Sunday, September 24, 2006

TidBITS: The More Things Change...:

Since I first started using computers - a 4K Commodore PET at the age of 11, followed by an Apple IIc and an early VAX running a Version 7 Unix - I've lamented that the technology wasn't ready for prime time. The main reason I got into technical writing - then software testing, then development, consulting, editing, TidBITS, and Internet-based projects - was because it wasn't simple enough to make computers do what I wanted. Instead, I found myself fiddling, fixing, explaining, programming, enabling, and helping other people. I believed in the potential of information technology and felt I could make a positive contribution by helping other people tap into it: the glitches and problems and stumbling blocks were just bumps in the road - growing pains, right? But when my mother retypes a document because she can't find the original, a TidBITS Talk thread deteriorates into a discussion of command line switches, I utterly destroy a brand-new Mac mini by clicking its Printer Sharing checkbox, a live music recording is ruined by an invisible background process, or a disabled friend feels she has no choice but to buy a new printer because her old one suddenly stopped working... I just want to scream. It's the twenty-first century: why are we still mired in this stuff?

I've long said that we'll know computers have arrived when there's no need for people like me. The fact so many everyday people have to turn to interpreters, consultants, experts, classes, training, and technophiles to use their computers and put them to work, to me, represents a fundamental failure of the industry. It seems people like me will be needed for a long, long time. Many years ago, Microsoft held a press event to announce a significant expansion of the company's technical support offerings; the late technology writer Cary Lu scored a zinger - and made a profound point - by politely asking if Microsoft anticipated its products would one day reach a level where users would require fewer support resources. Along the same lines, I remain flabbergasted Apple has installed Genius Bars in its retail stores. To me, Genius Bars don't say "Apple's your friend and is here to help!" but instead, "Everyone knows Apple makes the easiest-to-use computers, but only a genius can figure them out."

3:11 AM