Arnold Williams (notebuyer) wrote,
Arnold Williams

Found a way to understand where I am, and what comes next in computer terms: in the Craft of Text Editing by Finseth:

Neophyte users barely know what a computer is. They lack understanding of such "basic" terms as "file" and "file name" (the concepts behind these terms are actually quite sophisticated). This lack of understanding does not mean that they are unintelligent people, only that they have never had a reason to learn these concepts. If you are designing a program for this type of user, you may feel both blessed and cursed. Cursed because it can be so difficult, and blessed because this area of program design has such a pressing need for good designs.

Experience from the field of artificial intelligence can shed more light on this issue. AI researchers found it (comparatively) easy to write programs that can handle advanced mathematics such as freshman calculus. However, as the researchers pushed on to handle such easy (to most people) areas as filling in coloring books, the programming problems got harder and harder. Some of this difficulty is due to the fact that the task of teaching college-level courses is well understood--especially by college professors--but teaching coloring is not. For example, how many textbooks have you seen on "how to color"? More to the point, computers have been designed to process information in a certain way, one that is mathematically elegant, but not necessarily related to how people's minds work. As people write programs for more and more "basic" tasks, this difference becomes increasingly apparent.

Many programs have been (mis-)designed for neophyte users. They often offer a few simple commands, yet leave intact such difficult concepts such as that of a "file." They solve the wrong problem, sort of like travelling to a place where a foreign language is spoken, and trying to communicate by speaking your native language slowly and distinctly. As a program designer, you must understand the thought structure of your users, and design programs that match that structure. The blessing comes from designing programs that are very different from "conventional" programs and which are well-matched to their users.

Novice users have used a computer before, perhaps for text editing, word processing, spread sheet, or database applications. In any event, novice users have some familiarity with the idea of typing things into a box and seeing a response that somehow reflects their typing. They understand how a shift key works, that a lowercase letter 'l' is not the same as a digit '1', and so forth. They even have some understanding of the idea of "context:" that keys do different things at different times. Users with this amount of experience are able to operate almost any program that has a good design and a decent manual.

Basic users are like novice users, only more so. They understand such programming concepts as thread of control, variables, and statements like "A = A + 1" (in fact, many people call such users "programmers"). These users can operate any program, even one with a poor design. Given source code to the program they are able to customize and extend it, albeit in what might be an awkward fashion.

There are higher levels, but you'll have to go to the link to get to them.

What struck me, though, was that EMACS requires that you be a basic level user just to use the program. And that isn't a good idea: I have to customize it to my system, alter files, create things like "make" files to get the capabilities I need, and otherwise operate the Windows system as if it were a UNIX system just to make it go. It's been worth it: I like the capabilities that I've found. I'm starting to learn how to change them better to meet my needs. But I still have a long way to go to make it what it needs to be.

And that last statement is why EMACS, like Linux, hasn't caught on: it requires too much knowledge to get to that point, and most people just don't have the time to get there. There need to be shortcuts that work to get there.
Tags: technical glitches

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