Mac vs. Windows for newcomer usability

January 29, 2009

A colleague recently asked me if I recommended a Mac or a Windows-based PC for a coworker. He asked at an interesting time. With all the speculation of what the loss of Apple’s Steve Jobs might bring, and the advanced hype about Windows 7’s premiere, it got me thinking: “Which is easier to use these days?” Further, which is easier to use for a newcomer? And has that switched back and forth over the years?

While I’ve not laid my hands on Windows 7 yet, I can tell you from what I read, I don’t expect the world to get easier for newcomers. But I do hope things turn out much like they did after the introduction of Vista — more complex, but core concepts unchanged. Vista was an evolutionary layer onto the older Windows concepts, but at least the core concepts didn’t change. And while the Mac OS concepts haven’t changed since the introduction of OS X, my opinion of which is more usable has since deciding to write the book.

When I started writing The Ultimate PC Primer, I genuinely believed I could craft a book to cover the basic computing concepts of all versions of Windows from 95 on, Mac OS X, and much of the Linux-based window manger environments. After all, a PC is pretty much a PC at some level. So I tried hard to focus on the similarities between Apple and Microsoft’s products, but there came a point I realized I had to chose one over the other. But which to pick? The crucial question was: which would more newcomers be learning to compute on? The answer surprised me. Here’s why… Read the rest of this entry »

Why do “old folks” need technology explained, anyway?

January 15, 2009

For me, that’s the million dollar question. In fact, it’s the most common question asked about the topics of this blog, my book, and my attempts to reveal why older technology adopters need better assistance and technology vendors need to re-think their product designs for technology newcomers. Oh, the question certainly comes in multiple forms. Some variants are more intelligently framed than others, but the general tone is one of disbelief, as if to say, “What’s so hard about learning to use a personal computer, a DVD recorder, a digital camera, etc.?”

I first respond to doubters by Read the rest of this entry »

Radio buttons vs. checkboxes: Do you know the difference?

January 9, 2009

I continue to be astonished. It happened again. I found another computer user who didn’t know why some on-line surveys’ questions have “round buttons,” and others, “square buttons” — the difference between radio buttons and checkboxes. So I’m curious… Read the rest of this entry »

Can you (really) use a computer?

January 3, 2009

Let me ask you this: How well can you use a personal computer? How well could you have used a computer 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago?

Opening the door on yet another year (2009, already?), I find myself pondering how much the ease of learning to use a technology depends on the user vs. the technology itself. For example, operating a computer 30 years ago was drastically different from today. Give a 30 year old computer to a handful of modern PC users, and many likely would be unable to compute at all. My hunch is that PC operation 30 years ago just would be far too technical a task for the modern mouse-clicker. Read the rest of this entry »