I was recently sorting something out on a clients computer that was running Vista. I know Windows and I knew what I wanted to do but I didn’t know where it was hidden on Vista. I got the job done in the end but it took far longer than it should have done even though I knew what I was doing.
This got me thinking about computers in general and the problems people have. No matter what level of experience they have, the user (usually) knows what they want to achieve but what they often lack is the ability to communicate that to the computer.
For my mind the next big step in computing is all about usability. It is about how we interface with the computer and get it to do what we want. Pointing and clicking on little tabs and buttons is so last century. While we’re not quite at the Star Trek talk to your computer stage we have the technology to do so much more with user interfaces than we actually do. As a result the average user is utilising a tiny percentage of their computers power and are unable to use some of its most useful features.
It is at this point that people usually start pointing towards education and say that we must teach users more about their computers and what they can do. However, I think that is the wrong approach. As I stated before users, more often than not, know what they would like to do but they just don’t know how to get the computer to actually do it. Before teaching users all about the fancy things their computer can do we need to be providing applications that can understand what the user wants. Computers are a tool, you don’t need a degree or to read a help page to use a hammer and computers shouldn’t be any different.