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Discuss: Win9x/MacOS makes users dumb/scared?

I read an interesting comment recently:

"Stick a complete newbie, who has never used a computer before, or not enough to get used to one, in front of a Linux box, with some instructions. Watch them do great. Now stick a fairly experience Windows user in front of a Linux box, with even better instructions. Watch them flounder miserably."

The basic argument is that using Win9x and MacOS makes users dumb, and causing them to be petrified when trying to install something (even with good directions) via any method other than the "Click next" wizards.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Kinda math skills and calculator/computer use.

Real life situation:
My fiance's dad runs a storage unit property.
Two college educated girls (from an expensive college north of Charlotte, NC) walk in to rent a unit for 2 months at $35/month; $70 total.

They requested a calculator to figure out how much each owed....


"How can someone be so stupid and still be able to breathe?"

Friday, March 28, 2003

I'd guess that the opposite would be true also - a Linux/Unix/etc user would be lost when confronted by Windows/MacOS, even with good instructions.

I actually have met real-life examples of this - guys who are excelent Unix & VMS programmers/admins/users but who just can't seem to get the habg of how to do *anything* with Windows.

It's all a matter of getting used to doing things one (the 'proper') way and not beaing able to/wanting to adapt to something new. I really doubt if Windows kills brain cells...

Friday, March 28, 2003

Imagine if on your calculator there were a button that, if you pressed it under certain circumstances (which you were never too clear on), would make your calculator stop working or return erratic results unless you took it to an expert to have it reconfigured.

People would be just as scared to use their calculators as they are to fiddle with their OSes.

Friday, March 28, 2003

Really?  Before I ever used any GUI, I used IRIX' tcsh-command line on an old  donated SGI computer.  Then I got a 386 with DOS installed on it (also a gift from a company that didn't need it anymore).  I quickly got the hang of these using instruction books.  My next computer (around '95?) was a compaq with Windows on it...easily got the hang of it.

I'm curious as to some examples as what GNU/Linux users can't do on Windows/MacOS.

Friday, March 28, 2003

I highly doubt the original comment is true.  It seems like someone using an example to prove a generality.

Friday, March 28, 2003

It sounds similar to that "They did studies that show if a man had to endure the pain of childbirth, it would kill him!"

Friday, March 28, 2003

Is this a broader version of the old emacs/vi argument?  Once a user has skills in one tool, perhaps they are more likely to get frustrated trying to apply those skills to a similar but unrelated tool.

I wonder if this generalizes to the same case as the amount of difficulty a person has learning a second language as an adult being greater than the amount of difficultly they have learning a third.

I don't know about internationally, but I'd also guess that here in the states there is a pretty strong correlation between users who are willing to switch between OS metaphors and users who use Macs or Linux.

Friday, March 28, 2003

What is really going here is classic interface design.

People who have used computers already now have a mental “image”, or model as to how things work. Joel’s interface book hits this concept right on the mark.

This same problem applies when a windows user tries to use a Mac.

The reason for the windows user difficulty is that their mental image of how software works is already created. Thus, they will apply their previous mental image of how windows works to that of Linux. They will assume that Linux SHOULD WORK the same.

There should be no more surprise of a windows user having more difficulty using the Linux system then the fact that 2 + 2 = 4.

In fact, that question is a excellent interview question. If a software developer can’t figure out that 2 + 2 = 4, or the dead obvious answer to the above puzzle, then that developer does not get it! That developer can code, but I an’t going to let that developer do any design work! (I am not going to hire him either!!).

I can certainly understand how a lay person might find this strange that one with windows knowledge has more trouble learning Linux then a person with ZERO knowledge of windows.

So, while some might be surprised at this, I doubt anyone in the software industry, or people anyone here are even the slightest bit surprised.

It is very possible that the original poster is simply repeating a urban legend that is not really a true story.  However, I am not the least bit surprised if it is in fact a true story.

You can read just the first page here of Joel’s’ book on interface. You will quickly see that those people who have learned windows thus simply now have a mental picture of how things “should” work.

Most, if not all developers have this common knowledge that users have a “mental picture” of how things works.

It is even MORE amazing how often I see someone write a quotation system, or even a purchase order system, and completely forget that a user has this mental picture. It is embarrassing, since that developer has full knowledge that users have a mental picture of how things work, but FAIL TO CAPITALIZE ON this fact.

Hello? Earth calling all developers!

How does a user create a new document in Word? How does a user create a new document in Excel? In both cases, it is file->new.

I mean, often in a database program you are NOT creating a new document each time you make a new Purchase order. However, in your users mental view or so called mental “pictures” of how computers work, they are not really thinking in terms of a file. What their mental picture is that you simply go file->new to create a new something. This is a incredible, but obvious concept that any software designer must grasp.

Taking the users mental picture into account means you can substantially reduce training by making your software work how most users expect.

Hence, one wants to make software work like most other programs. Hence, one simply should follow the same idea. That means that Edit->find should be used to find a P.O.

File--> new might not even create a new document, but your software should create a “new something”.

Here is a simple screen shot of such a menu in use:

This is classic good old fashioned software design issue.

So, no, there is zero surprise to any of the readers here.

Albert D. Kallal
Edmonton, Alberta Canada

Albert D. Kallal
Friday, March 28, 2003

I personally have seen several Linux and Solaris people go belly up when they sat down in front of a Windows 2000 box.  Things like drag-n-drop, copy-paste, and Windows Explorer were totally unfamiliar.

I've seen the same thing with Windows users trying to use a MacOS interface, and vice versa.  A Windows user automatically things the button in the top left corner means "close".  Then, when they use MacOS, clicking in the top-left doesn't do the same thing.  The interfaces looks similar, but they play subtle little tricks on you.

I don't think any of these interfaces makes the user "dumber".  You just get used to a certain way of doing things, and then doing it another way is "strange" and "wrong".  If you don't know anything about computers, then you have nothing to "unlearn".  This is a common trend that can be demonstrated with other things besides Windows/Linux.

I think part of this is cause by the subtle differences in the interface.  They're close enough that you'd assume they work the same way, but when things don't act exactly as they did on the other platform, it becomes frustrating.  Joel actually touches on this in his User Interface book.

dh003i, I'm sure you had an easy time moving between DOS and Tcsh, but that's not a fair comparison between Windows and MacOS.  Between DOS and Tcsh, the differences between the two are plainly obvious.  You didn't have anything to unlearn.

Myron Semack
Friday, March 28, 2003

Well, actually, I've also had an easy time moving back and forth between MacOS9, MacOSX, Win9x, and WindowMaker.  However, I learned how to use all of these UIs so long ago that I've forgotten how long it took me to learn them in the first place.

Friday, March 28, 2003

There is a big difference between gui->gui and gui->cl or viceversa.

A so called 'poweruser' won't have a lot of hurdles switching from Win to OS 9 or KDE.
The average user who uses almost 3-6 different programs will stumble when he didn't find the shortcuts on the desktop and will feel uncomfortable(I couldn't convince my girl-friend to switch to OSX....)

The cli guy will problably switch more easily because the concept of a gui control is more intuitive(usually the cli user is also more experienced with computers).
He won't feel comfortable but he will get along.
An average user and even a gui-poweruser will shutdown the computer if he is left alone with a cli.

But claiming that this is a sign of dumbness is the sort of elite attitude which makes a lot of professionists feel good when the day is over.
Am I dumber then my car mechanist because I'm not repairing my car?? Or my electrician, or the pilot of the holiday plane??
Sure we are in a programmer meeting and therefore computer knowledge is a special value but you'll find the same discussion in almost any place where specialized people met.
Is this the reason why shoe-sellers in the USA are so looked down?
They haven't got any specialized knowledge.....
"What a dump folk, he even can't repair his sole.."
Oh, shit this is from the shoemaker forum...

Friday, March 28, 2003

It is the "Humpty Dumpty Syndrome"

"A word means exactly what I wish it to mean, no more, no less."

Humpty Dumpty --Lewis Caroll's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland"

In other words, though the interfaces look the same, they don't work the same.

Friday, March 28, 2003

No, people aren't dumb because they can't switch from a GUI to a CLI easily. They're dumb -- or petrified, or whatever -- because they can't read a manual which clearly tells one how to install an OS (e.g., Gentoo) via a CLI.  What's so hard about reading instructions and following them?  This is not like making a car -- when following directions, no special skills are needed.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Remember the point of a GUI.  It is to save memorization of commands.  However, GUIs tend to sprout idioms, which are like inside jokes.  These idioms must be memorized and muscle memory needs time to develop.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

I think this has gotten off-topic. I think the main thing is that people only using a GUI makes them petrified of doing something in a CLI, even if clear instructions are followed and it's easy to do (when following instructions).  As someone pointed out, this is very similar to people now-a-days not being able to do calculations with pen and paper (because they've been mentally crippled into stupidity by calculators), or not being able to write, because everything is typed out.

Why should people know the CLI?  Because it usually brings one closer to an understanding of what the computer does.  This empowers the user, which is a good thing.  The more users know about their computer, the more likely they are not to be surprised by certain behaviors, the more self-sufficient they are likely to be.  The same things that Windows users pay hundreds of dollars for useless stupid tech-support for, GNU/Linux users can fix themselves in a few seconds.

I do not think that the user should be so divorced from what is actually going on on his computer.  I know users who let 50 or so icons accumulate on their desktop, and who install applications that they have no idea where they are located, and don't know how to remove.  I also know some people who delete things and wonder why their hard-drive isn't getting any less full, because they don't empty the recycle-bin/trash-can.  Why do dialog boxes have ot say "do you want to delete this file?"  As most of us know, the information isn't actually deleted. It's still has simply been removed from the file-system, so that your OS no-longer knows it's there, thus it shows up as free-space.  This is very dangerous, as it gives users a false sense of security.  "Yes, that file with my credit-card account information on it is gone...I can sell this computer to someone else now".  No, it's not gone, it's hidden, and anyone can get it for free.  What these dialogs should say is something that indicates that the file isn't really gone, and give an option to write zeros over it.

My entire point is that GUIs like those in OS9/X and Win9x/NT/2k/XP dis-empower the user, divorcing him from all knowledge of what is really going on.  The result is that the user has a false sense of security, and often ends up confused as to why his computer is running so slowly when the desktop has a hundred icons on it, users not knowing where programs are installed, and so-on and so forth.  I've known Win9x and OS9/X users who rename program files, and then wonder why shortcuts (which they often think are the actual applications) don't work, and why the applications don't work right.  Some even think that deleting a shortcut from the start-menu or deskop actually deletes the program.

I was wrong earlier in calling this "stupidity".  It is not stupidity, it is simply ignorance.  They have not had to learn these things, because Windows/OS9/X does not require that one learn these things.  They are in total oblivion as to what is really going on behind the scenes.  This is dangerous for other reasons, because it allows spyware programs, cookies, and other dubious programs to take advantage of them.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

It's very hard to use a command line while eating a sandwich - wheras mouses only need one hand. Therefore, GUIs are better.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

On and on again.
"Because it usually brings one closer to an understanding of what the computer does"
Why? Because you use a dozens of specialized programs and combines them to work more efficiently?
It's not closer to the computer, it's only perhaps more powerful..
The use of a computer is a much more difficult thing than most of everyday tools.
A good example:
" I also know some people who delete things and wonder why their hard-drive isn't getting any less full, because they don't empty the recycle-bin/trash-can"

You have to know this.
Imagine using a coffee machine.
The machine shows that the coffee is ready but that's not true because you have to memorize that you have to push a button on the left side of the machine.

So in my opinion the average user shouldn't be forced to memorize 200 things to work with a computer.
Ideal would be an "easy" (not dumb) interface which prevents destroying a lot and a more refined state in a quick way.

Kde and others until now doesn't support this idea.
You have got 7 mail programs(2 cli and 5 gui...) and so on.

I think that the OS that goes nearest to this is OSX.
Easy on the surface and powerful under the hood.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

It's a storage issue.  Your brain can only store so much "immediate access knowledge".  When you work with Unix, you clear away everything except for Unixy stuff... vice-versa for windows.

To add new knowledge, you have to do some swapping to create space.

The same with the girl-and-storage space example.  Except she cleared away some some knowledge that ought to be kept in "immediate access".  Maybe there are some other things that she considered more important.

Everyone has a brain.  Smartness and dumbness is just a matter of opinion.  You can be smart in one thing and absolutely dumb in another.

Hoang Do
Saturday, March 29, 2003

I agree that the average user shouldn't have to memorize 200 things for day-to-day work.  However, I don't see how this applies to GNU/Linux, as the average user doesn't have to memorize 200 things for day-to-day work.  There are many useful programs (like LyX), which allow the user to get things done without knowing very much at all.

Having many choices for which program to fulfill which need is not a bad thing.  That's a bunch of FUD (it has to be the one true way).  Having only one program for typical tasks results in programs which are vastly unsuited to the user's needs:  either the programs are too simplistic for the user's needs, or they're be-all-do-alls, which confuse the user with various features which (s)he doesn't need or want.  This is why choice among different programs to do the same thing is good.

Different users are different.  For users who insist on having absolute control over formatting (even though they are not by any menas professional formatters), LyX may not be the choice for them.  For users who simply want to create professional documents with little manual effort, the various Office word-processing programs (OpenOffice, StarOffice, Word, Siag Office, etc) are not ideal.

There are many GNU/Linux distributions that set things up to be easy defaults from the start; there are also many WMs (such as WindowMaker, hopefully to be replaced with InterfaceWM) that also make things easy on the outside.  Btw, there are few desktop / windowmanager / filemanager combinations now that do not support drag & drop.

As for OSX, yes it does make things easy on the outside and it is powerful on the inside.  However, it is one of the bloatiest OS' I have ever seen, and is downright tacky.  The high-contract black & white interface of OS9 was much better; furthermore, OSX has destroyed some of the best features of OS9, such as the apple menu for program applications, the task-list icon, and pop-up folders.

OSX (and OS9) also has these kind of problems with users being dis-empowered.  Someone I know renamed OSX's 'System' folder to 'System (OS 10)'.  Not knowing that this was done, I tried rebooting into OSX...kernel panic.  It seems to me that UI's like those of Win9x and OS9/X are designed to dis-empower the user, divorcing him or her from all knowledge of what is actually going on.  The results are catastrophic.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

It seems to become a discussion from face to face instead of the usual random forum threads.
If I post a slight bunch of mistakes I apologize, because I've had some glas of red wine for dinner..  :-)
Not the best, but a satisfying beaujolais.

To your arguments:
" However, I don't see how this applies to GNU/Linux, as the average user doesn't have to memorize 200 things for day-to-day work."
Sure I meant 2000..
I think you are kidding.

I wouldn't consider myself an average user.
I've used - besides of the different Windows versions - OS9, OSX, BeOS, Amiga,  Suse, Mandrake, FreeBSD and Debian, but for doing basic stuff in Linux, like burning a cd, I usually have to look in the manpages.
In the end, I was so tired of the gui versions that I burnt the cds on the cli (with 5 or 6 parameters).
And I usually buy 2 Linux magazines per month.

So if you put an office guy or girl in front of this, he or she will escape and never return.
"Having many choices for which program to fulfill which need is not a bad thing"
"That's a bunch of FUD (it has to be the one true way).  Having only one program for typical tasks results in programs which are vastly unsuited to the user's needs"
The average user hasn't got the need of more power, but of more ease.
The perfect tool is the television remote control.
Usually you don't have to remember anything if you switch from one to the other..
It's not a power tool, but it fulfills 90% of the needs.

I think that is our main antagonism:
I'm trying - based on my experiences- to figure out what an untechnical user will accept and i think you don't..
The level of tolerance of this user is very low.
We are tecchies and think that our job, attitude, interest is the center of the general interest.
That's not.

I think you would advice Emacs to a user only because it's the most powerful tool..

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Perhaps my reply was to destructive? ;-)
So a propose to all the people who thinks that Linux could conquer the world.
With people I mean the average untechnical user!!

>>  People don't want to learn a lot of technical things("it should work out of the box")
>> People are impressed by looks and ease.
>> Price is an important matter.
>> People want to stay inside a group(perhaps the most imprtant factor)

So if this assumptions are right, what would I conclude if I would be a Linux Product Manager(e.g. Mandrake)??

I would improve the user interface:
>> Only one mail application(with a 'mail' link on the desktop)
>> only one internet connection link(with a link on the desktop)
If this link leads to Kmail or Opera is not important.
But it should be one link.

Nice looks + good speed(you can impress people with looks-> for example OSX)
If KDE could build a system like OSX with the debian package manager(hidden behind a gui application) and an acceptable speed(better than XP??) , it would be a great thing.

You impress usually people without explanations - but with fulffiling their needs.
For me as a tecchie it would be very satisfying. 

Saturday, March 29, 2003

My point is not that the most powerful tool is the best.  The most powerful tool is just that -- the most powerful.  To those who don't need or want the most powerful tool, it is not the best tool, but simply a tool with lots of extra features that they don't use, thus adding to bloat and confusing them.

The ideal tool for each user is the tool that includes enough features to accomodate his or her needs and wants, but no more.  In other words, the best tool varies from one user to the next.  For each user, the best tool is the tool which allows him or her to get his or her work/play/whatever done the fastest.  I myself use vim instead of emacs, because vim accomodates my needs fine.  Thus, it makes sense to roughly define one's target audience (novice, intermediate, advanced) and add features accordingly.  Because one cannot precisely profile one's target audience, that's where customizeability comes in.

The problem with trying to guess what the average user wants is that there is no such thing as the average user.  Every user is different, which is why having a variety of browsers/e-mail/etc programs targetted to users ranging from novice to power, and with customizeability, is a good thing.  This allows users to choose the program that's best suited to them.  Of course, most times they don't.  Most users just assume that the best program for them is either the one with the prettiest screenshots, or the one which has the most features listed.  Of course, this is a totally wrong-headed approach, and it's part of the reason why corporations do not necessarily aim to produce the best program:  they aim to produce the flashiest program with many features they can check off in a bullet-list.  Half of the time, the user doesn't even know what these features are, but just assume that they're good -- never-mind the fact that if you haven't heard of a certain feature, you probably don't need or want it.

Many of your suggestions (e.g., "one Internet link, one E-mail linked, titled that") are precisely what bothers me.  Firstly, it disempowers users, who end up thinking that the program is called "internet".  It should at least say "Internet (Opera)" so that the user knows what program it is.  Furthermore, users should have the choice as to what browser they use.  If a user doesn't need to use Java or Javascript, and doesn't want flash (who does?), (s)he doesn't need Kbrowser or Opera...a simple browser like Dillo will do. 

Looks give people a good first impression, but that is all.  They are completely irrelevant to the important thing -- getting your work done faster.  The appearance of a program should be purely utilitarian.  Animations, glassy-appearances, transparency, etc etc, are all unnecessary crap which waste developer time and money.  It always amazes me how people waste their time reinventing the wheel for such finely tuned things as the back, forward, stop, home, and refresh icons on web-browsers.

As Joel has pointed out, often times making something good-looking is contrary to functionailty.  Functionality should be first and foremost, as this aids the user in getting jobs done faster. For example, most menu bars have menu-items that look no different from text you can't click on.  This is not good, as it does not indicate to the user that you should click on menu items.  Almost any program your in will have these type of menus.  On the other hand, the menus in std WindowMaker programs are much better, as they appear "clickable". Take a look at this screenshot:

This may not be the "prettiest" way to do things, but it is the most functional.

It all comes back to one thing.  In an absolute sense, the best program (for each user) is the program which allows him/her to get his/her task done the fastest.  Of course, businesses have a twisted sense of what the "best" program is, which is the program that allows them to make the most money; and making the most money off of a program doesn't always mean producing the best program in the absolute sense.

Saturday, March 29, 2003

Wow, interesting thread, if not long...  Anyhow, I certainly prefer the command line - but so far, haven't been able to quantify that it is best.

Anyhow, what caught my eye was the notion that "sit a Unix guy at a WinX console and watch him melt".


I just switched DSL providers today, and had to run the "install" program.  Verizon couldn't just say: 

IP addrress: obtained by DHCP
DNS server address: obrained by DHCP

No, we had to run an install program - as ususal.  My gut reaction is always a forboding "oh no, what is this going to do to me now?"  Don't tell me that only Unix people fear this.  It is universal.

The trade is not, GUI versus CLI  - that is merely a symptom.  The true measure is control.  What are they going to do to me now?  That should always be filled with fear and trepidation.  Especially, after the install program shoves the dialogue in your face:

"Restart your computer?"  [OK]

I think they should change the dialogue to:

"Is it Safe?"  [Yes] [No]


Dustin Hoffman, Marathon Man
(one of my favorite movies of all time)

Nat Ersoz
Saturday, March 29, 2003

That looks aren't important is a typical developer statement(!!generalization!!).
Especially in Open Source it seems to me that looks are underestimated.
There is no culture of nicer, then better.
The culture is more: look fer the technical best solution and expect the user to adjust.
I don't know any business that's working that way.
Who would buy a Porsche or Mercedes if the cars wouldn't look great.
And the reason why the software industry can sell ugly software is that the the other software companies do the same.

If you enter OSX(I don't want to evangelize but I don't remember a lot of X86 programs looking good), you are confrontated with a lot of nice porgrams.

In mac usegroups often the reason why a program is deprecated, are the looks.
Surely you'll say, stupid designers, but that is short-sightened(rigth word?):
If a program is designed nicely, often the interface is easier to use.Why?
Because the author is forced to overthink a lot the inteface(little space)
Almost every shareware program in the PC World, shows you all his options at start.
Because the author thinks a user would buy more eagerly if the program pays a lot of funtionality back.

Sunday, March 30, 2003

"Every user is different, which is why having a variety of browsers/e-mail/etc programs targetted to users ranging from novice to power, and with customizeability, is a good thing.  This allows users to choose the program that's best suited to them."

The problem with this is that, almost by definition, a true novice is not *capable* of choosing the program that best serves their needs.  They simply don't have the knowledge required to make that judgement, and very well might not even know that a choice needs to be made.  Thus presenting them with 5 options which they know nothing about simply results in frustration.  Pick a domain that you know very little about (cars, manufacturing techniques, whatever).  Now imagine that, even though it has nothing to do with the work you are trying to get done, you have to make a significant choice about this domain before you can start your work.

I'm not saying that we shouldn't have options.  But I think you are too readily dismissing the idea that for novice users choice is bad.  This doesn't have to disempower users.  There can still be choices available, they just don't have to be readily available to novice users.  Power users will always figure out how to make their software do what they want.  Take the windows example.  Many powerful cli capabilities are available in Windows via command scripting.  These capabilities are available to power users, but novice users don't even have to know they exist.

CLI doesn't bring people closer to an understanding of what the computer does, that is nonsense.  A computer is in no way related to CLI, that is just one way of interacting with it.  The whole point of an interface, CLI or GUI, is to abstract the user away from what the computer is actually doing, since that is mostly irrelevant.

You mention the recycling bin and how it is bad for users.  Yes, it is probably not the best idiom, and it does require some outside knowledge in order to use.  However, permanant deletion with no chance of recovery is no better.  The reason users are scared when presented with computers is because experience has told them that one mistake can have disasterous consequences for the computer's operation.  They don't have the domain knowledge that power users like us have, that we can just sit down with a new interface and play with it because we have enough knowledge that we think we can avoid doing damage to the system.  It doesn't help that error messages are typically phrased to indicate that the user did something wrong, when most of the time that isn't the case.

Basically, computers are tools.  Users should not be required to learn large amounts of knowledge about how the computer works in order to use it on a basic level.

Mike McNertney
Monday, March 31, 2003

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