It Is Just Too Hard … NOT!

I saw my first glimpse of Windows 8 over six months ago at a local SharePoint Saturday event and shortly after that downloaded and installed the beta on my laptop to start getting familiar with it.  I cannot tell you that there were no challenges.  The first thing I noticed was that the original beta version would not work with my wireless.  However, that was a known issue.  I also had trouble finding where some features were located such as the Control Panel and basic screen settings.  Fortunately I knew from the demo that the Start button was gone and that you could easily get to the desktop by clicking the Desktop tile on the new interface or moving the cursor to the lower left corner to display a popup image of the desktop.  I later found that the keyboard Windows button also toggled me to and from the desktop that has become my method of choice since then.  My biggest frustration though was attempting to shut down the machine that first night.  Indeed, it took me an embarrassing around of time to find the power off option (without just flipping the power switch), but I did learn where other things were in the process.

Would I say that the process was too hard?  No more so than using any other new device.  I am sure we have all gone through the process of learning our way around our new smart phone.  Some of us may have even repeated this exercise a few times using Blackberries, IOS, and Android devices.  Did we stop using the new phone because it was too hard or did we just focus on the learning task and before we knew it, we became proficient with our new device?  We also have learned how to program our coffee pots to have a hot cup of coffee ready for us when we wake up in the morning.  We also learn how to use the radio/CD player in our new car and even how to program our VCR/DVR boxes (or at least some of us no longer have a blinking 12:00).

True, there are some people who do not or will not adapt to change.  Back in the last century when I was doing mostly FoxPro work, I lost touch with several friends when Microsoft introduced an object oriented version of FoxPro, FoxPro 3.0.  They had trouble converting to an object approach to programming with its focus on properties, methods, and events.  But the rest of us adapted.  Some of us even had the foresight (or luck) to gain some object experience a few years earlier by playing with the early versions of Microsoft Access.  (Ok, not true object oriented, but object-like).

Another good example, and a more recent one, was when Microsoft Office switched from their earlier hierarchy menu structure for commands to use a ribbon interface that only surfaces the features that you need (or even make sense) when you need them.  A lot of people complained about that change too, but I suspect few if any today would willingly go back to the older menu command structure.

There are some people who say that software companies like Microsoft keep changing their software so we have to pay for upgrades.  More likely, the answer is that developing a good user interface is more the combination of experience learned from each iteration and need to get something out to the public rather than to keep waiting until they develop the absolute best software ever, an ideal that no one ever reaches.  Limitations of software and hardware as well as our own human limitations to inventiveness lends itself to an iterative approach for most things.

Another way to look at things is that as hardware and software capabilities increase making previous tasks easier, users demand more functionality that continues to push software design to its limits.  The first version of dBase after all consisted of nothing more than just a dot prompt, something that was not always obvious when looking at the screen.  We would never accept that today.  However, the transition from that simple dot prompt to today’s modern user interfaces was if nothing else a series of steps, not all of which were always well accepted (remember Microsoft Bob?)  Evolution takes time.  Occasionally a product that comes out that may be revolutionary, so different and so much better and more useful than anything before that it sets the world on fire.  Some might point to the iPad as an example.  However, even here there has been an evolution of tablets and other handheld devices including the Apple Newton that all contributed their pros and cons to what eventually became a resounding success.

And did anyone say the iPad was too hard to learn or too different from the standard Macintosh interface of its day?  Perhaps it is more of a question of people’s desire to learn something new and their perceived view of the benefits of that new technology.  In addition, some people like to explore the boundaries of their knowledge and challenge their creativity.  Some see learning new technology as ‘fun’.  In some ways, this desire to learn new things is like the desire of explorers of past centuries who wanted to see what was over the next mountain, beyond the desert’s barren landscape, or on the other side of that body of water that they could not see across.

Or maybe we just do not do a good job at training people in new technology.  Recently I spent a lot of time in hospitals with my wife.  The amount of technology in health care has exploded.  In fact, one nurse said that much of her training to become a registered nurse was spent learning how to work with all the technology.  And yes, these people do learn the technology, technology that we might say is ‘too hard’.  However, the training is there for them and so is the desire or goal of becoming a registered nurse.

So when you go out to buy Windows 8, what training is included?  Who shows you how to navigate around the new screens?  Unless you are really into technology, where is the incentive if all you want to do is to get out to Facebook or check your email?  The answer and problem is that you have to hunt for it on your own be searching the Internet or looking for local training classes.  So maybe the problem is not that the technology is too hard.  After all, you do not have to be an auto mechanic to learn how to drive.  Rather that the training is either hard to find, too expense, or does not seem relevant to why you need to use a computer in the first place.  Ultimately, I maintain that nothing is too hard with the proper training and the time to use that training to develop new knowledge and skills.  Think about that until next time.



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