You see, there’s a difference there, because those people know what to ask and exactly for what reason. I was talking about regular users to have just been exposed to Haiku or even computers. In my experience, it’s not easy to find people who are fluent in using computers without stumbling on what we consider normal things. And I find this normal, even with the younger generations, who are users and definitely more advanced than our elders, but they are rather consumers of what their technology has to offer. It takes a little passion, courage and persistence to get more involved, and at the speed everything moves around us, it also takes plenty of motivation.
An interesting challenge were two kids I had to teach computing stuff 19 years ago. They were 6 and 7 years old. The girl (6) barely recognized a few words, and the boy (7) had already started school but he needed time to read and glue the words together to process the whole sentences. So I had to be creative in teaching them how to use Norton Commander and Windows 3.11 - that’s what we had to work with. Thankfully, being patient and with just enough imagination, I managed to move forward with them. They gained a little bit of confidence, they reacted positively to the way I talked to them, and about 4-5 sessions later the girl’s mom noticed her improvement and ask me to make time to give her a few lessons as well.
Starting off with people who never or barely used PCs can be challenging. They have a ton of questions, they fear breaking stuff, and they constantly need help and confirmation that they do the right thing. Well, at least for a while. And then there are people who are already accustomed with PCs. Two other of my students, 25-30 years old, wanted to learn more about Microsoft Office, for work. She wanted to know more about text formatting, editing and working more efficiently with the keyboard (shortcuts), he wanted to learn about formulas, page layouts for printing and working with multiple sheets. Teaching them was different because they knew what they needed, so they knew almost exactly what to ask. Compared to teaching the kids, this was much easier.
Then I had two other students, both 60+. One of them was an airplane pilot in the second world war, so no wonder the technical stuff appealed to him. He wanted to build a home network but he couldn’t find the right information online. This was about 17 years ago, in the early days of the internet. I drew him a picture of the whole thing, in Paint :P, I told him how to wire the cables if he couldn’t find the required length in store, then how to set up the IP addresses. He managed to do it without bugging me much, and later we went over other hardware+software stuff he wanted to know or clarify. It was a breeze working with that man.
On the other hand, the other 60+ man I taught computing had an angst in front of the PC. For one thing, he felt uncomfortable because he barely knew anything. And then he didn’t like that the UIs (Windows 98, then XP) weren’t comfortable enough - at least for him. He hesitated doing stuff because it felt to him like he might damage something by mistake. So it took me quite a few weeks to explain and demonstrate the basics, to make him “repeat after me” (terms, actions), and dive into making files, folders, copy, rename, delete, move, browse and search the web, install/uninstall software, burn CD/DVDs, print covers and documents, scan, do OCR, work with MS Word and other stuff. But the thing is he didn’t have a passion for computers. He always treated it as a tool and as soon as he learned what he wanted to know to get things done, he was happy with it and he didn’t care about anything else. Every single time he had issues after updates or something changed his desktop or the default search engine, or… anything else significant, he called me and sometimes I had to go over and put things in order, as he was comfortable with. Otherwise he felt out of place.
At work, back when I did tech support in a 3000+ employees company, I had a colleague calling me to fix her computer. She gave me no details, other than “it doesn’t work” - she said it was urgent and hung up the phone. Although the Caps Lock was lit up like the mother of all LEDs, she didn’t correlate that with the fact that she put a big-ass folder on the keyboard, which caused her system (BIOS) password not to be accepted. I removed the folder, I turned off the Caps Lock and I told her I fixed the problem. I have plenty of colorful stories from this company, but this one was… a bit special.
It is irrelevant how optimistic we are about the users. Either you’re there for them, or they will fail miserably and go for something that’s easy enough for them - if they can find such a thing -, or just quit. And in rare cases - at least in my experience - you’re lucky enough to work with people who don’t need much hand holding. But to most people that I had to teach, to assist or “clean up” after, it was important for everything PC-related to be as easy and friendly as possible. Heck, even my sister, who knows a lot compared to the average Joe (and she also has me to ask, for free), still has angst about various tasks on her PCs, and easily gets annoyed when things are not intuitive enough. Because she also treats the PC as a tool.
There’s more than just experience. That’s why it’s always a good idea to be there for the users, one way or another. The UX is very important, and some things are not that hard to accomplish in an OS. Sometimes I found the users’ inability to do basic things quite disheartening. Every now and then it felt like there’s nothing I could do to help them, because they lack even the slightest interest in exploring the OS and the apps. But what can you do? Even our logic and wit take breaks sometimes, so what can we expect from people who don’t even like computers? They need them, and they need someone to help when they get stuck. But the more intuitive the software is, the more self-reliant they can become.
That’s why not having things like categories or requiring manual organization of this and that, I know for sure it’s a bad idea for many users. Even I like being pampered by all the features Cinnamon offers under Linux Mint. I get stuff done faster and easier. It’s beside the point that at my first contact with a PC I wrote some BASIC code instead of playing, or that soon after that I did memory optimizations for MS-DOS PCs with menus in the config.sys and autoexec.bat files for those pesky programs that wanted more conventional memory. I still want and enjoy not having to do everything by hand. Because that allows me to do more with my PC, or to learn something else new, or move away from my PC sooner rather than later. Convenient and intuitive technology is great for both newbies and geeks alike. But the ones who need it the most are obviously the masses. And I hope you trust me when I tell you that it’s a big majority. I will never be able to provide accurate numbers. Nobody can do that, realistically, but just ask other people who worked for years in the tech support business and they will tell you horror, or sad stories.
By “first boot” I meant one time after the OS install. But there’s no excuse not to have a shortcut on the desktop even in the nightlies. The new comers won’t even know that WebPositive will lead them to the documentation, so this only adds to the problem of not having anything documentation-related in sight.
Man, this got long…