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User-Friendly

May 6, 2008

In Robert Heinlein’s 1957 adventure novel, Citizen Of The Galaxy, the main character – a slave boy named Thorby – finds himself thrown into an empty cell on a spacecraft overnight.  The room appears featureless – just floor, walls, ceiling.  After searching for any kind of switch or shelf, he spends a miserable night curled up on the steel floor with the lights on.

The next day, he is taken under the wing of another boy who is amazed at his stupidity.  The other boy shows him how to operate the controls of the room, revealing hidden bed, table, light and temperature controls, a sink and a viewer full of stored media for information and entertainment.  The featureless cell turns out to be a very well-equipped cabin room.

Which leads to my definition of the term; “User-Friendly”; adj., meaning “That which is familiar to the user”.

I just spent an hour and a half figuring out how to install Flash on my son’s Linux laptop.  Admittedly I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but it just wasn’t obvious to me.  Turned out to be only something like five clicks using the Synaptic package manager – about the same as in Windows through the browser.  But intuitive, it was not.  There were even contraindications.  What the hell is “Flashplugin Nonfree”?  Turned out that’s what I needed.  Once I remembered that in Linux, you can’t install Flash in the browser like you can Windows.  You need something called a “package manager”.

But hey – it’s easy!  I suppose if I’d spent the last 13 years supporting Linux I’d think Windows was counterintuitive.

Categories: Design, Geeky
  1. May 6, 2008 at 02:03 | #1

    Good point!  What’s user friendly to us is most often merely what’s familiar to us.  I’ve noticed time and again how a simple program is daunting when I’m new to it—even if it’s easy to use once I’m familiar with it.

  2. May 6, 2008 at 10:16 | #2

    There’s really only one thing to know, okay well two, for installing software in Linux. 1) Synaptic Package Manager. I’d say you got that one down. 2) Google: “install [software name] ubuntu” or whatever version of Linux you’re using. I’ve never had a problem using either one of those.

    The beta 5 version of Firefox 3.0 solves the install software through the browser issues though. After installing 3.0, I went to a Flash site and it asked me to install with the popup, I did and all was well.

  3. May 6, 2008 at 10:22 | #3

    Yeah… Google!  I tried that, and found pages of inscrutable command-line sequences that did not work. I looked at the Synaptic package manager several times before figuring out which package to try, which were not mentioned in the links I saw from Google. 

    As I said, it all seems intuitive to those who are familiar with it.

  4. james old guy
    May 6, 2008 at 12:46 | #4

    I am playing with Open Office and I can’t seem to find the option to pivot table in the spreadsheet. While I can curse MS for bulking up Excel at least I can find what I want. Again I am familiar with it pro’s and cons.

  5. May 6, 2008 at 13:07 | #5

    I have found, over time, that Flash player is the most problematic consumer-oriented program around. Any time a minor adjustment is needed, I find I have to print out several pages of instructions, most of the time illiterate, and inveigle some consumer-savvy nerdlich to help me.

  6. May 6, 2008 at 13:13 | #6

    That’s a perfect example; MS calls them pivot tables, and OO calls them “Data pilots.  You’d think that OO help files would also index them under the MS name so people could search it out.  But they probably think the term “Data pilots” is intuitive.

    Macintosh computers are supposed to do that.  You click on the little magnifying glass icon in the upper-right – which for some reason is supposed to intuitively mean “Help” – and search for a MS term, and you get the corresponding Mac term.  Except, the times I tried it, it did not work.  It just said “No search result”. 

    Even DOS is ‘user-friendly’ if you happen to know how to use it.  And the gooiest “GUI” can be a time-waster if you don’t.

  7. RickU
    May 7, 2008 at 11:28 | #7

    Just a minor quibble DOF.  The person who shows Thorby the ropes of the room devices first is the anthropologist Margaret Mader.  Later one of the other senior boys takes Thorby under his wing to show him the ropes of Sisu’s society.

  8. RickU
    May 7, 2008 at 11:34 | #8

    Oh, and yes, sorry…I’m a giant Heinlein nerd.

  9. May 7, 2008 at 19:32 | #9

    Doh!  I forgot about her.  Guess it’s time to re-read.  And yes… you are!  (Glad to know it, next time someone rolls their eyes I’ll point to this post)

  10. May 11, 2008 at 16:50 | #10

    In Ubuntu, if you come across a site that needs Flash, it automatically finds the appropriate plugins to download and install. Worked like a charm for me.

  11. May 11, 2008 at 18:39 | #11

    Ubuntu is really doing a great job of making Linux as easy to use as Windows (and in some cases, easier).  Xubuntu is a bit more stripped down and less automated, but I have been charged by my boss with getting a better understanding of some of our servers, in case our network director is ever unavailable.  Hence my experimentation and the desire to expand my software knowledge envelope.

    And you know what?  Except for the loss of XnView, I’m really enjoying using Linux. For one thing, it’s much faster than Windows.

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