I originally posted the article below on September 15, 2007. It is about one of my favorite themes, namely, that PCs are too complicated for the average person. Maybe the iPad and other mobile platforms have taken us closer to a consumer product that just works but industry attitudes and Windows are still a long way from being consumer – friendly. What’s your opinion? Are PCs still too complicated?
Personally, I love tinkering with computers. I sometimes pop open the case and add components. I keep tweaking the settings. I try lots of new software. I try different operating systems. I even write code and create little programs. But most PC users have neither the background nor the curiosity to do such things. For them the computer per se is of no interest. It is a means to accomplish an end. They do not want to be bothered with the details of how the thing works. Over in the sidebar is a statement that I wrote when I started this blog:
Well, what does the average PC user want? Judging from my experience in teaching at SeniorNet and in giving talks at user groups, most people think of the computer as a tool to help achieve some task. They do not care about the details of how the computer does it. When they drive a car, they just want to get to their destination. They do not care about how the fuel system works or what goes on in the transmission. The same thing applies to a computer. Ideally, the computer would be just another appliance like a toaster.
My opinion is that Microsoft and many in the rest of the industry are out of touch with the average PC user. I don’t think they recognize how little the average PC user knows, or wants to know, about how computers work. UAC in Vista is a good example. Microsoft’s advertising agency may tout the productivity of Windows but in fact it is far too complicated and gets in the way of ordinary people. What’s needed is a simplified, slimmed down operating system for the many folks whose computer needs are basic. The model where all PCs have to be a combination entertainment center, business machine, scientific calculator, communications center, and whatever else makes things too complex and insecure. There is a place for such all-purpose machines but there should also be models that do the limited range of things that a very large number of home users are interested in.
At the very least, a new approach to security is a must. Security expert Bruce Schneier writes:
To the average home user, security is an intractable problem. Microsoft has made great strides improving the security of their operating system “out of the box,” but there are still a dizzying array of rules, options, and choices that users have to make. How should they configure their anti-virus program? What sort of backup regime should they employ? What are the best settings for their wireless network? And so on and so on and so on.
How is it possible that we in the computer industry have created such a shoddy product? How have we foisted on people a product that is so difficult to use securely, that requires so many add-on products?
It’s even worse than that. We have sold the average computer user a bill of goods. In our race for an ever-increasing market, we have convinced every person that he needs a computer. We have provided application after application — IM, peer-to-peer file sharing, eBay, Facebook — to make computers both useful and enjoyable to the home user. At the same time, we’ve made them so hard to maintain that only a trained sysadmin can do it.
And then we wonder why home users have such problems with their buggy systems, why they can’t seem to do even the simplest administrative tasks, and why their computers aren’t secure. They’re not secure because home users don’t know how to secure them.