The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Fear factor

I fear for all of us computer users. Even Apple users. But mostly those with Microsoft based systems. Which, incidentally, is still 95% of us, I think.

I fear the future of computing.

"Why?", you ask. And I say "Because they won't leave things alone."

Yes, I understand there's new technology and a lot of competition and companies cannot sit still or be conservative or their competition will destroy them. But there comes a point where change seems to be for the sake of change and not to take advantage of advances in technology.

I'm a little weird. I think need should drive change. But it seems the cart is pushing the horse these days. Someone invents a new technology and, therefore, we must take advantage of it. Scrap that  notebook you bought last year, dump that phone, get the newest model; the one with all those new bells and whistles. You know, the one you can have a conversation with so you don't actually have to call your friends. It can be your friend.

Ooma (a VoIP equipment supplier) even runs a series of ads implying an intimate relationship between a buyer and his phone service through Ooma. Yeah, I get that it's just an advertising trick, an attention getter, a way to get you to think about the product.

And what do we do with this new technology? Pretty much what we did with the old technology. We make phone calls on those smart phones or we text each other. But we've been able to do that for years now. My cable company is offering phone calls (video calls, actually) through your TV.  Now, they have been promising video calling for most of my life. Now we can actually do it. Well, it's no surprise to me... we have been able to do it for some time. Think Skype. Think CUCME. Think video conferencing... which has been available for decades.

Ah, you say, but now we can sit in the living room with that big flat screen TV and do it. You mean you couldn't do it with your laptop (connected to the wireless router) connected to that TV before? Of course you could.

Why am I on this rant? Because I was minding my own business when I got an update email from ZDNet about this:

Final thoughts on Windows 8: A design disaster

And in the article was this:
But despite being rock-solid, snappy and responsive, as a platform to do work on Windows 8 feel utterly unusable, and that’s down to one thing — the “Metro UI” user interface.

Thereafter runs a screed on why the interface is a problem; how it gets in the way, how it's not user friendly, how it is counter-intuitive and impedes productivity and efficiency.

The article never really asks the question that, to me, is obvious: Why do we need a new user interface? What was wrong with the old one? Was it all of the things the new one is? No. Is it difficult to master? No. So, says Microsoft... "Let's change it." Forget that it will impede the learning curve and obscure the useful improvements... we can change it so we will.

Back in the late 50's someone came up with the concept called "planned obsolescence." The problem was that not enough people were buying new cars each year. So the auto-makers came up with new gimmicks and the advertisers hyped them as "gotta have" items so the public would buy a new car when the old one was just fine. It's more complex than that and yet simpler at the same time.

And it is still being done today. When you consider purchasing a new car today, are you being lured by the greatly improved handling and/or economy? No, you are being told about the great sound system and how it interfaces smoothly with your smart phone. But what you learn is that that smooth interfacing is only available with the "premium" package. A package that has a lot you do not want or need. Doodads and gimmicks that you won't use or don't even want. All tied together in a costly option package that adds 10%-20% to the cost of the car.

Oh, you can buy the car without that package but they won't have one on the lot so you'll have to wait weeks for delivery and, if they do, you will find it cheap looking and tawdry. And the salesperson will make you feel cheap and tawdry for wanting it. the demo you drive will have every option possible. And the salesperson will tout the options as "essential."

You aren't buying a car, you are buying a lifestyle, an image. You aren't buying a computer, you are buying a personality to fit with your friends. You aren't buying a phone, you're buying a personal assistant.

I'm just not buying.


Steven Scott said...

Windows 8 is following OSX Lion's lead of attempting to unify tablet/phone computing and desktop computing. The devices are getting blurred, and more and more tasks are being done on tablets, more and more applications are being written for a touch interface, so they're preparing for the death of the legacy computer.

OSX Mountain Lion was announced yesterday that is attempting to even further blur the lines between iOS and OSX, with an emphasis on all your data being pushed to all your devices at all times. Apple's trying to lock you into their monoculture, Microsoft is hoping Windows 8 with Metro will push people to Windows 8 phone/tablet, and I'll be happily having the same cohesiveness on my android phones and tablets with Chrome as the desktop unifier.

Douglas4517 said...

 You are young (and smart) and can easily adapt to new user interfaces. I am old (and not so smart) and would like to see small changes in user interfaces. You can improve operating systems and blend them without changing the user interface very much. At least, I think you can. You can add to that interfacing.  You can add touch capability, for instance, without taking away the old mouse interface but consider that most people do not have touch screens and won't be running out to buy them. Most laptops are non-touch, most desktops are non-touch, and aren't going to be changing soon. Touch capability will be there but unused for several years by the vast majority of computer owners. No need to push them to it... unless the goal is to create a market. Which is what I think is happening.

Steven Scott said...

Yeah, I'm actually not really sure why Microsoft is unifying interfaces, I just know that they are. Apple with OSX is pushing users to touchpad gestures that are similar to touchscreen device gestures.

I'm guessing Microsoft is betting on tablets and/or hybrids.

Also, Windows 8 will provide the "classic" interface alongside Metro.

Douglas4517 said...

 As I mentioned. The idea is to "push the market" rather than "adapt to the market", if you know what I mean. People are buying tablets and are not buying desktops (not sure if laptop sales are up, down, or stagnant) so computer makers (and OS developers) are giving the market a little nudge toward new hardware, hardware that is deemed likely to be popular. In the process, they will make the old interface more difficult to use (or obscure it) in order to "create" a bigger market. In the long run, it is a good thing because the economies of scale will cause prices for touch screens to shrink. But using a touch screen on a desktop is awkward at best.