Can you talk about Office documents without mentioning file types and compatibility? Can you advise someone about the best practices without including terms like defrag, anti-virus or firewall? Can you install a piece of software without worrying about updates, patches and version numbers? Can you even just buy a computer without worrying about the processor, the hard disk or the memory? Do you think the average Joe out there really understands the meaning of 512MB RAM?
The common man never wants to stress on the software as a software, it is usually a means to something. The ones that do are the geeks, or Lifehacker readers. These are the people who want to do more with it, and are ready to go inside and learn more about it. Not my Mom and Dad! They care a damn about Yahoo! Messenger or Jabber or Skype itself, all they want to do is chat with their daughter. And it is not easy for them when things do not work, whether it is the broadband, the hardware or the software. They have to know too many things to do this. They have to know a lot of jargon, understand lot of workings to find out how to do something. Even shutting down a computer is not without its complexity. They have to understand and then decide whether they want to suspend, hibernate or really shutdown! Imagine if I wanted to shutdown my computer and I had to sit and first understand what all those terms meant.
I find this is the problem – we, in software world, have introduced a lot of problems and a lot of terms to address them. No doubt software works as a solution, however, not without a steep learning curve. I have found that this repels the users, they simply shutoff. And I think this is the reason why a user might not take effort to switch from Firefox instead of IE. Not only a different browser, a lot of corporates are wary of switching to newer versions of the same product. First of all there are all those reasons, which are far from just English, and then there are extra steps to unlearn something and learn something new. This actually asks the user to focus on the software itself, which is obtrusive.
And when someone decides to switch to alternatives the industry poses a lot of hurdles. Whether it is about support, licensing and compatibility. Answers to questions like will my iPod work with Linux are always ambiguous.
The software world is too fragmented by technology and vendors for the common man to get a unified experience. Internet is a very good attempt towards a solution which is inclusive of all technologies, it has been crippled by every vendor’s whims and fancies. Even though computer is being used for daily tasks, its usage is still deeply rooted into the underlying components and mechanics. It is time we acknowledge this fact and instead of hiding the complexity, address it. If we cannot provide an unobtrusive experience to the user, let us try to address it through better software, better documentation or better help. I believe we are working towards it through standards and cross platform software but still not acceptable. Let us accept it is not very easy to use a computer and train rather than shy away from it. Or else we will have users who will harm themselves more than benefit from the computer.