First Contact: 60-year-old, meet computer

July 8, 2011

Over on Borris’ Blog, there’s a fresh story of Joe, a 60-year old who experiences a PC for the first time. It’s an incredible blow-by-blow report of what a PC looks like to a total newcomer.  Unfortunately, it doesn’t surprise me. If I had a way to contact Joe, I’d mail him a copy of The Ultimate PC Primer. Speaking of the book…

I’m actually looking for people just like Joe to be a part of some case studies to document the effectiveness of The Ultimate PC Primer, a little like usability studies but much less focused on specific tasks.  Here’s the premise: While in front of a PC, ask a simple set of questions of the newcomer. (I expect the initial responses to be much like Joe’s: “I don’t know what anything means.”) Give them a few weeks to read the book, and then ask the same set of questions again. Ideally, I’d like to capture the responses in video form. If you know anyone who is willing to participate and fits a “Joe” type of profile, drop me a line.

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Rotary telephone vs. iPhone

June 28, 2010

Question: Is the iPhone (or iPad) intuitive?

Answer: Maybe.

In the past few months Read the rest of this entry »


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 »


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 »