Software Is Still Too Geeky

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.

Discussion [Participate or Link]

  1. witnwisdumb said:

    Can you talk about television without mentioning channels? Can you advise someone about the best clarity without including terms like hue, sharpness, brightness or contrast? Can you even just buy a television without worrying about the screen-size, the resolution, the tuner type, the sound modes or the reception system? Do you think the average Joe out there really understands the meaning of CRT/DLP/LCD/PDP?

    For a person who’s not familiar with a television set, using it and making choices about it would surely involve a steep learning curve. I get the point you are trying to make, but anything new always involves some learning. Most people are so averse to applying just a little thought or even reading the simple tips/instructions that accompanies an appliance (and I’m not talking about bulky manuals here).

  2. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    witnwisdumb, I agree with you that details are there in everything that we use. But when I buy a TV I hardly worry about what channels I will be able to view, or whether I will have to go through 3 options to shut it down. However, after I buy a PC, I end up worrying about installing more software, for whatever reasons. Again, as I said, there will be those who will find out more information and take care they know all the details about it. But I really can use my TV without having the need to understand the plasma, HD or just plain old CRT TV.

    The problem is amplified in the case of a computer because we use it for everything, from daily communication to office work to playing games and even watching TV. It has started to become more critical, and along with it the internals.

  3. PK said:

    Forget about your parents,even people with post grad. in science find it difficult to work on computers.Unless you have studied computer science as a subject in school/college you simply don’t know how to negotiate softwares.Doctors,Lawyers and other professionals don’t like to use computers and those who do, use it for simple tasks. I did not start blogging for a long time as i didn’t understand technical part of blogging.Even today i find it difficult to upload photos and video clips.I guess, we will have to live with that .—PK

  4. PiRX said:

    TV is used for just one thing. Same for typewriter. Same for … If you use software for one thing only (for example watching videos) you only need to now couple of things. Problem lays in fact, that almost no one uses computer for only one thing. So if you use computer for, say, 10 things, it’s normal, that you have to know 10 times more than to operate device that does one thing (TV for previous examples).

    Sorry for my english as it isn’t my native language.

  5. Abhijit Nadgouda said:

    PiRX, I agree with you that a computer is used for many tasks. However this should not mean that the user has to learn a lot. Mind you, this learning might not be directly related to the task at hand, it will be more about the software and computer. In certain cases this distracts the user and can in fact pull down the productivity.

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Abhijit Nadgouda
iface Consulting
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