Linked by Scott Cabana on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 20:18 UTC
Editorial A couple of days ago, I read an interesting article by Kevin Kostis about how complex computer systems are and how they have a long way to go. I have to partly agree with his assessment, however a lot of folks don't take the time to learn about there own investment.
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v yes, the worker must learn how to master the code
by lenin code worker collective on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 20:51 UTC
a bit of grammar
by captain america on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 21:10 UTC

i'm not perfect myself, but...

>> ...lot of folks donít take the time to learn about there own investment.

should be their

It's all a trade off
by Szass Tam on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 21:18 UTC

Only geeks and enthusiasts really have or would make the time to study up on pcs, particularly if you're not math/science inclined. Learning Linux and BSD has been a difficult and slow process, worth it to me only because I'm an enthusiast. OF the people I work with, they only want to learn the basics of, the very minimum they need to know and expect to somehow make sure it all keeps running. But it's a trade off. I can keep their machines running, but I can't make herbal remedies, nor fix my own car, nor add on a mother-in-law unitto a house, etc. Me, personally, I'd rather have as much computer smarts as possible, but if I'm spending a lot of time on that, I'm also missing out on a lot of other practical skills/hobbies. I don't live in my parents basement, but nor do I get out enough. Social life? Not since I quit the drug scene. Such is life.

two separate points in the article
by Yamin on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 21:28 UTC

There's actually 2 separate points in the article. The one I agree with, the other I don't.

The first point is that the computer is a complex machine like the car and you should treat that way. You should learn to use it, and if you have to, pay people to service it...

The second point in the article is that we should learn and learn to maintain things on our own. A general social commenty is that that is.

No, I don't think we should this is needed. Sure an oil change is 10 minutes time, but I don't need to know it to drive my car. Don't you just love the car analogies ;) Similarly, if using Windows, you should learn to use the mouse, type, learn menus, email...You should NOT have to learn to remove spyware, install programs, install drivers, install new hardware, change themes, reformat...for these tasks, its perfectly okay to call Nerds on wheels or your friend down the road. Pay them accordingly ;)

Of course knowing how to do these things is going to save you money. It's going to allow you to use your computer much easier. Its probably going to result in a better maintained computer too. But then I wouldn't be getting any free lunches for just installed firefox or running adaware ;)

To the rest, get the extended gold warranty and bug your distributer!

RE: two separate points in the article
by TLy on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 21:38 UTC

Sure an oil change is 10 minutes time, but I don't need to know it to drive my car.

It's one thing to know how to do it, it's another story to know WHEN to do it. Yes, there are people who don't know.

You should NOT have to learn to remove spyware, install programs, install drivers, install new hardware, change themes, reformat

In this day and age, everyone must learn how to prevent or remove spyware. It's like checking/changing your car's oil. Can you get by without doing it? Sure. But if you ignore it will bad things happen? Definitely. Installing programs is a necessity if you want your computer to be more than an over glorified Solitaire or WordPad machine. However, the rest of the items on your list probably are best left up to someone with more know-how.

I think the article is a little backwards in the sense that he described computers of the 90's as more complicated than they are now. Hardware has come a long way and have become easily serviceable for the average user. But maintanence of an OS (such as Windows in particular) requires more knowledge than ever before. I don't mean the basic usage like checking email, typing a Word document. I'm talking about the working knowledge needed to keep the system in good health. Some companies have it backwards: "oh will just throw firewalls, antivirus, pop-up blockers at them." I'm talking to YOU Microsoft and AOL.

That's bad practice because people develop the mentality of "oh I have anti-virus/firewall/popup blocker, I don't have to do anything." That just creates a lazy user. Knowledge is power, not software to clean up after your mess.

Cheap, powerful, easy to use. Pick any two.
by Traal on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 21:42 UTC

> Do I think computers should be dummy proof? No, not me. That takes all the options on how I want to use my computer away from me.

The author is making the assumption that something that is powerful cannot also be easy to use. It takes some creativity, but you can have both.

by Kevin on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:10 UTC

Kudos to the author. Alot of people today don't even seem to know there own names. It's time for people to start taking more responsibility for themselves and stop thinking that someone else or something else will do it for them.

Time to learn
by Anonymous on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:41 UTC

People should learn how to do basic maintance on their own computers, its that plain and simple. With the car analogy, no people don't need to know how to change the oil but they should know when to change the oil. People should learn to recognize when there is a problem with their machince and either fix it or call someone who is qulified. I have seen enough zombie / trojaned / virus infested PC to last me a life time.

"That's bad practice because people develop the mentality of "oh I have anti-virus/firewall/popup blocker, I don't have to do anything." That just creates a lazy user. Knowledge is power, not software to clean up after your mess."

I agree 100 percent. There are some commercial firewalls that do not take a complete deny stance. I have seen software based firewalls allow pings, ICMP to port 0 and so on. Why is ping so important? It lets people know that your alive (virus or hacker). Most assume that hey, I have it installed and its doing its thing. Basically, people are trusting that the software vendor has done an adequate time to protect them, sometimes yes and sometimes no.

Some basic maintance:
1) How often do people actually make backups?
2) How often do people do a complete virus scan or verify their definitions are up to date?
3) How often do people run something for checking adware / spyware?

I have seen enough people to know that most do not make backups and they are typically hesitant to upgrade their system because transfering their files would be a week long process.

I have also see users running virus software that is 3-4 years old and believe that they are getting up to date definitions. These same systems have never had a complete system scan, done, ever.

Adware, sypware, no, no, no.... It only takes my system 15 minutes to boot, right, no problem there. I just don't know what to say about this whole spyware/adware epidemic.

You have to learn basic maintance or when to have someone do the maintance for you. And as a default, OS' should ship secure. Damn the user convience of enabling a service or a feature by default. Make them point and click 2 or 3 times to turn something on, not just have something plug in and just plain run.

PC's should not be stupid proof by any means. Todays PC's are point / click and poof it now works. What did that point and click enable? Was it the bare minimum? Did it secure itself for the local network or leave it open for the Internet as a whole?

O'well, it will probably never happen. It looks like the way OS' are heading creates new job opportunities. Look at how many industries and markets that have been created by making OS' (its current attempts) somewhat user friend.
1) Virus
2) Firewalls
3) Spam Filters
4) What is next.

Just call me a jack of all Trades
by peragrin on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:45 UTC

I can build your addition, change the oil in my car, or build a PC. Bit by bit(pun intended) no one task is really hard the question is why?

if Built your addition it would probably take three times as long, and cost an extra 20% more than if you hired someone who does it daily. I can change the oil in my car, but that means getting the proper tools for the job, and learning the specs on my car to get the right parts. if I build a computer I need to know the parts and specs. Assembly it self isn't hard but care must still be taken in the form of shock protection.

It's not hard to do plumbing work, or heating work or work on your car. The problem is PRACTICAL KNOWLEDGE. A book can tell you all you need to know, but if you don't have the experience to read it properly, then it does you NO good.

The Author as a person is probably a lot like me. Smart, and can manipulate objects in his mind. Whether those objects be physical, or virtual. Whether they be composed of Data, or screws You can twist and sort them by quickly.

The problem is not everyone can look at an object and determine what it does and how it works. making the whole do-it yourself a very difficult prospect.

So Services for people will be a growing industry.

As a side note, I don't change my own oil, or build my own computers anymore. Though i do do light construction work for my self. Why Because have you tried pricing out all those tools that you need to properly do some of those jobs?

by Yamin on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:53 UTC

"It's one thing to know how to do it, it's another story to know WHEN to do it. Yes, there are people who don't know. "

Yeop, agree with that 100%. But as I said, the author seems to be emphasizing do it yourself, rather then knowing it must be done.

General knowledge of your PC/Car is needed. A person who doesn't realize a flat tire needs to be replaced is not fit to drive.


i luv this article
by broken windows on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:54 UTC

wow, i completly agree with this article 100%. ive had these same thoughts in my head forever. but i can wwork on my own car, fix build and repair my own house, install a toilet, change my oil, build a better computer then anyone on this forum and pull a tranny in the same day. u guys jus dont get it. u should b able to change yur opil in order to b aloud to drive a car. the only tool u need is yur friggin hand an the one wrench to pull the oil plug. i dunno y im even writing this though, most of u peeple believe that u can drive, when in fact al u can do is press the gas peddle to move yur car forward, press the brake peddle to make it slow, an traverse the bare minimum of corners. y should we expect u to know how to react in a panic situation. thas what worthless 'features' like ABS brakes and airbags are for. k im done venting now. try learning sumthing today, u might like it.

by broken windows on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 22:55 UTC

jus thought id add i didnt go to college and failed english throughought HS. did i mention im a computer technician for a career?

yeah i agre
by gRR on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 23:14 UTC

this article is pretty close to how i think but oh well it doesnt matter what i think or what i think or what ne one thinks
damn commy-m$

I could go on for pages about this but I'll _try_ to be brief.

If you study society much at all you will find out something. In most societies, people that can afford to hire someone to do something instead of doing it themselves, typically do. There are lots of reasons for this and actually most of them have nothing to do with being lazy. It's actually possible to LOSE net worth doing things yourself when you could be making money. This is mainly the upper crust of society which the middle and lower crust would love to emulate.

It only takes ten minutes to change your oil. Ok. Come over to my house and I'll time you. lol I'll bet you two oil changes it takes you longer than 10 minutes to do it right. Like waiting long enough for all the old oil to drain out.

As for cars. Computers are still very comparible to cars from the late 1920s and early 1930s. Once upon a time cars has magnetos and people had to hand crank their cars. When the OS automatically takes care of spam and viruses before they even get on the hard drive I'll consider that a good start. Microsoft is doing a great job on holding back progress despite what the delusional Bill Gates wants to think. I'm still waiting for MS to innovate anything. Those that believe I'm nuts are _very_ naive.

Master of one
by blixel on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 23:20 UTC

I choose to excel at computer systems. Computers were never just a job for me. They are my hobby and my passion. I have no desire to learn about even basic auto mechanics or basic carpentry.

Most people don't have hydrolic lifts in their garage. I will gladly stop by the dealership and spend 10-20 minutes of my life in the waiting room reading a book while they change my oil.

Changing oil is going to take a lot longer than 10 minutes for the average person. You have to make a trip to the store to buy what you need. That alone is going to take the better part of an hour. Get your ramps out of the shed or garage and put them in your drive way (or garage if it's big enough). Pull your car up on the ramps. Secure your car into place. Find your oil pan. Trust your life to the flimpsy metal ramps while you crawl under your car and unscrew the oil plug. Go sit in the house for 10 minutes while the oil drains. Come back out, crawl back under your car to put screw the oil plug back in and move the pan. Now climb up on a chair or something so you can change the filter and put new oil in. (Since you can't start the car and take it down off the rapms yet since it has no oil.) Go back inside and clean up so you don't get crud all over the inside of your car. Go back out to your car and take it down off the ramps. Put the ramps away. And finally drive to a autoshop and drop off the used oil so they can dispose of it properly.

The way I see it. Doing it myself is going to cost me my entire Saturday morning. Where's the time savings?

>>When anyone buys an expensive piece of equipment do you really think is necessary to learn how to maintenance that equipment? I think so.

Exactly. One day as a kid while riding with my dad in the combine harvesting corn he took out the book for it and pointed out to me the name of it "John Deere Model xxx OPERATORS MANUAL" (emphasis mine). It doesn't say "drivers manual", he pointed out and that a drivers one doesn't exist. Anybody can learn to drive the thing; throw this switch, set the speed, lower the head and activate thresher. But what's needed is to know how to "operate it" which includes knowing what sounds it should and should NOT make, what to do when the oil pressure gauge goes berserk, how to watch the yield computer and adjust your speed accordingly to maximize it and minimize waste and so on.

Sadly these days more and more devices we buy don't come with manuals at all and this has contributed to ignorance I feel and making them driver's instead of operators.

If we are going to be critical...
by bvz on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 23:49 UTC

It is spelled "their" and not "there" (both kevin and scott). If we assume that we can expect a person to take the time to learn how to operate a complex computer system, we can also expect a person to take the time to learn to use the correct word for each situation.

If, however, we allow for people to be more proficient in some areas than others then we might be able to forgive the misuse of a particular word (such as "maintenance") just as we could forgive the inability to use an immature and complex technology (or even excuse a person not knowing their own name ;) )

by Chris on Thu 2nd Dec 2004 23:49 UTC

In some sense you're right, but you're also quite wrong. The trouble is that learning one program is about equivalent an investment to learning one task (such as painting) as Home Depot.
While people should work harder to learn this stuff, developers could do better at making them work logically (Word processors for one are a UI nightmare; I'm learning latex in hopes of never using a word processor again).

by standsolid on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 00:19 UTC

You find word processors to be a UI nightmare (no argument there), yet you decided to escape this UI hell with LaTeX?

What argument are you trying to make here? Should we do away with User Interfaces that your aunt Bonnie can understand?

jack of all trades, master of none
by EvilHomer on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 00:20 UTC

I for one am glad that their are many people out there who are computer-illiterate. I have learned many trades through the years. From working as an auto mechanic changing brakes, doing oil changes, and all the way up to rebuilding engines, to being an aircraft mechanic (easiest job I've ever done), to being a help desk analyst, I've always found that being paid to do what one does well to be a good thing. Can I change my own oil? Yuppers. Do I do it myself most of the time? Only when the weather is nice and I can climb under my truck without wearing 10 layers of clothes. Do I know how to build a computer? Typing out this comment on one of the many that I have built. Do I know what to do when Windows won't boot due to a corrupted NTOSKRNL? Yup I do. Do I know how to create and manage shares using SAMBA/SWAT? I do, but I am limited in my knowledge of the OS (Linux) itself. Am I glad that people pay me in cases of my favorite beer just to have a look at their PC? You betcha!! Am I glad that I am starting a paying job helping people who have no idea how to troubleshoot their own PCs? I am indeed. While today's OSs are easier to work with from a user standpoint, maintaining the OS is harder than ever. New virus code and spyware programs are being written on an almost-daily basis, making it more difficult for the "average" user to keep up with. M$ with their notorious security "flaws" has made system maintenance a daily responsibility. Meanwhile, hardware today is far more complex than it was back in the days of the 286, yet it is far easier for the "average" user to install new hardware. I have seen a steady drop in the number of calls I receive about installing and configuring a video card, sound card, printer, or other such peripherals/add-on cards. Do I think people should learn more about computers? I definitely do. But in no uncertain terms do I think that the average user needs to know it all before purchasing a computer for home use or even use in the office. That's what they people like me for ;)

by AdamW on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 00:31 UTC

er, I built my last two PCs myself. Here's my entire list of tools required for assembly:

One (1) Phillips-head screwdriver, medium size
One (1) flat-head screwdriver, medium size (for heatsinks)
One (1) miscellaneous light source

Total cost - erm, I don't remember, it's a long time since I actually *bought* a screwdriver. Don't they just sort of spawn in drawers?

BTW, your nickname is correctly spelt 'peregrine'.

Why should OSes require maintenance? They should be solid state.
by bigbenaussie on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 01:19 UTC

The only reason we know how to maintain our computers and OSes is because we're interested. And because we're interested we usually become good at it. If you're not interested you'll suck and even be frightened at the prospect of using it, because people don't like to be made to feel dumb, and above all powerless. You have to expect that other people are not interested in the finer points of an OS or Computer System and will never be, and nor should they be. Honestly, I really shouldn't need to know more about a car than the brake and the accellerator, forward and reverse gears. I've never personally changed my oil, but I guess I could figure it out if I could be bothered, or more to the point, if I was interested enough to be bothered. I am not a power user when it comes to cars, and nor should I be. I am not interested in cooking either, and don't, but I still manage to eat all that I want.

We take it for granted that cars will wear out and that they consume oil and fluids that need to be replenished but why should that have anything to do with a computer.
Computers are 1s and 0s and shouldn't wear out any more than my light switch does. The only time a light switch shouldn't work is when someone or something has tampered with it, and that is why computers don't work when virus and spyware tampers with your system. They are outside elements that shouldn't be there. If your car is stolen, you call the police not chase the crooks.

Of course HDs wear out, as all moving parts do, and when your car wears out enough, it fails to start or stop or an indicator comes up, so you buy a new part or a new car.

Honestly, there ought to be a way to lock the OS down until you want to modify it. Spyware and viruses should not be able to corrupt your system. An OS and applications should be installed and henceforth treated as ROM. The OS should not be able to be modified until you flip a switch(outside of software). Of course this can never happen but it would cut through this mess. OSes should be solid state as the ability to modify stuff on your computer 'under the hood', that shouldn't be modified is why people see their machines break. It should kinda be like PDA Oses and base apps, at least for the people who aren't interested in tinkering.

Computers and software should either work or not work, unfortunately people are stuck in states in-between. Perhaps there ought to be better diagnosis about the health of each application and the OS, which is able to correct corruptions and conflicts.

Reading Manuals
by Zan Lynx on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 01:28 UTC

I always sit down and read the manual before using a new toy ... err, tool. If it's something that I'm familiar with, I might only skim it for interesting bits.

I propose that all new operating system installs require the user to pass a test of randomly selected questions to prove that they really did read the manual before using.


So people don't even try.
by Earl Colby Pottinger on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 01:55 UTC

While it is true that many people will have problems doing certain jobs themselves, some of them blindly pass it off to others and then complain about the costs. As a repair tech I have often heard the words, "The manual is too complex to follow so I gave up", but when I insist on having the manual because I need some information out of it, I find the manual is still in it's sealed wrap! Yes, sometimes it is hard to do, afterall I am asking for the manual myself before doing the job, and some manuals don't seem to be in English (I know that at least one install I did was with a manual that was 100% Japanese - not one word of English, but the diagrams were enough for the job.) But if you have not even broken the seal and flipped thru the pages I wonder what can be simple enough. Face it, I have seen people have a problem will the idea of colour coded cables and connector - how hard is it to plug white in white, yellow in yellow and red in red. The colour choices should not look the same even if you were colour blind.

by peragrin on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 02:02 UTC

First yes I know peregrine vs peragrin. 8 out of 10 places I visit on the net though have a peregrine. peragrin however is very rarely taken. A slight spelling error that i can live with.

The tools weren't bad, but don't forget to add to that collection. A boot disk(possibly both floppy based, and cd based) usually a system disk, If your repairing a machine, a disk with a separate virus scanner, Hard drive repair utilities. Granted all that stuff can be found online, but if your only machine is the one that is down you are screwed.

throw in about a dozen misconceptions people have about electronic boards and you can easily see why people don't like to touch the inside of their computer. I don't mind, but have found a liking for smaller more tightly integrated machines with high levels of craftsmanship. That's just a personal preference though, and that's all.

Though if I need to swap out drives or components I can and do that. In fact i am going to have to find a Firewire card to add soon. Just a five minute project. Hopefully nothing will break on the Windows box. Then again I do have nearly everything backed up current, getting ready for my Annual Windows Weekend Install Marathon. AW WIM. Before you go it doesn't take a weekend to install Windows. Well your forgetting about 15 gigs worth of games, and other programs that need to be installed from scratch as well.

You're right but to a point. While I agree that computers are like cars in the 20's and 30's, I think computers are far more unreliable.

It's rediculous the amount of CRAP there for a person to sift through in order to get something done. It's to the point now that I don't feel an average person could possibly sit down and enjoy their PC anymore. They're so busy trying to run adaware or spybot and update their virus definitions they get sick of being on the computer or forget why they went to it anyway.

People spend so much time AND money just so they can keep their computer Internet worthy. If a car caused me that much trouble I'd get rid of it and find a new one. But how does someone do that with a computer when the next one will be just as much trouble?

Things have to work instantly
by quizmaster on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 02:08 UTC

... and thats ok with me, as long people dont forget their responsibility to know what they are doing. mostly all of my friends are on a "unpack-place-connect-use"-trip, not knowing what makes their new toy operate. and, no, a dont mean electricity. and even this is allright with me, if they are willing to spend some amount (money/naturals(?)) to someone installing and maintaining these things in a professionell way. and here comes the break, they usually don't. "a have no clue how to operate this thing, but hey, i bought it, it's my slave, it has to do what i want, NOW!". thats the point when i explain them i just started my 2-week-break on computers and other technical stuff, just eat/sleep/fishing. and then they get raged. "come on man, i know you can do it, help me, please ... a.s.o.". and if you then tell them, that your break just started and you don't want to miss your planned target (hey, it's been 2 day without hands on a comp, man) it may happen you have one friend less. but if thats the casse, it wasnt a friend either. and thats fine with me again.


I dunno... .
by Anonymous on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 02:38 UTC

>>We bring our cars in to have our oil changed that takes less than 10 min if done by ourselves<<

Well I suppose its possible to change your own oil in ten minutes, but I doubt it. Counting the time it takes you to go to the store, buy the oil, oil filter, crawl underneath your vehicle, wrestle with the drain plug, drain the oil, remove the old oil filter, collect the old oil, install the new oil filter, screw the drain plug back, put in the new oil, properly dispose the old oil, and then clean up. I dunno... .

yes but
by Master P on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 02:42 UTC

I agree with the author on some level. But, on the point about software availability and interfaces, it is not just about ease of use, it is also a matter of efficacy. Having a program for backups is for the vast majority of the population easier and more efficient than taking the time to learn "rsync", for example. In today's world of unprecedented access to information, one must strike the balance between competency and ignorance of a given subject. How many subjects can one concurrently become an expert on? Since everything is so specialized, most people can become a true expert in only one field [at a time].

by AdamW on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 03:17 UTC

"The tools weren't bad, but don't forget to add to that collection. A boot disk(possibly both floppy based, and cd based) usually a system disk, If your repairing a machine, a disk with a separate virus scanner, Hard drive repair utilities. Granted all that stuff can be found online, but if your only machine is the one that is down you are screwed."

Well, I was responding to your suggestion that *building* a PC takes a lot of tools, you didn't say anything about repairing them. If you're adding software into the mix, the only thing I needed in addition to the screwdrivers and the handy-dandy light was a set of Mandrake 10.1CE CDs. ;)

by Chad Peterson on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 04:36 UTC


The person in front of the keyboard is the main
problem that computers have.

Common sense is better than a 'know it all' nerd
type who can tell you a bunch of useless


chad peterson:
by AdamW on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 04:37 UTC

Riiiight. Go design a great new computer and operating system using your wonderful common sense and no 'book smarts'. Come back when you're done!

RE: bigbenaussie
by Yamin on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 05:48 UTC

This notion that computers should not fail is part of teh problem in the design world. Good system assume things will fail and have procedures in place to deal with it when they do.

Google is a great example of this. They assume stuff will fail, and their whole system is design around that.

In terms of software, its a fundamental problem when programmers believe that since the inputs are 'finite' they can theoretically write perfect software, and completely test it. Rather, they should take the same ideology every other engineering field takes. Assume things outside of your immediate scope can and will fail...and design around it as best as possible. It may all be 1's and 0's but there billions of them and someof them are sent from unknown sources like a network. something is going to get screwed up.

- Big D . . . the answer is obvious!
by vortexau on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 05:55 UTC

> > People spend so much time AND money just so they can keep their computer Internet worthy.
> > If a car caused me that much trouble I'd get rid of it and find a new one. But how does someone
> > do that with a computer when the next one will be just as much trouble?

By choosing a non-Windows, non-troublesome system. In 22 years of computer owning I've never owned a WinTel system.

It 's the trend
by Anonymous on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 07:21 UTC

I agree with your point but as you have noticed , the PC is not like a Toaster. The PC is much more complex and has the possibility to evolve and become better for normal people.

People feel that they can expect more simplicity in the PC usage and they are right. For a programmer point of view, to answer that request for more simplicity, he has to build a more complex programm that's able to take decisions on behalf of the user in oeder to serve him better.

Just 2 simle examples:
- In some program when an events happens such as a connectin lost, the user is notified of the situation and asked to reconnect. The is a waste of time, the programm shuld attempt silently to reconnect without notifying the user.

- Now imagine there is an error. Programms usually show immediately an error dialog saying "error abcd" and the user clicks the only button there is, the "OK" button. The majority of times such dialogs are not understood by the user and as no action is required by him (there is only on way out of the dialog) they should be avoided.

In summary, programs should try to save the day of the user by auto correcting their errors (by taking an appropriate course of action, ie: the program should do what the user would have to do to solve the problem).

The author claims we should do many things that he himself clearly has not: be a master of all things related to computers or other things in terms of being self-sufficient. If he practiced what he preaches, he would attempt to make up for his lack of english grammar and spelling mastery by using Word or some other application to check spelling and grammar, which would catch most of the syntactic and semantic errors.

In addition to that comment on using the tools as he states everyone else should know how to use, he also clearly is inexperienced in actually doing tasks he says everyone should be able to do quickly and easily, as others before me have pointed out. The biggest one is realizing that a jack of all trades with the resources available to such simply can't do something as efficiently as an expert, and thus it will cost more in terms of their resources, whether it be of time or materials. The author has no comprehension of the true value of time, as well as the fact that not everyone that can understand how to do some task (changing oil as an example) have the capacity to do it, regardless of their understanding or will to try. Everyone is different and not everyone can master or even become proficient in all things. Furthermore, there are so many things that a person can spend their time on learning how to do that they'd be dead before they could learn how to do all the things needed for maintaining a decent living standard!

I will agree that people should have a certain amount of knowledge for many things, especially when it comes to complex things like their computer systems. However, where I differ from the author is the extent of that knowledge: what is most important is that the user is able to do what they really want to accomplish, and be able to recognize when something gets in the way of accomplishing their tasks, so they may call in someone that's better qualified to fix problems when things go wrong for whatever reason. It is often far more expensive for a Do-It-Yourselfer to try to do it themselves when fixing something, than to get the services of someone competent in the first place, because the quality is often lower, or things get so fouled up that you need to call in an expert to fix an even bigger mess than you started with!

by PannaCotta on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 09:07 UTC

Well ...more or less the whole discussion boils down to the point that our society becomes more and more lazy and that this is bad.
Latest research has shown that if you look globally men becomes more and more intelligent. Except of the USA where probably because of the disastrous social situation for many people the IQ is decreasing.
In germany where I live politics say that children has to learn much more than ten years ago while having worser circumstances because of a lack of teachers.
What is my point?
Well we have to know much more with less time and we become more intelligent.
What is the conclusion?
We accept that our society is a society of specialized work and try to specialize on things that gives ous some reward.
I - for example- don't change the oil in my car neither do I
fix things in my house, but I speak 4 languages and earn my money as a Software developer.
In this business I like complexity and therefore read many books about Design Pattern oder J2EE, but at home I keep being lazy...

by xushi on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 10:11 UTC

Personally, if i buy a car, i just want to turn the key in the ignition, and expect it to work. Giving me full access to change gears, turn on the windscreen wipers with no hassle. I don't want to open the engine and start tweaking the wires here and there to get it to work.

If i buy a mobile phone, i'd expect it to work when i hit the power button.. giving me access to call or save numbers without hassle. I don't want to compile things or memorise numbers that look like 0xffee01.

If i buy a pc, i'd expect it to turn on, giving me access to play games, surf the net, etc... without a hassle. I don't want to compile kernels, edit registries, tweak system files etc...

To me, a PC shouldn't look be harder than starting a car or turning on a mobile phone.. (speaking as a person)

But luckely enough, i'm intersted in how a ccomputer works, and have time to dedicate into learning how operating systems work and how to tweak them.

i happen to disagree
by christian paratschek on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 10:54 UTC

hopefully, computers will be a lot easier to handle 15 years from now...

but aside from that: in this day and age, a lot of things are very complex. it's nice if you can build houses, service your car, i dunno, navigate a car or a boat, knoiw your computer well, whatever... but it's too much for the average person.

you'd be shocked how easy it was 500 years ago to become a universally educated person - learn latin, study theology, law and medical science, and get some extra lessons in practical work. nowadays that is completely impossible. we have to accept that there are people who can't invest time in tasks that seem trivial to others. that's just the way the world works nowadays. there's a reason why we have super-talented specialists.

i, as an example (not for a super-talented person, hehe) am quite a good historian (i guess), i am an experienced computer-user (can actually make a living out of it), and i have a few more talens (i like to write articles, i am a good teacher). well, that's already quite a few things to constantly train and improve. i don't care about cars, can't drive one or change oil. just not interested. my father knows quite well how to build houses (just his personal interest, he already made roofs, wired houses, built walls, and so on). i, for one, have not learned these techniques (even though i find them extremly helpful). there was just not enough time to do it.


Re: Two separate points
by Alwin Henseler on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 11:53 UTC

One of the posters (Yamin) was dead on. There's 2 things: the user interface, and "what's under the hood".

It's only reasonable to ask that users should learn how to operate a TV, VCR, toaster, PC or specific app. But the required amount of time for that should be kept to a minimum. As I often say: the best designed equipment doesn't need a manual. If a user interface would be 'perfect', the learning curve would be 0. Ofcourse no user interface is, and because of that, for every apparatus more complex than a can opener, some time is needed to learn how to use it.

But: the "under the hood" part should NOT need that. Sure, many computer users know how to clean spyware, defrag harddrive or re-install their OS, but they shouldn't HAVE to. I myself can do these things, but would rather not waste time on such maintenance tasks. That people regard this as common requirement to operate a computer, only shows how long OS development (and deployment scenario's) still have to go.

Besides, if your job only involves editing .doc files all day, why should you be bothered about virus removal, file systems, or updating video drivers? It's that with computers we're used to it, but not how it should be. Let the machine check its own oil and fuel levels, for gods sake. That's what machines are for: to automate dull tasks, right? It's powerful enough to do so.

"People feel that they can expect more simplicity in the PC usage and they are right. For a programmer point of view, to answer that request for more simplicity, he has to build a more complex programm that's able to take decisions on behalf of the user in oeder to serve him better."

Agreed. Just one point: A better user interface often means one that is more complex as well (bloated, if you will). Often, but not necessarily. Sometimes a user interface can be improved by taking "behind user's back" stuff out of it. A good programmer should take advantage of every such opportunity.

Solution is easy
by r_a_trip on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 14:27 UTC

This is an amazing thread. Every person seems to be demanding two things:

1.) My OS should not be able to get infested by malware.
2.) My OS should not break down by mere usage.

The solutions that people are constantly proposing look like the technological fix to failing technology. Bigbenaussie goes so far as to say that an OS should react like Read Only Memory, except when the user instructs it not to.

The main theme seems to be that computer errors are what makes computing difficult and that an OS should be so easy that someone that can flick a light swith should be able to use a computer without ever learning anything about it.

I think it is ludicrous to expect an inherently complex machine like a computer (it's everything you want it to be) to be (or to become) as easy as (or easier than) a VCR. There will always be people unable to program their VCR and there will be people unable to use a computer. That is the way life goes.

I think that asking for a computer as easy as a toaster, without sacrificing most of its abilities, is like asking Boeing to build a 737 that can be safely flewn by an 80 year old person without any lessons fresh off the streets.

All of the above breakdown and malware and the proposed fix posts spell out one thing. Windows is not what the average user wants.

I use my computer daily and I'm very surprised if an error message pops up, because that is a rare event. I do all my day to day tasks and software installation is point, click and download. It gets installed and is immediately available afterwards. Malware is simply rare on my OS and my OS needs my permission to let malware wreak havoc on my system files.

You might guess I'm using Linspire, but it's actually Debian based Ubuntu. No, it is not Windows and I have to resort to my Xbox to do gaming, but I have no real computing problems.

Maybe people have forgotten that it is their duty to find out what products fit their needs the best. Asking for a miracle and pray that MS will fix Windows tomorrow might be asking a little too much.

The answer is simple. Evaluate the alternatives and then settle for e.g. GNU/Linux, FreeBSD, eComStation, Mac OS X, maybe there are even better systems I have never heard off, but ditching Windows is not too hard to do.

My parents use Ubuntu too now and my support calls have dropped from two or three daily to two or three per month. Makes you think, doesn't it?

RE: Master of one
by nonamenobody on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 15:40 UTC

I have no desire to learn about even basic auto mechanics or basic carpentry.

Most people don't have hydrolic lifts in their garage.

You may not have a desire to learn the basics, but you seem to know enough to realise that it is probably going to be simpler (and worth the money)to take your car to a mechanic and get the oil changed than do it yourself. You are clearly not one of the people the author is talking about.

Having the equipment, facilities, time and expertise to do a job, is different to having a basic understanding and the ability comprehend a manual to figure out what the job involves.

In the UK we have a TV program called "house of horrors" where they create a very simple, common problem with (say) the central heating boiler. Then they call a dodgy repair man and secretly film him as identifies the real problem in seconds and then creates false problem which will be much more costly to fix (espescially when you count the 200% markup on parts he charges on parts (which you don't need in the first place)). If you don't want to learn basic maintenance and repair and you get stiffed by one of these guys, who do you have to blame but yourself?

BTW I am not say there aren't craftsmen out there you aren't out to make a fast buck, but it takes knowledge to spot the difference.

Somebody mentioned extended warranties above, I can't decide whether or not the annoy me. In the UK your statutory rights cover most of what the extended warranty cover. The extended warranty only really provides convienence, e.g. on-site repair as opposed 'bring back and send off'. However because many people are dumb enough to pay for extended warranties, the retail prices can more competetive for those who are wise enough to avoid the extended warranty.

by Don Cox on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 15:50 UTC

"jus thought id add i didnt go to college and failed english throughought HS."

Did you not get any support for your dyslexia? You should have done.

by SuPrSlug on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 15:52 UTC

Funny how every geek wants people to learn the basics of technology, yet the geek refuses to learn a BASIC command of their language ("Their" not "there". How many times must we see the mangling of that in print?). Almost every technological article written is an abomination of the language. " Heal thy self physician".

Re: nonamenobody
by dpi on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 16:18 UTC

In the UK we have a TV program called "house of horrors" where they create a very simple, common problem with (say) the central heating boiler. Then they call a dodgy repair man and secretly film him as identifies the real problem in seconds and then creates false problem which will be much more costly to fix (espescially when you count the 200% markup on parts he charges on parts (which you don't need in the first place)). If you don't want to learn basic maintenance and repair and you get stiffed by one of these guys, who do you have to blame but yourself?

Interesting (very interesting posts anyway). There's 2 aspects in this though: 1 is material, 1 is knowledge. If you're able to find out what's wrong in such situation, then you still need the material. Material, as opposed to software, cannot be copied for free since it costs money to build each part. This is where material is fundamentally different than software (which is, if i may add, a reason why some car analogies are flawed).

Cars, computers and their parts are build in massive amounts to save costs. Sometimes, you cannot simply DIY and save both time and money (say car spare parts) but with other material its so cheap (oil or a screw) that you can. Imagine the time, knowledge and money it costs to build your refrigator or car. You gotta get something back from that huge investment. It could be a huge satisfaction because you managed to make it, because you learned, because you had to for study, because you invented something new, because you'd like to build a business on this -- but all these reasons don't count for most people.

by dpi on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 16:21 UTC

Woops i forgot the time aspect in the first part of my post, and i forgot to draw a line between service and non-service (e.g. R&D, building your own). DIY goes for various aspects.

Re: Solution is easy
by Traal on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 16:29 UTC

> I think it is ludicrous to expect an inherently complex machine like a computer (it's everything you want it to be) to be (or to become) as easy as (or easier than) a VCR. There will always be people unable to program their VCR and there will be people unable to use a computer. That is the way life goes.

To paraphrase: "it was difficult to program, so it should be difficult to use."

by Anonymous on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 16:38 UTC

The unfortunate thing is that you've seemed to miss the whole point of the preivious article. Things like "Save As..." which you use as an example are a purly historical construct that we don't need anymore. You have to think about the bigger picture of the interaction with the computer as a whole. Think about all the things you associate with computer interation, why they are the way they are, why are they necessary, and how could they be improved. Don't let your comfort with existing systems lul you into the "It works now, so why change it," syndrom. Do this, and I think you will find that many of the stuff you take for granted in todays computer systems is useless, counter productive, and unintuitive. Apple sees this, and Microsoft sees this, but unfortunatly, they have to retain that hidious monster of backwards compatibility. If they could just drop everything and start from scratch, I doubt you would find a "Save..." dialouge anywhere in the system.

A PC isn't like a single vehicle at all, but more like a multi-level parking ramp which is stocked full of vehicles, each with its own interface and its own set of general capabilities.

A simple application (passenger car?) can be relatively easy to learn, and one can usually get a basic vehicle to perform its task in time with practice, and without having to learn anything more about it than how to turn the key, push the pedals, and turn the wheel.

Some vehicles (compilers, word processors) are specialized for more complex tasks and will typically come with a larger selection of buttons and knobs, and that means a steeper learning curve.

Once a person learns a few basic facts about these types of vehicles, however, they aren't that hard to use, and over time one can learn to effectively drive a large number of vehicles (or use a wide selection of software) without really having to know much about what goes on underneath.

Running the entire parking garage yourself, however, might require a lot of esoteric knowledge that a typical vehicle user might not have.

How many parking spaces are in the garage? How large are those parking spaces? If you choose to go out and buy a new vehicle on your own, will it actually fit into the garage you currently own?

How does one keep the garage secure from break-ins? Are some types of garages more secure from intrusion than others?

Just a thought, anyway...

by Chris on Fri 3rd Dec 2004 23:13 UTC

Oh, it wasn't an argument; just a statement. I don't think we should teach Aunt Tillie LaTex; that's our secret ;) . I think we should make Word processors simple with more mouse involvement. If I want to center text, I should be able to click on a bar on the left and pull it to the center; causing the text to auto center, or if I pull it less to indent for quotations.
This sort of thing, less buttons and menus.

I actually started learning LaTex today and I LOVE it. It's like html, but powerful!

I'm no UI genius, just saying that Word processors have awful UI; it's too complex and unnatural and sometimes TOO automated.

It starts deeper
by KJS on Sat 4th Dec 2004 15:05 UTC

Reading the article and the messages I think the problem starts deeper! I'm NOT a native English speaker but I know the difference between there and their! This is just one of the mistakes found all over the world where ever Americans start to write.
The real problem I can see is EDUCATION! That's where it starts, in school. If you only train pupils to apply recipes and to find the easiest way around instead of using the brain to develop a solution you end up with a majority unable to even handle the small tasks and pretty short term the results can be seen in the success of the industry.
During the past 3 months I intervied 24 applicants for an engineering job and am shocked about the quality (or lack of it) I found. None of them was hired and we went with a foreign national despite the fact that H1 visa are expensive and difficult to get.

This article only shows a minor aspect of the larger problem!

all talk no solution
by Kevin A Kunreuther on Sat 4th Dec 2004 15:58 UTC

This opinion of Mr Cabana's is nothing more than blowing off steam and exasperation with bad metaphors and it makes terribly bad assumptions and generalisations. You offer no useful solution or easy multi-point plan for those to follow to correct the situation that is annoying you. It's wonderful that your dad was capable of many things and that is very commendable but even back in his day, he WAS the exception, not the rule.
Personal computers ARE very geeky things. Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak envisioned that microprocessor PCs shouldn't be hard to use alien objects confined to use by hobbyists, enthusiasts, et alia, but should be easy to use appliances central to every family's lives. This idea has proved to be abhorrent to some geeks in the community, i.e. about PCs as easy to use consumer products. Ease of use led to the popularity and ubiquitnous of the GUI. Steve Jobs ultimate plan for the PC was to be an easy to use media center for the home(witness iPhoto, iTunes, iPod); Joe Consumer should not have to worry about opening up the guts of the hardware and tinker with the machine nor learn arcane command line operations. Just push a button or two, read a menu, choose some options and get on with your life.
The people Mr Cabana seems to have trouble used to be referred to as people who have no business going near a computer or any appliance. Their problem is not laziness but fear. The culture bullied them into thinking they needed a computer, so they get one, and it's as mysterious to operate as that VCR was twenty five years ago. If they have to call a geek line to tell them how to plug in a kettle, sobeit, it's a nice contribution to the economy, hooray.
I think you went the wrong way with the car analogy, so let me offer a partial or first step solution, using the auto analogy once again. Before one purchases or uses a car, you have to have some knowledge how to operate the vehicle. You take classes, you learn from a family member or friend, etcetera. After learning the rules of the road and howto simple maintenance, you eventually opt to purchase a vehicle, hopefully read the manual in the glove compartment and you're on your way.
SO it should be instilled in our culture with computers, though it looks like it has already been going on for quite some time in our schools with young people. In fact I'm willing to bet that in fifteen years time, operating a computer will be as natural and unthinking for the majority of people in the world as operating a car or portable music device. Actually it will probably be a heckuva lot easier to use and maintain. By that time people will not have to "go under the hood" of computers and related devices because they will be self maintaining or something close to self maintenance. Operation commands will be simple input or verbal. The whole process will be invisible to the consumer.
For the here and now, there should be an add on that salepeople should gently sugggest, a short course in operating a PC and its attending OS and other software to prospects who have little or no experience with these machines. Microcenter stores are well known for this service.
Hobbyists, techies, hackers, et alia, will always be opening up the hood, figuring out how things work and tinkering with things for the sheer love. For the rest of the population, it will always be about ease of use and not thinking about mainteneance. Abhorrent? The idea has been slowly assimulated into our culture. People are already being trained to think (or not think?)about the day you won't have to replace batteries (don't worry about Radio Shack losing it's main add on business, they will concentrate on selling services like Big Blue, just on a ground hugging consumer level).

There are four basic concepts of economics which help everyone have more and live easier. Those are:

1. Division of labor
2. Specialization
3. Comparitive advantage
5. Trade

If everybody did everything for themselves, than everybody would have a standard of living of Robinson Crusoe. It is better for 10 people to specialize in one thing each and then trade with each other, than it is for them to do everything for themselves and not trade.

Comparative advantage comes down to what someone has to give up to produce something. I could make my own burger, for example, but it would take me couple of hours to get meat, fry it, make sandwich and do dishes. So to get a burget, I would have to give up the cost of meat, water AND couple of hours which I could have spent earning $17/hour on my temp job. Alternatively I could spend 15 minutes, and go to Burgerking and get a Whopper Junior for $.99. Burgerking has an assembly line operation for making Burgers, and they can make one in less than 5 minutes, since they have all the materials, special equipment, and staff which itelf divides labor into special tasks such as cashiers, sandwich makers, janitors, etc.

So it is better to do one thing well, and trade with others fow what you need, than it is to do everything yourself. There could be situations in which it is better to do something yourself, than hire someone to do it for you, but those situations are rare.


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At NYLXS, we are do'ers.

RE: - Big D . . . the answer is obvious!
by Big D on Sat 4th Dec 2004 19:30 UTC

That's a good point but how does someone do that if they aren't comfortable ordering online and don't have a store that sells and services Macs? My mother being an example, Linux is not a viable choice either. She has friends that play games and uses MSN messenger to video chat together over the net. Linux just *isn't* able to pull it off.

by R.S. on Sat 4th Dec 2004 22:59 UTC

Most of the people are STUPID IDIOTS. They resist learning as much as they can. I have always wondered how many people actually read manual before they use an appliance, be it a toaster, a VCR or a car!?? Apparently not many.

let society take its own course
by vivek on Sun 5th Dec 2004 20:55 UTC

society takes a course because that is what the majority of humanity wants . so when we want it to be something different , it means that , it is not what the majority wants . we can do exactly as we want , but there is no point in complaining about others(they are being exactly as 'they' want to be) .
so it doesn't matter , oil change , computer , etc. why are we wasting time on something over which we have no control and neither are we ever going to have it .

RE: Learning The Basics
by Ben Faulkner on Mon 6th Dec 2004 12:38 UTC

The reality is, that yes, out of the box a new computer with Windows is easy to use. But for many, as little as a month or 2 down the track, it can become buggy, unstable and in need of some at least semi-experienced attention in order to make it good again. Even for me, even with 15 years of experience using and troubleshooting PCs, I still find myself having to draw on much of that experience in order to keep my own PC running in good order.

If I had the cash spare right now I would be replacing this windows notebook with an ibook or powerbook. Because really, Mac OS X sits just nicely between windows and linux at the moment. It is at least as easy if not easier to use than Windows, is just as stable as Linux, and as a workstation, is more powerful than either. The only problem is having to buy Mac hardware to run it.

As far as Windows is concerned, the major problem is that the core of the OS, is not a stable platform for the rest to be built on. Linux and OS X however, share the time proven UNIX underpinnings. Unlike the Windows core, UNIX has been designed from the ground up to simply work. No part of the Linux or OS X core programming has been engineered by someone with profit in mind. Windows however, and especially in the Windows NT/XP core, has been engineered by Microsoft at a time when they basically owned the PC operating system market. The only real competition Windows XP had when it was released, was Windows 9X and ME. So all it had to be was better than 9X/ME (which wasn't hard to do).

The point is, in the 'Great OS Debate' Linux and Mac OS have are much closer (but still a way to go) to what I would consider the perfect OS. Windows, just isn't on the right track. As you can see by Microsoft's behaviour of late, they know they are in serious trouble when it comes to this debate and they are fighting it with everything they have.

Sabon- Are we insulting each other now?
by Scott Cabana on Fri 10th Dec 2004 21:30 UTC

No im not 25. Are you? Are you saying 25yr olds are not intelligent? Performing an oil change does require 10 min and I dont count me watching the oil drain. If you wish you can come over with your stop watch since ive done it dozens of times if you find that fascinating. Yes, for those who have lots of funds and unwilling to expand there knowledge of the world who claim they have no time (Some rich people do change there oil and god bless them) tend to need time for more social occasions or perhaps talking to more potential clients, but more so to the point they are the most detached group of people unable to do the more smaller tasks that we all take for granted. If for one day that money was gone so would be there confidence in taking care of themselves perhaps are you one those people? I can easily say there are fewer rich people than poor in this country perhaps even the world. It would do you good to learn new things on your own. Being humble is something alot of us have forgotten since we were paid well in the high tech field. But now alot of those people are out of jobs and I truly feel sorry for them, cuz a short time ago I was one of them. Perhaps now those (yes, lazy) people will truly be grateful to a person on the phone to walk them through there wizard to install their mouse. If I was a person with alot more funds and I had time I would learn as much as I could about how to do things myself just as I would if im not so fortunate. Say as you wish about it, but your the one forking over money to someone to teach you something that is as easy as brushing your teeth.I try not to study too much about our society you learn alot from answering phone calls at the cable company. Oh and thank you for the history lesson, im betting my knowledge of cars in the 1920's has grown a bit and no your not nuts, just arrogant and impolite.

by Scott Cabana on Fri 10th Dec 2004 21:34 UTC

I apoligize for my grammer mistakes in advance.