Why are computers so hard to use?

David Berlind's recent blog post pointing to Tim Bray's trials and tribulations on switching from a Powerbook to a Sun Ultra 20 running Ubuntu (!) has some interesting reflections on how hard all desktop switching is. David says,

[Tim] “used two words — “wrangling” and “gyrations” — in his last post that leap off the page as having long been (in my mind) desktop Linux's key stumbling blocks.”

I've got a half-dozen machines in the office I work at regularly: Dells, HPs, ThinkPads, Macs, running Win98 through XP, OS X, CentOS, Ubuntu, Fedora, Xubuntu and probably a couple of others. I am constantly wrestling with getting a PDF file just right on this one, or wrangling an icon to do what I want on the desktop of that one. They are all hard!

I got tired of using the supplied Apple keyboard with my iMac and thought I'd try a Microsoft Natural Keyboard I had spare around the office. It worked well, just plug it in and It Worked ™. However, the key labels and assignments had me stumped. On Windows and Linux, the control key is the lower, outer left key and I spend all day issuing ^X, ^V, ^F, ^T to cut, paste, fine and create a new FireFox tab. On the Mac, it's not the outer key, it's the option key, the middle of the three keys outboard the spacebar. Except when it's not. Subconsciously, I had gotten myself into the groove of using the different keyboard layout on the (different) Apple keyboard. When I swapped out the keyboard for the one I use on another machine, I lost the ability to touch type those characters on both keyboards.

In the above-cited blog post, Tim was annoyed when Ubuntu didn't follow the hand-patterns he had memorized on the PowerBook; I feel the same way when I use the Mac.


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This work by Ted Roche is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 United States.