posted by David Adams on Wed 24th May 2006 04:08 UTC
IconIt's conventional wisdom that computers need to be "easier to use." But do they? More reliable, yes. Easier to troubleshoot, yes. But now that so many people use computers so much, I think there's something to be said for making them less easy-to-use and less intuitive.

Whether complaining about a widely used operating system like Microsoft Windows or criticizing an up-and-comer like Linux, people have claimed for ages that computers need to be easier to use. As a blanket statement, this is certainly true. However, what does this simple statement actually mean in real-world application? When people complain about ease of use, they often rehash some stupid scenario involving an abject computer novice. Certainly, this type of person, the same one who'd be likely to use the CD-ROM tray for a coffee cup holder or put White-out on the screen, does exist in this world, and the ease of use problems in today's computers certainly flummox them, but will the computing world truly be served by catering to their needs at the expense of everyday computer users?

You can certainly categorize today's computer users into several broad categories, ranging from incompetent and lost to absolute mastery. But however you slice it, there is a significant portion of the user population that has a high degree of familiarity with their machines and installed software. For these people, unless there's some sort of malfunction (unfortunately, all too common) they're fully at ease with everyday computing. For these people, their computers shouldn't be easier to use. In fact, many of the features designed to make their computers more accessible to a neophyte are actually holding them back from higher productivity and sometimes being quite annoying in the process.

If you believe that power users want simplicity, look at the average TV remote control. In the early days, remote controls had just a few buttons. The earliest only changed channels. As people have become more acquainted with their TVs and attached VCRs, DVDs, and home theater systems, they've demanded more power and convenience. Today's remotes have as many as 60 buttons. Some now have reconfigurable LCD panels. Sure, some of these remotes are poorly designed, and the worst of them are truly mind boggling. But Joe Sixpack, a proficient TV user, can usually become so acquainted with his complicated TV remote that he can operate even the most complex series of tasks simply by touch. Would Mr. Sixpack want to see an industry-wide resurgence of the two button TV remote control and go back to getting out of his chair to change surround sound settings? No. But modern remotes are too complicated for people who have never used a TV before! We must cater to them! Doesn't the argument sound stupid in that context?

The real problem is not that today's computers are too hard for novice computer users, but that they all have inherent problems that make them burdensome for even the most experienced users. Just because a power user might be able to eventually narrow down a persistent stability problem to defective RAM (with few clues) does not mean that power users want to have to spend three days playing Sherlock Holmes just to get their computer working properly. Just because I am capable of making regular backups to removable media or to an off-site server, and am capable of doing a recovery in the case of a catastrophic data loss does not mean that I want to, or think I should have to.

Table of contents
  1. "Page 1/4"
  2. "Page 2/4"
  3. "Page 3/4"
  4. "Page 4/4"
e p (12)    44 Comment(s)

Technology White Papers

See More