Users Want Their Computers to “Just Work”

This weekend, one of my facebook friends posted this all-too-common tale of computer woe:

“So much for my new computer…I woke up this morning to find out my new computer was already broken. So after having the computer for less then 12 hours it wouldn’t even work. Thanks to the Geek Squad I now have a brand new computer tower that is finally up and running! Now I have no time to play on the computer because I have to go to work:(“

Being only partially awake and a little grouchy, I posted this admittedly not-very-helpful comment:


A few minutes later, I was notified by E-mail that someone had responded:

“She didn’t say apple or pc. Pc’s easy to work on and half price of apple. The only good deal is the Apple Ipod touch which I am typing on. Easy choice for the money is PC .”

I just smiled to myself. I will admit I am making some assumptions here based on what little I know of this person from briefly viewing his profile, but I think I have a pretty good guess of his “type.” This person is likely a computer hobbyist who enjoys providing technical support to his friends and family. Since he is only comfortable in the PC and the Microsoft Windows world, he probably recommends people stay within his technical comfort zone so he can help them out and feed his hero complex.

What really got my attention was the phrase: “Pc’s easy to work on and half price of apple.”

First, PCs in many cases can be had for even less than half the price of Apple computers, but I will come back to that little nit-picky point in a later post. Let’s talk about “PC’s easy to work on.” I’m assuming that this “type” of guy is saying “PCs are easy to maintain, repair and upgrade,” rather than “PCs are easy to get work done on.”

Assuming he means the former, my response is: “So what if the PC is [arguably] easier for technical people to work on? The user does not care about how easy it is for the technician to work on a system. The user wants the system to ‘just work.’ Ask a Mac user, especially one who has recently switched from the PC, why they like their Mac and the answer will often be: ‘It just works!’ In the end, that’s really all most users care about.”

So often, those of us with a technical focus forget that that the computer is there to help the users get their work done, not for us to practice our craft and show off our technical acumen. If a computer system “just works,” and makes for happier, more productive users, we should celebrate and advocate, rather than disparage and reject that system.

I should point out that when I went to reply to his comment on facebook, he had deleted it.

Next post (who knows when that will be): “Are PCs REALLY cheaper?”

The Case for Working With Your Hands

This article by Mathew B. Crawford in the NY Times Magazine stuck a note with me as Dad and I have been discussing the subject of “College For All” lately.

The Case for Working With Your Hands –

It’s a great (and long) read, and oh-so-true. Simply put:  Skilled, hands-on-trades should have just as much value in our society as those that require “college learnin’.”

I remember when I first got down to the farm here after leaving the big corporate job.  I enjoyed mowing 30+ acres of grass, a job that took almost two weeks with the equipment we had available.  In some cases, it almost seemed when the job was finished, it was time to start again.

Someone asked me why I liked such a mundane task.

I responded, “At the end of the day, I can look behind me at all the mowed grass and be satisfied at the sight of a job I completed.  I know ‘I did that.’  No manager is going to come along and invalidate the work.  It’s done, and it’s mine.  No one can take it from me.”