Computers – Not Exactly Like Vaccum Cleaners

A Hard DiskSometimes I wonder why people new to computing get so confused. Why they have this huge expectation that computers should just work. And for this, I blame Microsoft.

There are lots of reasons some technical people dislike Microsoft and it’s not for me to discuss that.

I don’t mean to address the arguments about Microsoft being an evil empire and Open Source being the answer to everything.

I mean the day Microsoft introduced the idea of the My Documents folder (My Pictures and others) in Windows 95, and more recently, the concept of the just plain old Documents and Pictures folder in Vista.

Doing this has just added to the mystery of the C:\ drive, a place already pretty shrouded in folklore for the average new computer user. And why euphanise something like a disk drive and try to make it sound like a filing cabinet? Folders? Whatever.

Folders are a STUPID analogy as, in an office, you rarely place a folder inside another folder, and then place those inside another. This means people miss the point of a good directory structure altogether.

You try telling a new user to find something on the C:\ drive. They can’t navigate their way around the disk because Microsoft tried to make it too easy. This dummy approach to computing means people are allowed to get away with not having the faintest idea where things are. Software now makes a guess at where you want to put a file (sorry a document). A user doesn’t have to even make an attempt at thinking, not until that is an hour later when they can’t find the damn thing.

Some users never really get onto using a computer properly as they spend most of their time wondering where on earth stuff is. Then of course they blame the computer as in, “Stupid computer lost my document”. I sometimes wonder how some users can be so arrogant about something they know so little about.

And that’s just the disk. There are those just just don’t get what software is for either. They don’t get that software is designed to do a specific job or a number of very closely related jobs. That’s Microsoft’s fault as well. It started when they thought that letting MS Word generate web pages would be a good idea. There are now people who think that Word can also make a nice hot cup of tea. Word can generate web pages but there are better tools for the job.

When you think about the complexity that lies behind an average computer, the layers upon layers of meaning, the encoding, millions of person-hours of work that have gone into it, it’s a wonder they work at all.