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
tupp
Member since:
2006-11-12

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.

Reply Score: 5

RE: Basic edumacation.
by dagw on Sat 23rd Aug 2008 22:22 in reply to "Basic edumacation."
dagw Member since:
2005-07-06

Everyone should have a rudimentary knowledge of the directory tree and of the basic internal components of a computer.

I'm sure most here agree with that, the real question at hand is whether knowing the difference between /sbin, /usr/sbin, /opt and /usr/local/bin counts as the sort of rudimentary knowledge the avg. computer user should have.

There is no good reason not to simplify things that can be simplified.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Basic edumacation.
by tupp on Sat 23rd Aug 2008 22:59 in reply to "RE: Basic edumacation."
tupp Member since:
2006-11-12

Everyone should have a rudimentary knowledge of the directory tree and of the basic internal components of a computer.
I'm sure most here agree with that

I'm actually not to sure that most here agree with that assertion. In fact, the first question/point listed in the parent article is: "Normal users shouldn't see the FHS [directory structure]."

In addition, I agree that the Gobo/Beos/OSX-style directory configuration is better, and that the *nix directory configuration could probably be greatly simplified (especially for single user machines). However, I don't think that it would be a major effort for anyone to learn the basic differences between the directories that you mentioned. There are many simple charts that plainly show the particular properties of each basic directory.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE: Basic edumacation.
by kaiwai on Sun 24th Aug 2008 20:36 in reply to "Basic edumacation."
kaiwai Member since:
2005-07-06

People are often smarter than designers (and CEOs of trendy computer/electronics companies) think.


I think you're giving end users more credit that they deserve. I've worked at a help desk, I'm currently a system administrator at my current place of employment and before that I worked selling and supporting computers as part of my own company - I can tell you that you have the optimism of youth.

The end user is a lemming, I've seen people who, after moving an icon slightly - they're completely clueless as what to do. I remember telling an end user to 'double click on internet explorer' and claimed it wasn't there - even though it was sitting on the desktop (do end users ever read what is on their screen or do they just randomly click stuff?). End users need to be educated from day one, but I go back to blaming a society which as embraced laziness and slovenly behaviour as the forte rather than people wanting to learn for the sake of learning. Then again, this is an entirely new topic altogether.

Back to the original article; MacOS X did it right; hide the traditional UNIX structure and have the applications end users run sitting in the Applications directory. There are alot of things I'd love to see the opensource world copy from Irix, Amiga and MacOS X. Copying doesn't mean you can't come up with good ideas - it is recognising that there is already a good idea and it makes little sense re-inventing the wheel for the sake of dogma.

Reply Parent Score: 3

RE[2]: Basic edumacation.
by Doc Pain on Sun 24th Aug 2008 21:01 in reply to "RE: Basic edumacation."
Doc Pain Member since:
2006-10-08

I think you're giving end users more credit that they deserve.


I don't want to look like a bad guy, so I'd like to state this first: I've worked with users that were very smart at the beginning, e. g. those who came from a mainframe background or were developers, but after using /insert monopoly OS family here/ for more and more years, they developed into persons that you did describe, maybe in a not very nice way, but those people make up the majority of the users, at least from my individual point of view. Why do I think so? Because I've seen them, I've served them, they trampled on my nerves. :-)

The end user is a lemming, I've seen people who, after moving an icon slightly - they're completely clueless as what to do. I remember telling an end user to 'double click on internet explorer' and claimed it wasn't there - even though it was sitting on the desktop (do end users ever read what is on their screen or do they just randomly click stuff?).


No, because /insert monopoly OS family here/ propagates that you don't need to know (or to read) anything in order to use a computer.

If you think you're unfair to the users in characterizing most of them, feel free to read this:

http://www.rinkworks.com/stupid/

Lots of things are really stupid, but what scares me most is that I saw the stupidest things already.

End users need to be educated from day one, but I go back to blaming a society which as embraced laziness and slovenly behaviour as the forte rather than people wanting to learn for the sake of learning. Then again, this is an entirely new topic altogether.


Hey, I wasted all my youth to read and to learn, should all this be useless now? :-)

Back to the original article; MacOS X did it right; hide the traditional UNIX structure and have the applications end users run sitting in the Applications directory.


PC-BSD provides something similar with its PBI package system.

There are alot of things I'd love to see the opensource world copy from Irix, Amiga and MacOS X.


You said Irix. :-) Well, that's a UNIX system I really enjoyed using. All the power, but still a system that could be used with just atomic knowledge of computers. Of course, reading what's on the screen and a bit of common sense are very useful everywhere.

Reply Parent Score: 2

RE[2]: Basic edumacation.
by tupp on Mon 25th Aug 2008 18:36 in reply to "RE: Basic edumacation."
tupp Member since:
2006-11-12

I agree that there are a lot of clueless computer users. However, I think that much of this clueless-ness stems from a helpless attitude, that has been conditioned by a decades-long prevalence of desktop interfaces designed around users with no mind.

In current ergonomic design circles, a lot of emphasis goes to designing interfaces that can be quickly comprehended by the uninitiated user (usually at the expense of power and speed). The usability phrase for this practice is "reducing the knowledge required in the head" of the user. My point is that, with just a little more prior "knowledge in the head," users will act much more resourcefully. They will learn to think for themselves and will actually look at the screen.

Most people are smart enough to understand a lot of what is typically considered too complex for the everyday user, and most will use their minds if they are encouraged to do so. Jef Raskin kept the Mac mouse from having more than one button, because he thought three buttons were too complicated for the typical person. Underestimating users seems to be a common mistake with usability "experts."

By the way, as I recall, MSDOS and Windows 3.1 employed user-friendly directory names, such as "programs," "data" and "system," etc.

Edited 2008-08-25 18:38 UTC

Reply Parent Score: 2