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User-friendliness (was Re: [tlug] !!!OT!!! raw cd copy)

On Tue, Mar 26, 2002 at 04:50:11PM +0900, Jonathan Byrne wrote:

> We also need to get a better handle on the term "user-friendly."

Indeed. As far as I can tell, "user-friendly" has always been a 
marketing term, as opposed to, say, "ease of use" or "ease of learning,"
which, if you juxtapose the two, point to some interesting and important
differences between WinMac and LinNIX.

This simplistic idea of "user-friendly" is one of several noxious
illusions that the (mainly Redmond-based) hypesters have foisted on
an unwitting public. A couple of others are:

  * that there need be no distinction between toolboxes and toyboxes
    -- "Windows everywhere" -- well, okay, MS does promote Win2k and
    its descendants as "professional" OSes, and Win98/ME/XP for home
    users (or is XP supposed to be the new "pro" system? See, I don't
    even pay much attention to that stuff anymore), but the two 
    product lines are really far less distinct than the archetypal
    Man from Mars would expect.

  * that software can and should enable people to do professional work 
    without professional skills (witness MS Office in general, Power-
    Point in particular).

And I'm afraid that too many Linux developers have uncritically accepted
these illusions. Maybe, now that the 90s are over and people have 
figured out they're not going to become instant millionaires investing
in Linux companies, it's time to reassess Linux's place in the world.

Rather than trying to create a "better Windows than Windows", those
of us who want to be useful to the world at large should be (and of
course, many already are) promoting Linux as a real alternative --
which means first of all accepting that it will never appeal to, or
be useful for, all computer users. This is not to suggest we should
be elitists and say "RTFM" in a hostile tone to anyone who dares
to ask questions. But IMO it would be a Good Thang [tm] if the Linux
community spent less energy trying to look and feel like those other
OSes, and more trying to improve and promote our OS based on its real
strengths (the great command line being one of them).

I could go on with this for hours, but my ideas aren't yet well-formed
enough to be worth reading for hours. But let me just toss out one
thought that I think could help shape Linux as a meaningful alternative.

I've noticed that when faced with an unfamiliar type of interface
-- such as Debian's text-mode installer -- or unexpected response
from a familiar interface -- such as Windows error messages --
many people start to panic. Now, discomfort, confusion, or irritation
would all be understandable reactions, but why panic? Is there something
a good interface can do to avoid inspiring panic? Or something that
we can do through documentation or training to help people respond
more rationally?
I think Microsoft actually knows and cares about issues such as the
above. But I also believe they are too tied to their misguided vision
of the perfect UI, and too dominated by marketing concerns, to 
execute effective solutions.

Matt Gushee
Englewood, Colorado, USA

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