Linked by Thom Holwerda on Sat 23rd Aug 2008 15:37 UTC
Editorial Earlier this week, we ran a story on GoboLinux, and the distribution's effort to replace the Filesystem Hierarchy Standard with a more pleasant, human-readable, and logical design. A lot of people liked the idea of modernising/replacing the FHS, but just as many people were against doing so. Valid arguments were presented both ways, but in this article, I would like to focus on a common sentiment that came forward in that discussion: normal users shouldn't see the FHS, and advanced users are smart enough to figure out how the FHS works.
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Basic edumacation.
by tupp on Sat 23rd Aug 2008 19:26 UTC
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In complex machines such as computers, the interface can be organized for the uninitiated user in manner that overcomes a machine's complexity, allowing the new user to perform many common tasks. Usually, this feat is accomplished by organizing and keeping visible the more frequently used controls/aspects of the machine, while hiding infrequently used controls/aspects.

However, hiding the basic conceptual model (or teaching an inaccurate conceptual model) of a complex machine frequently leads to user frustration and usability mistakes. Such is the case with obscuring (or "dumbing-down") the directory structure of a computer from the user.

People are often smarter than designers (and CEOs of trendy computer/electronics companies) think. Any grade school child can understand the concept that information on computers is organized into a tree of files and directories (folders) within directories. From this rudimentary model, it is not a huge mental leap to realize that some of the files are executable (programs/scripts) and some files merely store data, while a few files are a combination of the two types. It is not much of a brain strain to additionally realize that directories are often organized to separately contain data files, applications, code libraries, configuration files, temporary files, etc. One does not have to be a programmer nor a computer expert to comprehend such a simple model and to memorize a few of the frequently used directories.

A user's understanding of such a basic conceptual model does not ruin the user's ability to thoroughly employ the computer desktop model nor does it impair the use of search-based systems (such as Gmail, Sup, slocate, Spotlight, etc.). This understanding merely enhances the user's ability to work with a computer and solve problems. For example, a common frustration occurs with new users when one cannot find a file downloaded from the Internet. With a basic knowledge of the directory tree, one can readily track down the location of the file and also configure the system to download future files to a more convenient directory.

Consider the analogy with hand calculators and math education. Hand calculators have been available for decades and they preclude the need to understand simple addition, subtraction, multiplication, division, etc. However, if we refrain from teaching basic math to every school child, we would probably have a lot of frustrated, helpless people in the world. Such a situation is actually happening right now with computers. Computers are now a part of everyday life, and the lack of comprehension of the basic conceptual model of computers often gets a lot of naive users stuck on the tiniest of problems.

Everyone should have a rudimentary knowledge of the directory tree and of the basic internal components of a computer. Such knowledge is much less involved than the algebra we all learned in middle/high school. Almost all that is needed to understand the directory tree is contained in the single pargraph above, and the internal components of a computer can be explained in four or five more paragraphs. The pervasive prevalence of this simple knowledge would eliminate a lot of problems and would allow a majority of computer users to grow and flourish.

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