Opinion: Learning The Basics

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.For example, someone buys a $6,000 plasma TV only to call the cable company to talk them through settings and screen menus and the customer has never even open the directions for it. A computer is more complex than a toaster or a standard appliance, however so is a car. Learning how to drive isn’t easy at first, but once you learn, it is as easy as navigating through windows in an operating system.

There is a small service company called “The Geek Patrol” that goes to people’s houses and does everything from setting an home theater to programming your remote. They perform tasks that people are incapable of fixing on their computer or any other piece of electronic component. When anyone buys an expensive piece of equipment do you really think is necessary to learn how to maintenance that equipment? I think so. People decades ago use to build their own houses and perform most of there own services. Now you hire people just to install a ceiling fan or a light switch. We bring our cars in to have our oil changed that takes less than 10 min if done by ourselves. All it takes it a few minutes of your time and some reading. My father built his own garage and wired the whole thing up himself. He learned about auto-mechanics from his father. My father knows a little about everything and became an expert in crime prevention as a police officer. I don’t know a lot of people that can build there own garage and do their main profession as well. Shouldn’t even basic knowledge be applied when using a computer as well? I work for the cable company and you would be surprised how many people cant even turn on their TV. Would you call the highway dept if your car broke down?

The operating systems that are available today, such as Linux, Windows and Mac OS X certainly have their difficulties, but for the most part they have become very easy to use. Since I’ve used all three I’d say the easiest to use is Mac. I’ve seen books in Borders that are as thin as a pamphlet that can show you how to navigate, create a folder and browse the web with ease. In the days of DOS and Windows 3.1 it was a lot more difficult to use the computer than it is now. In the past there were motherboards with dip-switches and power connectors that took extreme delicacy to avoid frying the board or making a big puff of smoke. Now almost anybody can assemble a complete system in a matter of a few hours if they took the time to read the books.

So how intuitive does something need to be with an applet that says “save as”? The Grammie Gums and Great Aunt Bertha’s of the world are having problems turning a television on, let alone use a computer. I see Home Depot being a busy place every weekend. How come people cant read books from CompUSA and learn how to use a computer? They have classes that offer information on all kinds of programs. Could we make Operating Systems easier? Sure we could, but what will happen is the Operating System will be making decisions for us. Putting my data in folders where I don’t want to go, constant pop up boxes asking us what to do. Is this the fun I have to look forward too? A bunch of wizards to go through to look at a JPEG? All these hassles, because some person doesn’t want to learn how to open up a document in word? More back up programs on my hard drive because someone doesn’t know how to back up there data? Longhorn, when it comes out will be making a lot of decisions for you, whether you like or not. You might be seeing me running FreeBSD or Mac full-time at that point. Windows for me at that point will be nothing more than a media player or a game console.

We hire someone to make our food, make our coffee, wash our clothes, fix our cars, paint our houses, download music on our Mp3 players, program our remote controls and the list goes on. Is this the age of laziness or does no one have the time to learn the things they use on a daily basis? 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. To me all it takes is some interest. I’m not talking about compiling the kernel or running complex programming in a terminal. I’m talking about saving a document to the hard drive or knowing the difference between an icon and an executable. I have to admit the likes of Linux isn’t for everyone yet, but Mac or Windows? I think they are easily at the spot we need them to be. What we add to it now is mostly fluff. We have become a society of people that are an expert at one thing and a complete dullard at everything else.

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