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What they're up to
Further back than I care to admit, Erick Andrews (email@example.com) wrote --
> Dan...Word? Is that like the oxymoron 'Microsoft Works'?
Good one! To be honest, I usually refer to the product by other names --
names that are quite out of keeping with the tone of this list....
> On the PC side, however, one of the more heinous things that Windoze95 did
> to newcomers is make it difficult and almost impossible for them to get to
> a DOS prompt. [After all, it is still DOS, right?]. "My Computer", "My
> Briefcase"... gimme a break! Is this a purposeful wedge that M$ is driving
> to prevent knowledgeable friends, family, and lovers from helping out?
What they are doing is building a wall, setting themselves up as the high
priests of the new technological age. The wedge is only a byproduct of that.
Microsoft seeks to play the kind of role the Church played in the Middle
Ages, adopting its own language, keeping people ignorant, and claiming
transcendental powers for itself. Once you get past "My Computer" and "My
Briefcase" and get into system settings, help text, and error messages, you
find a mass of mumbo-jumbo that even old hands often find difficult or
impossible to understand. And still they buy the line that the system is
I recently saw someone fired for failing to make sense of Word formatting
functions and W95 file operations. Another acquaintance says the same thing
would have happened to him if a computer professional hadn't helped him for
many months. How can anyone call such systems "intuitive"? In human beings,
not even the reproductive process is everything that the word "intuitive"
implies. Is driving a car something you do "intuitively"? Which is more
complicated, a car or a computer?
A DOS prompt doesn't help much once the newcomer has been imprinted with the
idea of a "desktop" above, and a "briefcase" on the same level with, hard
disks in the hierarchy of storage spaces. This is a gross misrepresentation
of the system, and one that seems designed to confuse people.
Unfortunately, even many old hands accept it, apparently just because it is
Microsoft. Forget about whether or not the company fits this or that
definition of an economic monopoly; Microsoft has had a *psychological*
monopoly for sixteen years as a result of IBM's initial endorsement and the
magical effect the name IBM has on people's minds, especially the business
mind. I can remember when I hesitated to use third-party utilities for MS/PC
DOS, thinking that something from Microsoft must be better because it's
their system and they must know it best. Imagine how the millions of people
who've seen little or no software but Microsoft's -- *** most of the people
who started using computers in the past ten years or more *** -- must think.
> Unless these 'newbies' to computing can get some rudimentary idea of "EDIT",
> even, they'll never be able to take simple control over their machine.
I personally would recommend an editor in which cursor movement is either
completely constrained to existing text or completely unconstrained, not
constrained in one direction and unconstrained in the other as in EDIT.
Preferably constrained -- this helps the novice understand that a file (our
word for which is coincidentally, but appropriately, derived from the Latin
_filum_, thread) is just a one-dimensional string of numeric codes. As for
the question of control over the machine, yes, yes, oh yes....
You and I know what infinite possibilities a command prompt opens up, even
in a relatively simple system such as MS/PC DOS, and we know that few people
ever need to learn more than a dozen system commands -- but the average
person has been conditioned to find a command prompt repulsive and to think
of it as something at once primitive and overly hard to learn. As one whose
talents and training are as far from computers as can be, I find this both
dangerous and tragic. If a computer is "just a tool" (I personally regard it
as a medium for cooperation) it is a tool controlled from two ends, the
user's and the developer's. We *must* understand and master this tool, or
some developer or other is sure to take control. A command prompt gives us
our best opportunity to understand and master it -- and I personally have
found understanding and mastering it, even to the relatively small degree of
which I am capable, one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
Note that I started using a computer by accident, and only much later got
dragged to a computer club meeting and became interested in the workings of
the machine; it's not like I had any great interest in computers from the
outset. Nor, on the other hand, did I ever have it in my head that I was
incapable of learning more about them, or that I should not need to. That
seems to be how most people think nowadays -- and little wonder....
But the first several versions of Windows were so poorly
designed that very few people wanted them, preferring even the
archaic DOS with its incredibly difficult keyboard commands.
That's Sun VP Michael H. Morris, writing in the July 24, 1994 San Francisco
Examiner (http://www.baker.com/unix-and-law/morris-oped.html) -- a Unix
vendor calling MS-DOS archaic and incredibly difficult! Sure, it could be
more advanced and easier to use -- a LOT more advanced and a LOT easier to
use -- but Mr. Morris ought to feel right at home in it, and he hardly needs
to call it archaic and difficult to make any of the points he makes in his
What gives? I don't know, but the way almost the entire industry is pushing
us into point and click is very, very disturbing. If GUIs were all that
great (and I think they can be, but they aren't now, not by a long shot),
we would hardly need to be coerced into using them. That we are being
coerced is plain to see.
Perhaps others have noticed that many people, given little pictures to poke
and prod, take their brains out of gear and lose their will to explore,
learn, and grow. This post is way too long already, so I'll just throw this
out for comment -- and ask people to think about what it might signify for
anyone formulating a global strategy....
> This, I think, is a clear 'social' example of how personal computing is
> less than state-of-the-art for first time buyers. What a waste. Even the
> computer "illiterate", what ever that means, deserve better.