Why the computer can't be as simple as a TV

The problem with the computer is that you not only expect them to do what they were programmed to do, but you expect to be able to modify its capability on the fly in the form of a warning less software installation without accepting the responsibility of that privilege. Now if you were constantly cracking open your TV set to make modifications to it on a weekly basis and connected it to the Internet to download 3rd party modifications, would you actually expect it to be just as simple and reliable as the TV you've come to know?

When I wrote "Is Vista getting a bum rap?" Paul Thurrott wrote this response in his blog.  While I'm not completely disagreeing with it, I feel the need to rebut some of what Thurrott says.

Outside of Microsoft, there is a closet industry of pundits whose job it is to protect their own little niches and, apparently, come up with something to write about each week. Some of these people write about security for a living. One such person is ZDNet's George Ou.

Ok Paul; I'll make you a deal that if you don't talk about my choice in career I won't talk about yours.  Obviously since we're both in roughly the same business, I find it ironic that you would raise the issue of my livelihood.

When I explained why the Firefox icon that Paul installed required administrative privileges to remove, Paul responds by saying:

LOL. Wow. What Ou fails to realize or disclose is that, to the average Windows user, the background reason why this happened is immaterial. Who the heck actually knows that their desktop may be comprised of shortcuts that exist both on their actual desktop and on a shared desktop? Seriously?

My position is that I'm defending Joe User. Ou's position, apparently, is that he's defending Microsoft. In his eyes, everyone should simply "know" about this shared desktop system (despite the fact that there is literally no indication that any given desktop icon is or is not shared) and be able to silently handle the implications of any action they choose to perform. Poppycock.

Ok Paul, the problem is that I'm talking about you because you should know better.  If you're going to make a big deal out of administrative privileges in removing a system-wide shared icon, I don't have a problem with you criticizing the implementation if you can offer a simpler and just-as-secure alternative and you explain to your users why it is happening.  Telling me that I'm wrong to try and educate the masses with a reasonable explanation is - to put it in your own words - "poppycock".

I'm sorry Paul, but the installation of Software and the modification of Software on a system-wide level is NOT a routine day-to-day task and SHOULD require explicit administrative authorization and must NOT be automated if you want the system to remain secure.  Even the modification of a desktop icon which seems innocent has significant security ramifications because what happens if a piece of Malware modifies a global icon such that it launches malicious software instead of what people think it's supposed to do?  Again if you want to come up with some suggestions to make that "explicit administrative authorization" process simpler without killing it, then by all means share it and I'll back you up 100% if it makes sense.  I have my own ideas which I share in a subsequent blog and you're welcome to comment on it.  But there is absolutely nothing wrong with providing factual context to the end-user because they must be aware of the reasons behind the changes.  There should be no shame in teaching and no shame in learning because we can't continue to dumb-down the computing process.

In response to my blog, jobert48 made some interesting comments in the spirit of what Paul Thurrott is characterizing as "Joe User".  This called for a fairly detailed response from me.

Jobert48 said:
I just want a functional computer that will do what I want, with the minimal aggravation, because it is just a tool, like a TV, or a phone or a band saw. I don't want to play 20 questions with my lawn mower, anymore than I want to with my computer. I just wish the computer geeks could grasp that concept.

Dear Jobert48, while I agree that a lot can be done to make computers easier to use, you the user ultimately has to be in charge of your own computer.  If you’re using your computer for day to day-to-day tasks, you will NEVER be asked any questions or presented with any pop-ups just like if you use your Lawn Mower or TV for day-to-day tasks.  The problem ONLY arises if you want to be able to crack open and MODIFY your lawn mower or TV to be able to do things they were never originally designed to do though you never expect your TV to be software upgradeable.  The problem with the computer is that you not only expect them to do what they were programmed to do, but you expect to be able to modify its capability on the fly in the form of a warning less software installation without accepting the responsibility of that privilege.  Now if you were constantly cracking open your TV set to make modifications to it on a weekly basis and connected it to the Internet to download 3rd party modifications, would you actually expect it to be just as simple and reliable as the TV you've come to know?

The problem is that the power to modify the computer with reckless abandon allows people and the Malware they unleash to mess up their computers.  When their computer breaks, they blame the computer or the "geeks who couldn't grasp that concept" when they were the ones who messed it up in the first place.  Windows Vista just puts in an extra safety mechanism called UAP designed to alert you when the system (not your routine day-to-day tasks) is being modified so that you can decide to allow it or not and not some hacker. Sure you can complain and turn that safety feature off, but you’re the only one that’s going to suffer if and when something nukes your computer.

In the olden days when seat-belts in cars first showed up, people hated them. Then when shoulder harnesses where introduced, people hated them even more. Then when the head harnesses were introduced to NASCAR, Dale Earnhardt refused to use them. When Mr. Earnhardt sadly passed away because he didn’t use the head harness, NASCAR immediately mandated head harnesses. When enough people died in automobile accidents, seat-belt laws were introduced and we’re all use to it and think it’s second nature. Why then would you think computers are any different?  UAP is that annoying seat-belt you've never had to wear in any previous version of Windows but if you really hate it that much, turn it off but don't blame anyone else if your computer is ever hosed.

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