linux distro instead of downloading it at no cost. How could she be that dumb.

Of course "Aunt Minnie" also doesn't understand why all those geeks, who "get" it, ask so many "obvious FAQ questions" on technical mailing lists. All the time they told her to RTFM, but poor Aunt Minnie discovers to her amazement that the very geeks who told her to RTFM seem to read more science fiction and Ann Ryand than all those Fine Manuals.

For example this kind of question comes along very often: "Hi gang, can you tell me how to install xy so that it works with z ? And BTW explain it to me like for the real dumb :), or better send the config file directly to me. I need to get this done, my client wants this up and running yesterday."

"Aunt Minnie" is perplexed. The 'dummy' geek asks for money as a consultant from any Aunt Minnie in return for your 'geek consultant services' and at the same time begs for a free ride on the technical mailing lists, where all the Aunt Minnies of the world lurk too ? Who is missing something here ?

Do you have an answer to that question for Aunt Minnie by any chance ?





grammar correction (none / 0) (#37)
by mami on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:35:35 PM EST

...now is condemned to suffer eternall.
... should read "suffer eternally" ...
The dummy geek asks for money as a consultant from any Aunt Minnie in return for your geek consultant services...
... should read "in return for his 'geek consultant services'.... sorry.

[ Parent ]
For people who don't 'get' it (5.00 / 1) (#47)
by mami on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 07:44:06 PM EST

If you think I exaggerated, you can read on /. the article "Do we spend more on Linux or Windows ?". It contains long threads about the perceived "retardedness" of users under the thread title "Are your friends retarded" for example. In general you can see how quick one refers to the user as "retarded".

You can find a lot of articles, which will reveal the general motive of geeks to derive their satisfaction almost exclusively from the feeling of intellectual superiority, which, if not present, they try to get from putting "down" the others, the non geeks, the "them".

I would throw out any physician, scientist, engineer or school teacher without hesitation, if they would try to sell themselves or their services to me with the same attitude some of the geek community seem to think to get away with.

This self-representation is IMHO the real threat to open source software's ability to be sold to the average user, who is not yet very familiar with *nix OSS.

It's not the software, which is too complicated, it's the average geek's attitude presented to the world on forums like /. which is hard to swallow for users, especially as the users like "Aunt Minnie" are the potential buyers and clients.

Instead of suggesting to "program down" to the needs of "Aunt Minnie" it would be better to document and teach up to her.

Now, this is not a general attack though it might sound like it. Due to anonymity we don't know if those with a quick tongue to put people down are the real geeks and gurus on whose knowledge the technology is built and innovated.

My personal experience is that the more a geek is a real expert and guru, the less he falls in the trap to put other people down. He won't sell himself short, but he doesn't sell out on issues of character as well.

For whatever this comment is worth, may be - 0.02 Euros. I just added it because of the lovely rating my first comment got from some sensitively smart geek.



[ Parent ]
Yes- Teach! (4.00 / 1) (#69)
by nstenz on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 03:38:48 PM EST

Instead of suggesting to "program down" to the needs of "Aunt Minnie" it would be better to document and teach up to her.
That's exactly right... That's exactly what I would do. However- so many people don't want to learn, and that's what pisses us 'geeks' off. They say they won't understand it because they don't 'get' computers, or they'll forget it tomorrow. Why don't they write it down then? I know a lot of people who use computers every day, but can barely work the damn things. They can set up an account for a new customer, add a delivery service, change the billing cycle, add notes to an account... But they don't think they can run ScanDisk if I walk them through where to find it. They refuse to learn how Windows works in general, but they'll screw around with a car stereo for 10 minutes (while driving) so they can listen to their music. A lot of it is just percieved difficulty- which is why I get so frustrated in dealing with people. =|

(I program and do tech support for a small software company, so I'm on a first name basis with the majority of our customers. I get sick of hearing some of their voices on the phone, because it's the same thing every time. "How do I map a network drive again? I don't remember." For the 10th time... *sigh*)

I'd be more than happy to teach anyone willing to learn. I feel bad correcting people when they're wrong though, because I don't want them to feel stupid and swear off computers forever... Trying to do tech support politely is like me trying to talk to women... If I don't use exactly the right words, I get more than an earful back.

[ Parent ]

Teaching people... (none / 0) (#75)
by simon farnz on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 06:11:46 AM EST

I have taught various members of my family (ages up to 80!) how to use their PCs; the trick is to wait until they ask how to do something, then show them how to do it at their own pace. If they want to pause and write something, let them. It took 30 minutes to teach my grandmother to copy files to a floppy in Win 3.11; she learnt how, and when she started using Win 98, she felt confident enough to work it out herself.

Learning a system is often not about knowing things; it is about confidence. If you feel that you can do something without trouble, you will try it. This is the problem Linux faces in the market; purchasers are comfortable with MS, and confident enough to play with it. They do not have that confidence and comfort with Linux (yet).
--
If guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns
[ Parent ]

teaching things (none / 0) (#77)
by mami on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 08:37:01 AM EST

I really didn't mean to refer to teach how to use a MS Windows based computer.

I meant teaching an open source *nix OS to people outside the typical CS student community. There are not enough efforts in most countries to teach electronics, one or two foundation programming languages outside the university environment. Precise snd in depth high level online courses in those areas is very much needed, I think.

If you look at Red Hat's expansion of their course work this is need starts to be reflected. I would say they would do something very useful to offer the subject areas they do offer in their short term hands-on courses as long-term online only courses. I would say you have to give the "Aunt Minnies" of this world some privacy and choice about the pace of learning, which can be excellently done in providing material online, interactively.

One can design online classes which forces upon the student "hands-on" experience. Make clear how much hardware and routers are needed, give the student a connection with static IPs for the duration of the course work and design exercises that force the student to build a computer from scratch completely alone and build a network as well. Force upon the student to find the solution to exercise's questions on her own hardware and network, hands-on, alone and in the complete privacy of her home.

That would be the way to overcome the "fear to break something you might need to continue learning", once of the most common reasons for women to "not to try to mess with a working computer". May be men like to tinker with things. Women like to be efficient. If I get something, which works, and on which I am dependent for further learning, I darn do not want to mess around with that. If I am forced to learn on hardware other people are dependent on (meaning everything I mess up would cause time to other people to fix it) that would prevent me immediately to learn on such systems.

What is nicely expressed in the saying "don't fix it if it ain't broken" translates for "Aunt Minnie" into "don't mess with it, because if I break it, I don't know how to fix it, become dependent on other people and can't go on learning". And I think she is right. How can she learn how to fix something and how a computer's OS and networking system works, if she has no working platform anymore to find documentation and answers online.

Your remark about confidence is correct, but just to a certain degree. The most often "mistake" done by geeks vis a vis "Aunt Minnies" is to make believe that "the inner working of a computer" is "easy" to understand to not "scare her away". It's complex and draws from a lot of areas in electronics and mathematics etc. People mix up "confidence building" and "dumbing down or hiding things to not scare "Aunt Minnie".

All this refers just to open source OS and software. I am not talking about teaching how to click icons on proprietary software. It's the most boring things to learn and memorize I can imagine. But who am I to say that.

[ Parent ]

darn, I am still asleep (none / 0) (#78)
by mami on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 08:39:21 AM EST

there are a bunch of obvious grammar mistakes in my comment. Please excuse me for that. I am half asleep and my fingers are too awake. Try to overlook them please.

[ Parent ]
Specific example making general point (none / 0) (#82)
by simon farnz on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 09:30:44 AM EST

I wasn't referring to teaching people to use MS software either; I was just using a real world example of computer training. The point is that you cannot just demonstrate how to do things. I could just as easily have used the example of learning to drive: the learner does the driving, and the instructor tells them how to.

Yes, the inner workings of a computer are complex; I certainly couldn't handle the RF design issues of a 400MHz clock. However, the operation of a computer is relatively easy to understand.

Perhaps the ideal way for people like us to evangelise OSS is to set up systems for people to use and break; a system that can back track itself if it breaks. That way, if you mess with it and break it, you can undo your mistake and try again.

I think we agree on confidence for "Aunt Minnies"; it does not mean that she thinks the computer is simple. Rather, it means that she knows enough to know what can be done without the risk of breaking things, and what she should ask about first.

Finally, we all need plenty of patience. "Aunt Minnies" don't realise that they are the third newbie that month to ask the same question, and unless we teach them (nicely!) about HOWTOs, FAQs, lurking etc., they will not learn. "Aunt Minnies" are going to get a bad impression of us if we flame them for asking questions like "it said I have a 451MHz processor, but I only have a 450".
--
If guns are outlawed, only outlaws have guns
[ Parent ]

a little early.. (none / 0) (#52)
by lucid on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 08:21:21 AM EST

I think it's a little early to be writing fan fiction about his Aunt Minnie, don't you?

[ Parent ]
Who are these people? (none / 0) (#72)
by zek93 on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 07:08:54 PM EST

Of course "Aunt Minnie" also doesn't understand why all those geeks, who "get" it, ask so many "obvious FAQ questions" on technical mailing lists.
Do you have evidence that there are a lot of people who do both of these things, or are you just creating a bunch of absurd fictional characters? Or is the "Aunt Minnie" character in your little story an idiot who doesn't understand that different individuals do different things?

Aunt Minnie Part II

Wherein Aunt Minnie decides that "parents can't decide if they're male or female" because half the time they claim to be male, and half the time they claim to be female.

[ Parent ]

"Aunt Minnie" is by definition an idiot (none / 0) (#76)
by mami on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 07:41:09 AM EST

because some geeks seem to need her to be one. Geesh.

Do you have evidence that there are a lot of people who do both of these things, or are you just creating a bunch of absurd fictional characters

No. Believe me there is a specific subgroup of people who do not hide that they are consultants (thusly making a buck with what they know), who reveal quite naively how little they know on technical mailing lists. They are the first to have a loose tongue to insult others to RTFM and the last to give back to the community in providing help to the list with concise and meaningful answers.

These mailing lists provide help for free and these 'consultants' are free lunch riders IMHO. Round about ten percent of people belong in this category. May be that's very high and dependent on the mailing list's kind of software for which it gives technical support. I have lurked on many lists where those people were completely absent and the interaction was always technical, professional and to the point.

So, I am far to attack people in general, but it is obvious that one needs to be discriminative and it's a burden to do so.

[ Parent ]

Freeloading Consultants (none / 0) (#99)
by pudding on Sun Aug 26, 2001 at 10:29:56 PM EST

One good thing to have come out of the tech sector shakedown is that the know-knowthing, loud, abusive consultants mooching and complaining on mailing lists have started to disapear.

Now that tech is not quite as profitable they have probably gone back to their natural habitat selling vitamins, amway, or their newfound spam skillz.

[ Parent ]

I kinda agree (4.00 / 4) (#39)
by PhillipW on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 05:52:54 PM EST

But when these people call the help desk they shouldn't argue. Nor should they get offended when we ask them "stupid" questions, as these questions lead to a fix 90% of the time. Nor should they get mad when you treat them like they don't know anything about what they are doing. They need to at least take responsibility for their lack of knowledge.

-Phil
Some additional thoughs on that. (5.00 / 1) (#101)
by mindstrm on Mon Aug 27, 2001 at 03:22:46 PM EST

Realize, please, that there are two sides to this.
Yes, customers shouldn't get angry and yell when you ask them necessary questions.
By the same token, as a tech support guy, you have no right to get upset because the user is "stupid".
Many a time, I've noticed that the only time I actually start to get upset and angry with tech support people on the phone is when they answer the phone and instantly have the 'what do you want, stupid user' attitude.
I'm sorry; if you are doing technical support, you are being paid to help people. If you don't like it, get another job.

I found that my technical career went much smoother, and I had much better dealings with people when I learned that, to most people, the computer is simply a tool, and the reason I'm the sysadmin is because I know how the tools work, and can fix them, recommend new ones, etc. It's not my place to tell them they are 'stupid' for not understanding how the computer works.

My co-workers don't have to take responsbility for not understanding how to partition a hard drive, or not understanding how to use multiple email servers, or even how to 'browse' network neighborhood, becuase they are used to using shortcuts. It's not their JOB to understand; it's their job to handle other aspects of the business. It's MY job to make sure that the computers and tools work for them not against them.




[ Parent ]
the Aunt Minnie standard (4.00 / 1) (#42)
by lucid on Wed Aug 22, 2001 at 06:01:54 PM EST

Now, I don't know your Aunt Minnie, but does she return all tractor parts that aren't self-installing? I'm guessing she doesn't. As you said, a computer is a tool, but apparently it isn't an important enough tool for your Aunt to want to learn about it. I'm willing to bet that she does care about the inner workings of her tractor, particularly when it doesn't work right. Why should her computer be any different?

I don't really think that such a capricious standard is what the entire industry should really be catering to. I realize that you want to tie weights to my fingers because I type faster than your Aunt Millie standard specification allows; or maybe put a mental handicap radio in my ear to keep me from thinking about things Aunt Millie wouldn't think about, but I think you should think about it a little harder, before the H-G men get you.

But what's the use saying all of this? You can't even change your own oil. What do you know?


She takes the tractor to someone else to fix. (4.00 / 1) (#54)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 11:31:46 AM EST

Just as you would any tool you are not totally familiar with but use daily, she takes her tractor to a competent person to fix, not to drive, to fix. She drives the tractor when necessary, does not understand how to fix it, but knows when it needs "fixin". If it doesn't run or do what she needs it to she takes it back to the manufacturer (dealership) and has it repaired, or a new component (such as a trailer hitch) added as needed. She is "naive" about the insides of the tractor, and likewise the PC, but despite that she uses both heavily in her business (farming) with great success. The point is she should not have to build the tractor so that she could work a farm. Most people buy a complete tractor, either new, or used and if necessary have it repaired by someone else so that it can be used. Again, the idea is that there are many complex systems or set of systems that an end user can use without having to know all the "innards". Their support system is WE the programmers, designers, builders, and upgraders. This means that WE make using complex systems possible for the end users. WE remove making everyone else have to know about the "insides" so that they can easily use some complex system.

[ Parent ]
damn straight (none / 0) (#81)
by steveaustin on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 09:14:38 AM EST

thank GOD someone has a clue, the supposed experts believe that veryone should know how to user the pc as compotently as they do, but the real discusion here is fix not use.
---- seymor was going to tear into it like bag of frozen peas, unfortunately it was a sack of potato's a factor he wasn't prepared for.
[ Parent ]
where's the line? (none / 0) (#90)
by lucid on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 02:39:11 PM EST

You've restated some good points, but I'm not convinced. What about crops? You mentioned your aunt used her computer to look at weather conditions and plan planting dates, etc. Why should she have to know anything about these? At what point do you decide she needs to know certain things here, but needs to be sheltered from these other things there?

Really, though, I'm floored by the fact that your aunt knows nothing about her tractor. It's probably something to do with the way I was raised, or something, but I'm just blown away by that. To me, that's like a chef not knowing how a saucepan works.

[ Parent ]
I didn't say she knows nothing about her tractor (none / 0) (#106)
by orichter on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 11:04:41 AM EST

She uses the tractor as a tool, decides what type of attachments it needs. Then she puts the attachments as needed onto it herself. She then uses the tractor to maximum effect for the FARM.

But repair the engine? No thanks, a competent (expert) drealership can do that far better and faster, cheaper as well.

Again it boils down to time and cost.

Which is worth more? Puzzling out what is wrong with a broken tractor, buying the part, figuring out how to put it into the tractor; or working the farm in the meanwhile while someone else fixes it? She makes a lot more money running the farm than it costs to repair the tractor ($/hour) or for the time it would take her to do it. She can afford to make things optimal by hiring someone to fix the tractor.

When are people going to realize a computer, like a tractor, is JUST A TOOL?

You and I use this tool very differently from anyone else in the world. You use it to program, play with new OSs, languages, etc. I use mine for reading, writing, work, programming for work, etc. That is different than what you use it for. So I set mine up differently than you do. So I can choose to set it up differently specifically because it is a multi-purpose TOOL.

My Aunt uses it differently than you do, or I do. She can choose, and has chosen to, set it up specifically for the purposes she uses it for, most of which are specific to her craft of FARMING. She specifically does not want to use it the way you do or I do or 99.9999% of everyone else in the world uses their computer.

The wonderful thing about computers is that they ARE general purpose and multi-purpose. EVERYONE is free to make it work the way they want it to, not the way someone else wants it to. The fact that most people are locked into using MS Windows, and MS Office, and MS Windows based programs, does NOT prevent them from doing their work, school work, home hobbies, etc. They have just not yet found an easy to use or similar enough replacement.

So are you arguing that in order to make her "computer literate" she must change from MS to Linux and its toolset? Because she will then be forced to learn the internals of the OS, programs, hardware, etc.? Aren't you just imposing your viewpoint on her just as MS has all these years? Yet MS has been trying, as has the Linux community lately, to make it easier for her to use, hiding more and more of the details so they can be skipped when USING a PC.

Why would this happen? That is just the opposite to what you advocate. You advocate learning ALL of the internals. I advocate learning just enough to make it usable for your work, school work, hobbies, communications needs.
Then if you want to learn more and have the time to you can. Make it easy to use for what a person needs it to do and you make it accessible to the people who do not have the time to learn ALL of the internals.

I leave it up to you to decide whether to hire someone to set up your PC for your customized use. I leave it up to you to decide if you need someone to fix it while you do your job to make money. I preach freedom to customize. Do you really preach going back to a previous time when only a "hobbyist" could have the time and knowledge to make it work? Learning to program costs time and money. Learning the internals of a computer, OSs, programs costs time and money. Some people have this time and money, MOST do not. Most are not blessed with an environment that allows them to "play" with their computer. Most people must make money first and have other responsibilities that do not include computers. Let us make it easier for them to do more with less time and required knowledge. That is the revolution computers promise.

[ Parent ]
lol! (none / 0) (#57)
by Kasreyn on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 12:09:37 PM EST

Awesome, that's got to be the first Harrison Bergeron reference I've seen on K5.

btw, nice flame, if it was meant as that. ;-)


-Kasreyn


"Extenuating circumstance to be mentioned on Judgement Day:
We never asked to be born in the first place."

R.I.P. Kurt. You will be missed.
[ Parent ]
maybe too simplistic but I'll say it anyways (3.50 / 2) (#60)
by yesterdays children on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 12:14:10 PM EST

Microsoft tries to do this, make easy software. They can afford to fail because there isn't enough competition in this area, for whatever reason.

Open source does not try to do this, because software written in this realm 'scratches a programmers itch,' and not enough itches come from the programmers' Aunts.

Excuse me?! (3.33 / 3) (#61)
by coffee17 on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 01:18:27 PM EST

You say:

We need to use forums such as Slashdot, kuro5hin, etc. to help the average person find out how to improve on what they know and simplify the computing experience for them.

And I must say no. I disagree entirely with you. I think that we should use forums like kuro5hin to think up better LART's so that we can better train our users.

If a computer has become a necessity of their life, they had better fucking learn how to use it. If I were a truck driver, and my truck was a necessity of my life, you can damn well bet that I'd learn a hell of a lot more about engines than I know now. As is, whenever I move to someplace new, I immediately scope out the best bus routes because I realize how little I know about cars, and I want to make sure that I don't get fucked if my car breaks down.

Any computer use who depends on computers for their livelihood has no excuse for knowing as little as most seem to. If it's just some one who only uses a computer as a hobby to surf the web, and occaisionally send email, it would be acceptable for this user to not know a lot about his/her system.

That's like saying that some person with little computing knowledge wasn't stupid for getting deep in debt buying an expensive home/car during the internet boom instead of putting something aside for when it was finally discovered that they weren't worth hiring for 100K a year.

The biggest problem with many people is that the same skills/knowledge needed to judge whether one is incompetant or not, are also the skills/knowledge that it takes to be competent. If one is aware of this fact one can make specific effort to examine the important things and try to see if they are incompetent (as I am with cars) with something, and then either go about trying to become competant, or making sure that this thing is not an important part of their livelihood or life.

-coffee


You suggest writing the programs as a way of life? (4.00 / 1) (#65)
by orichter on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 02:01:56 PM EST

I don't think I need to write the word processors I use to write this to you. In fact I did not. Though I could have coded the form in HTML myself. Why should you insist that some one needs to know how to make the PC they use just so that they can use it.

You did not mention that you repair the busses, so that you have them as an alternative to travel if you can't get your car to work, yet you expect them to be there when you need them.

So it is for the vast majority of computer users. They pay you to fix it if it doesn't do what they want it to. They expect you to provide the programs they need to make their work, schoolwork easier. If you don't then they can't use it, can they? Maybe you should train them, but do you need to train them to write compiler's, to write the program, the OS's, the drivers to make their printer work? Do you need to train them in chip design? No, I don't think that is what you meant.

They should be able to modify their word processor settings, but do they need to modify the program itself by making hex changes to the program? Do they need to be able to write scripts, program in assembler or C++, if they can buy a program to do drafting? They do not need to know how the OS works, the program is written, for the use of a CAD/CAM program to build the skyscraper they are designing. They know how to design the skyscraper, the engineering details of building a skyscraper far better than you ever will. But that does not preclude you from writing a better CAD/CAM program for them. That is why we are negligent if we treat them as "naive" users. We can make life easier for them when they use a computer and they can design us a better cheaper jacuzzi.

[ Parent ]
reading too much into what I said (4.00 / 1) (#74)
by coffee17 on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 10:31:09 PM EST

I don't think that someone should know enough to program a word processor from scratch. But they should know about how their hardware and software boots up and how to trouble shoot if this indeed is an important part of their jobs.

Perhaps I'm just a bit too pissed about being the "unix admin" (my title) and having sales droids calling me up because they can't reach an IT person and they were installing some game package (one luser was even installing AOL!) on their work-supplied laptop and suddenly it won't boot, or it's lost data. People like this are abso-fucking-lutely stupid. And they're even more stupid to think that I'll care that they can't make their commission because they can't access any data, much less that I'll help them ("Sorry, I don't do windows, but if you leave a message on the helpdesk voicemail, they'll get back to you according to how important your call is. Now, do you have any unix questions or is it safe to say we're done?").

While as I previously said, I don't know windows, a user of a 'nix system who needs it for their job should be able to watch a machine fail to boot and have an idea of what is wrong, should understand their shell, and what effect some environment varioubles (LD_PRELOAD especially) will have, and various utilities beyond 'ls' 'cd' 'rm' and 'xemacs'

'doze makes it slightly harder to know why a boot might have failed, but they should know enough not to open tojan hourses virii in OutHouse, not install unnecessary software on work machines, and a few other simple tricks.

-coffee


[ Parent ]

*NOTHING* should be "dumbed-down" ... (4.25 / 4) (#66)
by Rizzen on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 02:23:05 PM EST

People should be "smartened-up."

There's just *way* to much "catering to the lowest common denominator" in today's society. Instead of trying to reach the lowest common denominator, we should be trying to raise that denominator as high as possible. People are getting away from taking responibility for their actions, their life, their intelligence.

Should software be easy-to-learn? Sure. Should Fisher-Price be the standard to follow? No.

Instead of putting more pretty pictures and fancy buttons, and creating a dependence on the mouse, we should be emphasising education. After all, teach a person to click a button, they can use a computer for an hour. Teach them to recognise what a button is for, and they can use a computer for life. :)

The problem with today's computer users is that very few of them are taking the time to learn even the most basic of basics. There are people out there that still don't know the difference between a right and a left click. Should we be writing software with them in mind? *NO*. We should be teaching them to use software, period.

As for the "all services should be enabled by default" comment, that is just *WRONG*. It is because of this that CodeRed I/II/etc and SirC@m are spreading so rapidly. An OS should do nothing more than manage a computer's hardware resources. Nothing should be enabled by default, except a handy help tool that explains what's available, how to turn it on, and how to secure it. In a perfect world, even the network should be disabled until a quick security tutorial/quiz has been done.

The solution to this is education, not dumb-ification. Simplify the tools, sure, but don't make them Fisher-Price-esque. Improve the users, improve the coders, and the tools will improve as well.
----- The years of peak mental activity are undoubtedly those between the ages of 4 and 18. At age four, we know all the questions; at eighteen, we have all the answers. -- unknown
Lock down important security items. (5.00 / 2) (#83)
by orichter on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 11:31:11 AM EST

I agree with you Fisher-Price is not the standard we should be looking for. Specifically, because people know what they can use, and need for their specific preofessional interests. They on the other hand do not need all possible options and training to use all possible options. Mostly they need a subset, maybe as little as 10% of what you and I use of the operating system and programs and hardware. They need very specific programs/hardware and skills to access them.

For example, an architect needs a CAD/CAM product and tools that let him connect to engineering databases for parts and materials information for his construction projects. Probably he wants to be able to access remote plotters and printers. Does he need TCP/IP knowledge? No! Does he need to know how to reprogram the wordprocessor? No! Does he want to use Excel or Word? Yes, but he does not need to know how to program VBscripts to combine them with his CAD/CAM tool. Probably not. The CAD/CAM tool already does costing calculations based on the parts he puts into his design, it already does automatic file building to send requirements documents to parts manufacturers. The CAD/CAM tool also can output finite element method stats that can be run through a finite element modeling program to see if the building design will withstand earthquakes. Then what is he going to use PERL, PYTHON, C++, and Assembler, for? Unless he programs CAD/CAM applications for a living he will not need them except under the covers. He does not need to know how to set up the webserver program (he uses a web hosting/design service for his Architectural firm website).

Does he need to know how to set up an infinite variety of software? No! He buys a general purpose computer specifically because he can pick and chose the software/hardware he needs for HIS interests. Those interests are not your interests, neither are they global computer knowledge interests. He should feel as comfortable using his computer this way as you do using your computer the way you do.

He does not need to know more than: I plug them together and it works.

As another example look at the MS IIS flap currently. Should the end user or you have to set up security? There are many rules of thumb a good security software provider should have already BUILT INTO their security software, whether it is in the operating system, web-browser, email client, Bind, etc. Maybe some can be turned off for specific situations. But then again research for a specific thing is not global in scope.

As we have seen end users not knowing that MS IIS web servers are automatically installed and turned-on has crippled the security industry by providing hackers with many basic unaltered servers running, that were not protected by default. Were these not the defaults in Linux until recently, as well?

All sorts of servers were installed and running under Linux even though you had no reason for them to be there. You were expected to know what they were and how to use, update and protect them before installing Linux. What arrogance. Each one has to be maintained and patched, even though you may not have remembered that they were all turned on.

At this point in time, the majority of Linuxes have most servers turned off by default but they are still there IF you need them. The average person will never look at them or use them. He will only look into ones he may need for a specific reason.

You say that we should not be writing software for people who do not know all of the basics of using a computer. Why not? Do we not have kiosks in malls that give people information at the touch of a touch screen? Why do that? Because you can SELL such software and the information/service it provides has value to the users, and you can make a living. Some people have the means to be able to sit and think or sit and do something without a purpose or for a small select group of people for free. I don't. I have to make a living. Most other people also have to make a living. They cannot spend more time away from work, school, and family, just to learn more about the internals of their computer, especially when they will never use more than they need to use for work, school, or family. Unfortunately, to say that they need to be educated for fixing a computer or its software or learning as much as possible about the computer is a nice idealistic viewpoint that nothing but academicians can do anything with. Most of the world does not live in a theoretical palace. Again, most of the world are not programmers, nor do they need to be, and most of the people who have access to computers are not either.

Produce software that millions of people can use without hastle and want to use and you too can be a millionaire. Yes, that is capitalistic, but that is how Linux companies have to think in order to survive and get out of the academic world into the home desktop market. The academic world is sponsored by government and corporations for research. Once the research is done the corporations provide it to the world as a product if it will sell, and for a profit. Otherwise, like the BeOS it becomes another bright idea that was not marketable.

Your job, that you have decided to pursue is to learn all about computers that you can. That is admirable. That makes you the guru so that you can make the end users lives easier. Unless you want to be lazy and just sit in a corner and play with your computer, you can help the end users of the world to use their computers better, make the computers they use work more efficiently and effectively for them by writing better software, and improve society as a whole by raising the standard and quality of living. You can help just by helping users to buy computers that they can customize to the needs THEY have.

Go out and make a better world, contribute your ideas to improving the computers and software that exists and you will make a name for yourself.

Those end users pay big bucks to us to do this for them.

[ Parent ]
The problem... (5.00 / 2) (#87)
by Rizzen on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 12:54:06 PM EST

The problem, as I see it, with computers, OSs, et al these days is that the line between an OS and an Application have blurred (thanks a bunch MS). If MS had concentrated on simply making a great OS that did nothing but boot the computer and manage the computer's hardware resources (drives, memory, peripherals) then there wouldn't be as many problems. For instance, your engineer with the CAD/CAM program could load the OS, then install only the software he needs to do his job. There would be no web servers installed, there would be no extraneous web browsers or e-mail clients, there would be no full-fledged apps other than the ones he needs. If he needs a web server, then he buys/downloads one, learns how to install/manage it and uses it. If he needs a wordprocessor, then he buys/downloads on, learns to install/manage it, and uses it. None of these apps upgrade anything in the OS. Now, this is a little idealistic, and will probably not happen in the MS world, but this is available in the Unix world (fortunately). Unfortunately, Unix isn't quite to the point where just anyone can grab a copy, install it, read a short tutorial or two, and fly at it. This is where education comes in, and is something that is sorely lacking in today's society. Even though computers are in nearly all elementary/secondary schools, few classes are being taught that centre on how comptuers work, how OSs work, how various types of apps work, and how it all works together. In fact, little is being done to use these computers beyond glorified typing tutors. IMO, that is the biggest problem with today's software world. Not enough education on the end-user's part, not enough time taken on the design side, and too little distinction between OS and application. MS-DOS may have been a pain to use, but at least it was just an OS and not an application. IOW, I agree with you, but see the problem from a different angle. :D
----- The years of peak mental activity are undoubtedly those between the ages of 4 and 18. At age four, we know all the questions; at eighteen, we have all the answers. -- unknown
[ Parent ]
You overlook something (4.50 / 4) (#67)
by xdroop on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 03:17:33 PM EST

If we have to say to ourselves "Aunt Minnie would not, or can not use this PC without my having to teach her how." We have failed.

Most significantly lacking in your analysis is the recognition that Windows in any of its multitudinous forms fails your Aunt Minnie test.

Aunt Minnie underwent some form of training in order to use the Windows interface. Why is the requirement for Linux training an unreasonable one?

Even backing up to the car analogy, it is true that if you can drive one car today, you can drive them all, but this was not always the case.

How intuitive is the Saab reverse-lockout ring? How intuitive is a push-button transmission if you have never seen one before? And I bet not one in fifty of you could find, unprompted, the reverse gear of a '67 Volvo 1800S.

Cars have a mature, stable interface. Expecting the same from a technology which has been around less than 20% the time that cars have been around is ignoring reality -- that things can take a long while to become stable. It can take a long time to learn the lessons about how people should best interface with their device in order to do the things that they want to do.

In this way, Linux is one of the best ways to further research into man-machine interfaces -- GUIs can be swapped in and out with almost trivial ease. New ideas can be introduced, experimented with, modified, and/or discarded. On Windows, you only get it if Microsoft thinks it a good idea.

Yes, this might mean that Linux is not for the average user. But why the heck is this a bad idea? If you want point'n'squirt, drag'n'drool, blessed by Saint Gates interface, there are plenty out there for you to use. If you don't, well Linux is out there for you to use. No harm, no foul.

This is the same argument that can be applied to the vi-emacs war (I use vi. Good for me, and it in no way obstructs your use of emacs. Good for you.) or the window manager war (I use KDE. Good for me, and it in no way obstructs your use of gnome/E/olwm/afterstep/whatever. Good for you.)

Grow up, people: one size fits all generally fits no one well. Or, as I put it before, Microsoft Windows should be treated as an object lesson that Good Enough Frequently Isn't.
---
xhost +

Who are YOU ? (2.00 / 1) (#73)
by urgan on Thu Aug 23, 2001 at 10:24:27 PM EST

Your writing style seems very familiar. Is this your first account here, or did you changed from another one ?

First Account Here/First Article (4.00 / 1) (#88)
by orichter on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 12:54:16 PM EST

Kit Case suggested that I take some postings I had done on another site and make an article out of them for K5. So here it is. The article has brought up a lot of discussion which I am happy to see. Even the flames. They bring up other facets that lead to further discussion. I enjoy the discussion.

[ Parent ]
OK (3.00 / 1) (#94)
by urgan on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 11:10:35 PM EST

I thought you were one k5'ers I don't see posting in a long time, and the way you wrote reminded him a lot. I was not flaming or trying to intimidate you anyway, it was that "clean" record of yours and story post on the second day that made me suspect something, but i'm probably wrong anyway, sorry.

[ Parent ]
Geeks missed the point! (4.33 / 3) (#79)
by steveaustin on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 09:02:21 AM EST

I find the more comentary that I read it easier it is to pick out the geek from the actual Guru's . What the commentator is saying is that that 90% of all pc expert or so called experts tend to believe that everyone has the time and interest in computers as they do..Now I do believe that if something is important to you should know how to use it but there is a large line between "knowing how to use something and knowing how to fix something" I know how to drive like it is no ones business, I even know how to change my oil, change my plugs...just like some or most compotent users know how to change there back ground do a few things in word or excel, But I do not know how to change my timming belt or understand how the catalitic converter works. Each of which if they were broken will add a big Fuck You to your day. This is exactly what is happening to the end users, no one is saying everything has to be tailored to the lowest common denomonator. What is being said is think before you wave you magic mouse and deem eveyone a fool because they don't know that they should be flashing there bois or because they didn't know some obscure dos command. I work in the financial sector, and I have millionaires who can not use there email but they can talk the most techically inclined under the table when it comes to stock and bonds. Is this person a fool, he may be an ass but he is no fool. There is a difference. I was once told " of him who is given more, of him much is expected" he who posses the knowledge should be more inclined to remember that at one point in there life they were ignorant as well.
---- seymor was going to tear into it like bag of frozen peas, unfortunately it was a sack of potato's a factor he wasn't prepared for.
Whatever happened to the educated consumer? (4.00 / 2) (#92)
by Gravaton on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 05:31:07 PM EST

Although I feel that this article makes a very valid and real point, it also skips over the causes of this issue and goes straight to the results. IMHO, a decent amount of the reason for all this rage is sheer frustration. How would you like to be a customer service person for Sony and get a call like this?

Customer: Hello? I'm having a problem with a product of yours.
You: Ah, certainly sir, which product are you having an issue with?
Customer: Uhh I don't know, it's square, it plugs into the wall and it has some buttons.
You: Erm, how big is it??
Customer: Bigger then a breadbox, I don't know! Why do you expect me to know these things, it's YOUR product, YOU tell ME! You're supposed to make these things easy to use (rant, rant, rant, etc.)

Now think of the reason why this example is rediculous. The first thing that pops into MY head is "Well nobody buys something without knowing what it IS!" Then why is it OK for people to do that with computers? The amount of information available on what a computer is and how it works is overwhelming. How hard is it for John Q. Public to say "Hmm, I need a computer, I'd better see what kind of computer I need," and then go out and do just a tiny bit of research. The basics of what a CPU, Hard Drive, RAM, Video Card and Modem are can be easily absorbed in a few minutes. Maybe he won't get the BEST parts, or even know what the best parts are. He probably wouldn't be interested enough in hardware to slog through benchmarks or learn specifics about hardware operation. But he'll still know what's in his machine, and the basics of what the parts to.

I think that "us geeks" would be much more friendly in reaction to a question from someone who has taken the tiniest bit of interest in their $2000 purchace. Hearing "I don't know, it's a Gateway" in response to all your efforts to help someone troubleshoot their machine is more then frustrating, it's maddening. Heck I've wanted to scream "You spent three grand on this machine and you don't know anything more about it then what it says on the front? Return it!," on many occasions.

People have simply gotten lazy. They're so used to having "easy to use" billed as a feature on everything they buy that by now they simply expect it. They expect everything to work perfectly out-of-the-box and they expect every experiance to be tailored to them. This simply isn't possible. There has to be a middle-ground. Certainly I can think of hundreds of aspects of computing that can and should be made simpler and more accessable to the average user. But I can also think of hundreds of things that the average user should make the effort to get through his/her head before he even turns his machine on. EVERYTHING has a learning curve. Some are steeper then others. But the idealized "Aunt Minnie" situation is a rediculous goal. The idea that such a complex machine COULD, much less should be reduced to that level of simplicity boggles me. Most of us are enthusiasts because of all the things we can get our computer to do, the limitless possibilities. Asking us to take that infinite vista and compress it to something that someone could just walk up and understand would be akin to asking mathmeticians to do all their math with no variables and only one operator. The violent backlash people have against this concept is so simple to understand if you look at it as people angry at something they love being stolen from them. Sure some are just jerks, but to myself and (IMO) many others ignorant users are a harbinger of the downfall of computing.

The community should definitely be kinder to outsiders, but those outsiders should also realize that they're entering a community that they're juniors in. Frankly, I resent the way people expect me to go out of my way and give them my knowledge when they haven't lifted a finger to acquire any of their own. On the other hand, I very much enjoy helping someone who has learned already learn more. This is what is needed, people need to meet us halfway. We should reguard it as our duty to hold their hand, not be forced to carry them on our backs.

They are busy not calling tech support (4.50 / 2) (#93)
by Tachys on Fri Aug 24, 2001 at 10:42:02 PM EST

The people who do some research themselves often figure it out themselves. So they don't need to call tech support.

Any game that gets banned by the Austrailian govt can't be all bad... - Armaphine


[ Parent ]
There's a simple enough solution to all this. (4.50 / 2) (#96)
by Tau on Sat Aug 25, 2001 at 09:07:09 PM EST

I'm trying to think of a good analogy but they arent my strong point. So in a nutshell, people ought to switch to using thin terminals. I'll give you an example - a while back I noticed my main computer was full of crap; there were security holes all over the place, no proper administration had been done and the system held together by means of duct tape more than a proper set of tools and scripts. So I decided I was going to reinstall it and do it properly. First I got some ReiserFS boot flops, spent ages trying to make them work from a CD and eventually bootstrapped a base Debian system on my new Reiser partition. Then I installed packages carefully, using stable binaries where possible, compiling unstable stuff from sid, etc.

Anyways, that's not too relevant. The point is that once I got my system set up it was quite easy to use from a user standpoint. I use KDE so I don't have much of a hard time getting things done (though I do tend to write the odd bit of perl or hit the shell every now and again simply due to force of habit). Contrast the effort needed for these two activities. All we need in each home is something like a ThinkNIC; this costs $200 minus a monitor and yet has enough horsepower to run an X11 display. We have broadband already, why not put it to good use and link it up to a big datacenter? this makes things so much easier - one admin can put in the firewall, tune all the setup, put programs in, keep all your data backed up, sweep for viruses... I suppose you're already yelling "What if I dont like how the firewall is set up?" or somesuch, but if that's the case you should probably have your own computer anyway - at least in your case it would be justified since you know how the system works.

This is all possible now, although there's minor niggles such as streaming games (very large amount of graphics per second) or videos (X11 over network does not work well with video, let's just leave it at that) however in theory one could stick a graphics chip into the client and have some sort of high level interface to it a la GLX (program the texture and mesh buffers then blast transformations down the pipe and voila - low bandwidth cross-network 3D gameplay... anyone here more of an expert than me who could clarify this?) and as for video, well again that's just a matter of putting an MPEG decoder into the graphics chip. Some sort of USB server could run on the client to host printers and stuff. But otherwise current technology is good enough - a megabit link could probably do X11 reasonably comfortably and seeing as internet bandwidth is the more expensive bit of a broadband connection (or is it? again, I'm not too sure) then megabits links shouldnt be a problem. Massive thin client systems running KDE and Linux and X11 etc already exist (see here) so all this needs is someone in a well-cabled area to bring this to mass-market. Anyone know the number of a venture capital firm? ;)



---
WHEN THE REVOLUTION COMES WE WILL MAKE SAUSAGES OUT OF YOUR FUCKING ENTRAILS - TRASG0
Oh no, there goes my job, shhhhhh keep it secret (4.50 / 2) (#100)
by orichter on Mon Aug 27, 2001 at 11:48:42 AM EST

You are absolutely correct. The move to so-called distributed computing with many data centers having thousands of computers has hit a scale-up wall. The cost goes up exponentially when you add more and more single pusrpose servers to the mix (I include routers, firewalls, bridges, intelligent switches, load balancers, web servers, applications servers, data servers, transaction servers, etc.). The cost goes up also because you now must hire many people to watch over these machines, people with specialized knowledge for specific areas, and for specific machines.

Funny thing is that all of these can be combined into one machine - an IBM mainframe. Yes, then you have a small group 5-10 people (sys. admins./sys. progs.) who can then emulate any of the thousand processor server data centers with one machine. Yes, it even has the channel capacity to hookup t1s and other communications hardware.

So please don't let management know they can save money doing this. They will get rid of many jobs by doing this, reduce server farms around the world, etc. Please keep this a secret.

[ Parent ]
Stop making excuses for lazy people (5.00 / 2) (#103)
by beynos on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 04:01:16 AM EST

Taking the attitude that it is up to the end user to build in new hardware, software or security is like asking him to build into his car the bumpers, engine, air-bags, and seatbelts, all by himself. Should we force travelers to build in the safety features normally built into an airplane while waiting for their flight at the airport? We have left the average PC user hanging without proper forethought on the part of software and hardware designers about what could go wrong, how to make it easy to use, how to make it easy to integrate with other computers or the internet or with other hardware and software, or preventing it from being broken into by malicious people. People will use a Palm Pilot in preference to a PC just because it is simpler.

Who asks a user to do these things? If a user has a problem with their car, they take it to the mechanic. Just as when they have a problem with their computer, they take it to their computer store to be repaired.

A car manufacturer cannot make a car safe, nor can it make it secure. The manufacturer can install air-bags and seatbelts to avoid getting into a lawsuit when the car does crash. It can put door-locks and car alarms in a car so they will not be held responsible when the car is stolen.

A computer vendor should install all of the software and hardware to run a computer. They should put some virus protection program and schedule a regular hard disk cleanup. But once the machine leaves the showroom, it is the responsibility of the owner.

A friend of mine bought a whizz-bang computer recently. He is not very computer savvy, so he has treated the machine pretty badly. When his machine stopped working, he took it back to the people that sold it to him, and they had a look at it. They told him that this had been caused because he was missing a file. They fixed the problem and sent him the bill.

My friend was less than happy to be charged $100 for the repairs, and rang and complained. He still refuses to pay saying that it is the computer company's fault for not checking that this file was present. But the computer was running perfectly when he brought it home and opened the box... During the weeks before the computer stopped working, he had been out joyriding with it every night. If this had been a mistreated car, the mechanic would not be held responsible because a person doesn't know how to treat their machinery.

No, it is the responsibility of evey driver to make sure that their brakes are still working. If they don't know how the car works, and how to maintain, they have to learn. Why is this not the same with computers. Why am I responsible because Jo Smith decided to open the attachment before checking it with a virus scanner?

Why is it that people are more than happy to pay a mechanic for servicing their car, but not their computer. People want brilliant tech-support, but they are not willing to pay the price for it.

This shows that the trend is toward and should be toward more centralized and simplistic services that work behind the scenes to protect and make it easier for the user to use their computer safely.

I agree with you. But who will pay for it? If the ISP told the user that they were going to virus scan every email and they were going to be charged 0.01 cents per email, many users would avoid using their email, or find a provider who did not have this charge. You don't believe me? How many people do you know that have bought their copy of Windows 95/98/ME? I can guarantee you that most copies owned have been distributed with a new PC.

People don't think that our work is worth paying for. Why?

My friend is a classic case. He asked me to fix up his computer. This required reinstalling windows and adding a hard drive, as well as tinkering with a few devices and adding some RAM. I told him that I would charge him 40 dollars (australian) an hour, a reasonable price. He said that he thought it was unreasonable for me to ask a friend for payment for something so minor.

He works in a retail store, so I asked him whether he would think it fair if I asked him to stock my shelves for me for no wages. To which he did not answer.

Should we propose a cost that is similar to or higher than the PC they just purchased? This may be affordable for corporations but is not for the average home user.

And if you look at the security systems in a corporation's headquarters and compare it to your system at home. Magnetic locks, security keycards, closed circuit television and usually a team of security guards. So, who should be making sure there is a guard watching my house? Who is going to supply me with the closed circuit television systems and the alarms?

The answer is me, because I am responsible for my personal security, and if I wanted the security of a guard and a CCTV system, I would have to pay a cost similar to the cost of my home.

The home user does not have the expertise to use products (hardware or software) that require steep learning curves, classes, large and involved manuals, or just much time to learn. So, simplicity is the second most important aspect.

No, I disagree with this. They don't need to do that to make sure their computer is secure. Operating Systems these days are pretty simple. What can't be learned through intuition can be learned through easily accessible help files, manuals, and the internet. But people aren't reading the manual.

A person who has never driven a car has to pass a test before they are allowed to drive a car, and then they have to go through a probationary period before they are granted a full license. Why should it not be expected that you will have to conquer a learning curve before you can confidently use it.

I have been using computers for years, and I am a confident user. I don't need to think too hard on simple tasks. When I first started using them, I had trouble figuring out how to save a text file.

This is the same with driving a car. When you first start driving, you are very nervous on the road, you need to focus most of your attention on aspects like accelleration and signalling. These are simple tasks that experienced drivers take for granted. But you forget, you needed lessons to learn how to drive. A veteran driver rarely consciously thinks on these subjects, as they have spent years learning them.

In the corporate environment we can afford to pay a sys. admin. to do these things. Not at home.

A corporation would pay a sysadmin to do these things, because they are protecting THEIR property. The home user should have to pay, just as a corporation has to pay for their security.

Look at it this way. A corporation could have a network set up, and they could employ a consultant one day a week, and whenever trouble comes up... This would be very expensive. The other option they have, which is much cheaper, is to hire a full/part-time employee who is qualified to do these things. This, in essence, means that the corporation LEARNS to maintain their network.

Why is it unreasonable to ask that an individual learn how to maintain their computer. And besides, what kind of a home user has a machine that needs a router or a firewall. The average user just logs in and gets their email, reads the news and downloads porn. The closest they will ever come to a hacker comes in the form of a virus. If you knew that image files from the net ended in JPG and GIF, and that Visual Basic Scripts ended in VBS, you would have know not to open the Anna Kornikova attachment now, wouldn't you?

Simplify the process of setting up, hooking up by automatically detecting and installing hardware and software.

And what will you do if the user buys a device that wasn't in existence when the system was built? How do you propose vendors are going to update the system to include this?

Features that are built in must be turned on by default in the OS, or in the applications so that the user does not have to know how or what to do.

And what about users who want to turn a particular feature off? How will they know to do this. What if I can't support all of those features? My computer could be overloaded because all of these "features" are turned on. So what good is this solution if the computer crashes.

People cannot be expected to know such settings or tools even exist if there is no tutorial in the OS

But there are!!! I have used the windows troubleshooting guide, and read the help files and manuals when I have needed to, and more often than not, I find the answer there. When you first load up Windows, you are greeted with a "What's new" screen that contains links to tutorials and the like. But users close this page, they don't bother to read this stuff. Haven't you ever heard the term RTFM (read the f$cking manual).

No, people shouldn't be expected to know all of these things without a little guidance. But when the guidance is there in the form of how-tos and help files etc, they should at least read it before saying they don't know what to do.

In many cases the options are left up to the user to decide, specifically when they do not know what to do or what they are.

The first thing a normal person does when they buy software is rip open the cover and run the set-up program. They don't stop and read the section in the manual on setting up the program. If they had of, they would have known what the options meant.

You can only make a program so dumb, and you can't assume that this will be what the user wants. My father uses Quickbooks, and it has quite a dumb set-up. It installed itself to c:\QBW, and was set to do all calculations on an accrual basis. But this was not how he wanted it set-up, and six months into the year when tax time came, he found out that all of his figures had been wrong because of this. Had the software asked these questions, instead of hiding them in the back of some preference tab and defaulting to a certain value, my father would not have made this mistake.

Now I don't have the time, expertise or equipment to do this. So I go to the dealership and JiffyLube to do these things. They can do it a lot faster than I can anyway.

So, what's your point? If my computer doesn't work, I take it to JiffyNerd and get it fixed.

But hang on!!! People hate mechanics. The usual joke goes that you went in for a new tire, and you left with new brake pads, radiator hose, four new tyres, and they realligned your wheels. But it's a big car, and you know nothing about how to fix it yourself, so you don't complain.

But when people's computers aren't working, they do complain.

If we have to say to ourselves "Aunt Minnie would not, or can not use this PC without my having to teach her how." We have failed.

Well, then we will always fail. One interface will always have a section of users who can understand it straight away, and a group of users who don't. There will always be questions that need answering. Really though, for things like email programs, it wouldn't be easy to create a CD that knows who you are and exactly how you want to set something... though it would be nice.

We should not complain that she is "naive" and "technically illiterate".

Can Aunt Minnie read?

Who taught Aunt Minnie how to rotate crops? Or were the fields laid out in such a way that they just rotate themselves. Yes, we should be making applications and computers that need no explaining, but we can't.

Try to apply this to the alphabet. A should be designed in such a way that we know that it is A without having to ask, should it not? But when I first saw the letter A, I didn't know what it was, until A was one of the Guest letters in Sesame Street.

Look dude, I used to share your view that software should be intuitive. But since I have worked in support, I have found that most users make mistakes because they didn't read or follow the instructions of use. They then call me up and ask me how to do it. So, I show them. But they don't pay attention.

I work on the documentation for our software at work, so I get given a lot of the support calls. My mother uses our software for work, so I get her to criticise my explanatory skills. So far, she hasn't been able to find much wrong with it. She can use the software, and very rarely needs to look beyond the manual when she needs help on something. My mother is so computer illiterate that if you tell her to click on the start button she says, "Start what?". But some of her younger employees who use the software, and who are always eager to show me how savvy they are on the computer constantly call me up asking me how to do this or that... Not one person who calls up support has read the manual.

I think that instead of asking why we make it so hard for the end user to learn computing, we should be asking why they are too lazy to spend a bit of time familiarising themselves with this new technology... Just like you had to do when you learnt to drive.

Intuitive interfaces draw heavily on your assumed knowledge. You know that if you put something in the trash can you are disposing of it. On a computer, you would be deleting it. But what if you had never seen a trash can before? It would just be another meaningles icon.

I mean, what if I had never laid eyes on a keyboard/typewriter before? Can we then say that you think a keyboard should have a more intuitive interface? It is all good and well to say that assumed knowledge is enough on its own, but you assume that people will assume things the same way you do.

Fair, but .... (4.00 / 1) (#105)
by Herring on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 07:28:00 AM EST

... people are routinely made to feel stupid because they can't fix their car. Adverts for the Ford Mundane don't say "you can uprate the suspension, add a turbocharger ....". Publicity for PCs does, effectively, say that.

Cars - especially modern ones - are not built to be messed about with by amateurs. PCs are. My parents recently went from an old Amstrad machine (think it was CP/M based) which had a word processor (in ROM I think), a floppy drive and that was it. There were no choices and no problems. Going to Windows 98 confused them with all the crap they didn't need.

To summarise, computers are not like cars. Not even the maddest SUV has that many controls.

Oh, and no, I do not help my parents with their machine. We both know it would lead to strife.



Say lol what again motherfucker, say lol what again, I dare you, no I double dare you
[ Parent ]
Stop making excuses for lazy people (3.66 / 3) (#104)
by beynos on Tue Aug 28, 2001 at 04:02:20 AM EST

Taking the attitude that it is up to the end user to build in new hardware, software or security is like asking him to build into his car the bumpers, engine, air-bags, and seatbelts, all by himself. Should we force travelers to build in the safety features normally built into an airplane while waiting for their flight at the airport? We have left the average PC user hanging without proper forethought on the part of software and hardware designers about what could go wrong, how to make it easy to use, how to make it easy to integrate with other computers or the internet or with other hardware and software, or preventing it from being broken into by malicious people. People will use a Palm Pilot in preference to a PC just because it is simpler.

Who asks a user to do these things? If a user has a problem with their car, they take it to the mechanic. Just as when they have a problem with their computer, they take it to their computer store to be repaired.

A car manufacturer cannot make a car safe, nor can it make it secure. The manufacturer can install air-bags and seatbelts to avoid getting into a lawsuit when the car does crash. It can put door-locks and car alarms in a car so they will not be held responsible when the car is stolen.

A computer vendor should install all of the software and hardware to run a computer. They should put some virus protection program and schedule a regular hard disk cleanup. But once the machine leaves the showroom, it is the responsibility of the owner.

A friend of mine bought a whizz-bang computer recently. He is not very computer savvy, so he has treated the machine pretty badly. When his machine stopped working, he took it back to the people that sold it to him, and they had a look at it. They told him that this had been caused because he was missing a file. They fixed the problem and sent him the bill.

My friend was less than happy to be charged $100 for the repairs, and rang and complained. He still refuses to pay saying that it is the computer company's fault for not checking that this file was present. But the computer was running perfectly when he brought it home and opened the box... During the weeks before the computer stopped working, he had been out joyriding with it every night. If this had been a mistreated car, the mechanic would not be held responsible because a person doesn't know how to treat their machinery.

No, it is the responsibility of evey driver to make sure that their brakes are still working. If they don't know how the car works, and how to maintain, they have to learn. Why is this not the same with computers. Why am I responsible because Jo Smith decided to open the attachment before checking it with a virus scanner?

Why is it that people are more than happy to pay a mechanic for servicing their car, but not their computer. People want brilliant tech-support, but they are not willing to pay the price for it.

This shows that the trend is toward and should be toward more centralized and simplistic services that work behind the scenes to protect and make it easier for the user to use their computer safely.

I agree with you. But who will pay for it? If the ISP told the user that they were going to virus scan every email and they were going to be charged 0.01 cents per email, many users would avoid using their email, or find a provider who did not have this charge. You don't believe me? How many people do you know that have bought their copy of Windows 95/98/ME? I can guarantee you that most copies owned have been distributed with a new PC.

People don't think that our work is worth paying for. Why?

My friend is a classic case. He asked me to fix up his computer. This required reinstalling windows and adding a hard drive, as well as tinkering with a few devices and adding some RAM. I told him that I would charge him 40 dollars (australian) an hour, a reasonable price. He said that he thought it was unreasonable for me to ask a friend for payment for something so minor.

He works in a retail store, so I asked him whether he would think it fair if I asked him to stock my shelves for me for no wages. To which he did not answer.

Should we propose a cost that is similar to or higher than the PC they just purchased? This may be affordable for corporations but is not for the average home user.

And if you look at the security systems in a corporation's headquarters and compare it to your system at home. Magnetic locks, security keycards, closed circuit television and usually a team of security guards. So, who should be making sure there is a guard watching my house? Who is going to supply me with the closed circuit television systems and the alarms?

The answer is me, because I am responsible for my personal security, and if I wanted the security of a guard and a CCTV system, I would have to pay a cost similar to the cost of my home.

The home user does not have the expertise to use products (hardware or software) that require steep learning curves, classes, large and involved manuals, or just much time to learn. So, simplicity is the second most important aspect.

No, I disagree with this. They don't need to do that to make sure their computer is secure. Operating Systems these days are pretty simple. What can't be learned through intuition can be learned through easily accessible help files, manuals, and the internet. But people aren't reading the manual.

A person who has never driven a car has to pass a test before they are allowed to drive a car, and then they have to go through a probationary period before they are granted a full license. Why should it not be expected that you will have to conquer a learning curve before you can confidently use it.

I have been using computers for years, and I am a confident user. I don't need to think too hard on simple tasks. When I first started using them, I had trouble figuring out how to save a text file.

This is the same with driving a car. When you first start driving, you are very nervous on the road, you need to focus most of your attention on aspects like accelleration and signalling. These are simple tasks that experienced drivers take for granted. But you forget, you needed lessons to learn how to drive. A veteran driver rarely consciously thinks on these subjects, as they have spent years learning them.

In the corporate environment we can afford to pay a sys. admin. to do these things. Not at home.

A corporation would pay a sysadmin to do these things, because they are protecting THEIR property. The home user should have to pay, just as a corporation has to pay for their security.

Look at it this way. A corporation could have a network set up, and they could employ a consultant one day a week, and whenever trouble comes up... This would be very expensive. The other option they have, which is much cheaper, is to hire a full/part-time employee who is qualified to do these things. This, in essence, means that the corporation LEARNS to maintain their network.

Why is it unreasonable to ask that an individual learn how to maintain their computer. And besides, what kind of a home user has a machine that needs a router or a firewall. The average user just logs in and gets their email, reads the news and downloads porn. The closest they will ever come to a hacker comes in the form of a virus. If you knew that image files from the net ended in JPG and GIF, and that Visual Basic Scripts ended in VBS, you would have know not to open the Anna Kornikova attachment now, wouldn't you?

Simplify the process of setting up, hooking up by automatically detecting and installing hardware and software.

And what will you do if the user buys a device that wasn't in existence when the system was built? How do you propose vendors are going to update the system to include this?

Features that are built in must be turned on by default in the OS, or in the applications so that the user does not have to know how or what to do.

And what about users who want to turn a particular feature off? How will they know to do this. What if I can't support all of those features? My computer could be overloaded because all of these "features" are turned on. So what good is this solution if the computer crashes.

People cannot be expected to know such settings or tools even exist if there is no tutorial in the OS

But there are!!! I have used the windows troubleshooting guide, and read the help files and manuals when I have needed to, and more often than not, I find the answer there. When you first load up Windows, you are greeted with a "What's new" screen that contains links to tutorials and the like. But users close this page, they don't bother to read this stuff. Haven't you ever heard the term RTFM (read the f$cking manual).

No, people shouldn't be expected to know all of these things without a little guidance. But when the guidance is there in the form of how-tos and help files etc, they should at least read it before saying they don't know what to do.

In many cases the options are left up to the user to decide, specifically when they do not know what to do or what they are.

The first thing a normal person does when they buy software is rip open the cover and run the set-up program. They don't stop and read the section in the manual on setting up the program. If they had of, they would have known what the options meant.

You can only make a program so dumb, and you can't assume that this will be what the user wants. My father uses Quickbooks, and it has quite a dumb set-up. It installed itself to c:\QBW, and was set to do all calculations on an accrual basis. But this was not how he wanted it set-up, and six months into the year when tax time came, he found out that all of his figures had been wrong because of this. Had the software asked these questions, instead of hiding them in the back of some preference tab and defaulting to a certain value, my father would not have made this mistake.

Now I don't have the time, expertise or equipment to do this. So I go to the dealership and JiffyLube to do these things. They can do it a lot faster than I can anyway.

So, what's your point? If my computer doesn't work, I take it to JiffyNerd and get it fixed.

But hang on!!! People hate mechanics. The usual joke goes that you went in for a new tire, and you left with new brake pads, radiator hose, four new tyres, and they realligned your wheels. But it's a big car, and you know nothing about how to fix it yourself, so you don't complain.

But when people's computers aren't working, they do complain.

If we have to say to ourselves "Aunt Minnie would not, or can not use this PC without my having to teach her how." We have failed.

Well, then we will always fail. One interface will always have a section of users who can understand it straight away, and a group of users who don't. There will always be questions that need answering. Really though, for things like email programs, it wouldn't be easy to create a CD that knows who you are and exactly how you want to set something... though it would be nice.

We should not complain that she is "naive" and "technically illiterate".

Can Aunt Minnie read?

Who taught Aunt Minnie how to rotate crops? Or were the fields laid out in such a way that they just rotate themselves. Yes, we should be making applications and computers that need no explaining, but we can't.

Try to apply this to the alphabet. A should be designed in such a way that we know that it is A without having to ask, should it not? But when I first saw the letter A, I didn't know what it was, until A was one of the Guest letters in Sesame Street.

Look dude, I used to share your view that software should be intuitive. But since I have worked in support, I have found that most users make mistakes because they didn't read or follow the instructions of use. They then call me up and ask me how to do it. So, I show them. But they don't pay attention.

I work on the documentation for our software at work, so I get given a lot of the support calls. My mother uses our software for work, so I get her to criticise my explanatory skills. So far, she hasn't been able to find much wrong with it. She can use the software, and very rarely needs to look beyond the manual when she needs help on something. My mother is so computer illiterate that if you tell her to click on the start button she says, "Start what?". But some of her younger employees who use the software, and who are always eager to show me how savvy they are on the computer constantly call me up asking me how to do this or that... Not one person who calls up support has read the manual.

I think that instead of asking why we make it so hard for the end user to learn computing, we should be asking why they are too lazy to spend a bit of time familiarising themselves with this new technology... Just like you had to do when you learnt to drive.

Intuitive interfaces draw heavily on your assumed knowledge. You know that if you put something in the trash can you are disposing of it. On a computer, you would be deleting it. But what if you had never seen a trash can before? It would just be another meaningles icon.

I mean, what if I had never laid eyes on a keyboard/typewriter before? Can we then say that you think a keyboard should have a more intuitive interface? It is all good and well to say that assumed knowledge is enough on its own, but you assume that people will assume things the same way you do.

Don't put down the | 109 comments (87 topical, 22 editorial, 0 hidden)
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