TheCostOfTheLuxuryOfIgnorance

June 06, 2004
Mainly, this entry is to highlight Eric Raymond's Luxury of Ignorance post:
Aunt Tillie, at this point, is either resigning herself to another session of being tortured by the poor UI choices of well-meaning idiots or deciding to chuck this whole Linux thing and go back to the old Windows box. It blue-screened a lot, but at least it allowed her the luxury of ignorance - she didn't have to know, or care, about what a JetDirect or a CUPS might be.

...

The meta-problem here is that the configuration wizard does all the approved rituals (GUI with standardized clicky buttons, help popping up in a browser, etc. etc.) but doesn't have the central attribute these are supposed to achieve: discoverability. That is, the quality that every point in the interface has prompts and actions attached to it from which you can learn what to do next. Does your project have this quality?

... John Gruber's response ...
... it's funny that the guy who wrote [“the days when Linux was really more complex to administer than a Windows machine are long past us.”] couldn't connect to a shared printer.

...

It's easy to say, The open source community needs to do better, we need to create software [Aunt Tilly] can use. But they're so far away from this right now that even an expert like Eric Raymond can't figure out how to use their software.

The “I thought I was the only one” letters that Raymond found so interesting aren't coming from the A.T.-set; they're coming from Linux geeks who read essays written by Eric Raymond. And they're frustrated by open source software's terrible usability. The problem isn't just that dear old A.T. can't use desktop Linux - the problem is that even Linux geeks have trouble figuring it out.

... Don Box's response to both ...
Windows should be orders of magnitude easier to use (even though I do think it's considerably easier to use than many of the alternatives).

What is noteworthy to me is Raymond's use of the term “the luxury of ignorance.” This part really struck a chord with me, although not about UI design.

In general, we (that is the industry at large, not just my employer) need do a much better job at giving both admins and programmers the luxury of ignorance.

...

I recently realized the difference between the 1990's Don and the 2000's Don.

I spent most of the last decade honing my ability to absorb complexity and detail and translate that complexity into working programs.

I'm spending this decade trying to make that premise seem ridiculous, at least on the platform I can influence.

... and then my own observation. The luxury of ignorance is a nice idea. But given these recent posts about CompletenessAndMaturity and how ImmaturityIsInevitable, not to mention Don's confession that he's been working on maturity for more than a decade, we need to keep in mind the SoftwareAppreciation moral: this stuff is hard.

tags: ComputersAndTechnology SoftwareAppreciation
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