Faulty design can make things difficult to operate


January 16, 1991|By PETER McWILLIAMS | PETER McWILLIAMS,1991 Universal Press Syndicate

Most people blame themselves for not being "technological," or, in the case of computers, "computer literate." Something else was at work, here, however: design.

When I bought my first MS-DOS computer some years ago, I was astounded at how complicated DOS was. I found DOS needlessly complex for setting up subdirectories, moving to subdirectories and loading one's program. Why couldn't there be a way to turn on your computer, get a list of your programs and choose the one you wanted to use at the push of a key?

There was. After much stumbling, I discovered batch files. With batch files, you can make your own menu system (which I'll explain more next week). While I champion personal computers, I'm aware of how people can get easily confused and frustrated. My constant goal with this column is to make personal computing understandable, if not fun.

I happen to be a big fan of Toshiba computers because of their AutoResume feature. You can turn on your computer and find yourself right in the same spot in the same program as when you turned it off. It makes turning on the computer as simple as flicking on a light switch or flipping open a notebook. This is great design.

A few months ago I mentioned how Microsoft Windows and a mouse can turn your MS-DOS computer into a work-by-pictures kind of system like an Apple Macintosh. (Although I've always felt Apple has overcharged for its machines, its designers have constantly had their ears to the ground in sensing how to make computing easier. Microsoft Windows on PCs is a good step, too.)

Whatever computer you have or buy, it is the software that determines whether the machine seem simple.

The point is, you don't have to blame yourself if you don't understand computers -- blame the designers. Write a letter to the manufacturer -- or call the company's support line -- if you find something needlessly complicated. Let them know.

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