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Why are computers still so difficult to use?

by Lee Koo (ADMIN) CNET staff/forum admin / February 11, 2011 6:14 AM PST
Question:

Why are computers still so difficult to use?


Hi, Lee, I know this is not the technical question you normally receive, but I was hoping you can have your community members help me out in a big way.

As a final year college student I need to carry out an independent project looking at an issue in the domain of my subject. I chose the question, "Why are computers still so difficult to use?" To start my project I compiled several questions to explore experiences of computer users (see below). A summary of what I am wanting to look at are competency levels of users with computers, how they got into using them, the time they'll spend on them in a day, their challenges and how they manage them, their happiness in using them, their thoughts on the increasing functionality/pervasiveness of computers, and their opinions as to whether computing is any easier now. It would be great if you could give me some pointers as to suitable themes you think would make a good project--even if you were to challenge the title! Could you also tell me of the context in which you use computers (e.g., as a software developer, moderate user, etc.)? Thanks in advance for everyone's help. Here are the questions I would like to ask the community:
Thanks in advance for everyone's help.

Here are the questions I would like to ask the community:

-- Can you remember when you started using computers?

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with?

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?

-- Do you have any challenges even now?

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies?

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now?

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices?

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?

--Submitted by Ronald G. of Warwick University in UK


If you would like to help out Ronald with his college project and answer his survey, click the link below and click the "reply" to submit your answers:
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reply
by yessri / February 11, 2011 8:40 AM PST

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? Yes, mainframes in 1979

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? As I became more knowledgable, yes.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Adapting to the GUI after becoming proficient with command line. Switching from PC to Mac

-- Do you have any challenges even now? The biggest challenge is adapting to software that has been "upgraded" e.g. MS Word 10, in which perfectly efficient software is changed with different menus, commands but no real innovation

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Avoid buying new software whenever possible.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Absolutely

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 3-5 hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Overall, yes, but I'm doing more on my smartphone than a PC most days

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Great Topic
by vmrules / February 12, 2011 4:47 AM PST
In reply to: reply

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? 1981

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? It was pretty easy at the start. It has gotten more complicated over time.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Not straightforward at all. Constantly having to learn new software in order to complete tasks. Challenges included upgrades to operating systems and various application software that did not work together. Having to spend too much time learning how to do something on the upgrade that was simple in a previous version. I understand that software has to be programmed for the common denominator but sometimes it seems that no one would use the "improved" features. Another challenge has been trying to get information/updates/drivers for hardware and software when upgrading computer system.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Windows 7

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Google, CNET, forums, wiser and kind posters. Reading the manual when available, following trails as far as it takes.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? I use my computer for so much more now than I did 15 years ago and with each device, application, and competing software it is more complicated. Getting everything to work together--is more of a challenge now.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 8-10 hours.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? I do appreciate being able to watch streaming video, get news, convert files, sync my phone, make calls, chat, explore the web, and most of all the availability of information that I have now. I appreciate that there are so many avenues to find solutions to challenges.

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why are computers so difficult to use?
by lexigist / February 18, 2011 9:52 AM PST
In reply to: reply

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? A DickSmith 80 - equivalent to TRS 80 put out by Tandy app 1980

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? was just playing then, still am 30 years later, but got the hang of it.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Pretty much, though still dim on the internal side, much more of an end user- but get by. Challenges don't change all that much, just get more sophisticated as they update systems and software.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Occasionally, usually with new software

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Other than yelling at an inate object, sheer frustration. After a while logic steps in then I fix the problem or revert to Google or Groups for answers.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? I think a lot of it was simpler then

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? app 5-6hrs

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Absolutely. Faster, more resources and you definitely have to be more cautious

Regards
Aj

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Ah, nostalghia
by cinemike / February 20, 2011 11:55 PM PST

Your mention of the TRS 80 brought tears to my eyes.
I first entered the modern computing age when, in the early '80s, I registered at my University's computing centre (Queen's Univ Belfast), to learn BASIC... on a TRS 80. I had been taught FORTRAN when I did my first (Maths) degree, but BASIC was so much more functional and less of a straight-jacket.
And it occurs to me that that 'linear' programming, as was then, is so much more fun that current object-centred languages.
All the best,
Mike

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Why are computers Still Difficult to Use
by 3JGProductions / February 19, 2011 8:14 AM PST
In reply to: reply

I have observed that many people expect computers to run, just similar to a TV. You plug it in and it will continue to work, forever. I have often explain to family, friends, co-workers, that a computer must be updated periodically, and in some cases upgraded with con-current technology.
Under rules of TCP/IP(Transmission Control Protocal & Internet Protocal)computers makers, must have like-wise technology, in their machines. However, with the vast number of computer makers, models differ, Operating Systems updated a hundred times.
Computers born in 2001-02, differ from 2003-04, 2005-06, 2007-08, and furthermore 2009 & 2010 and so on. I specifically listed dates to give an idea of the changing technology, in two year increments. The average person does know this, thus, they lack knowledge of their machines. They don't know what software to buy. There are many duplications in a free society. Many don't invest time on researching computer SPECS.

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Answers
by jkoderick / February 11, 2011 8:44 AM PST

1. 1984
2. Yes - I was going to school for MIT. This was my introduction to Mainframe computers.
3. The road was pretty good. I did some programming prior to buying my first computer. In one of the companys I work at, I was helping with some programming on there in site programs.
4. No Challenges now, there were a few when we first where invited on AOL. Oh how slow that was.
5. No.
6. Yes. They are lot easier now. We have faster and more accuarte computers with a lot of tech to assist. With all the formuns, one can kedep his nose clean.
7. I usually spend about 5-8 hours a day on the work with conputers.
8. Yes I do, There is so much going on now, its good to see the continues effots.

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They're Not
by Jim Dodds / February 11, 2011 8:45 AM PST

Can you remember when you started using computers? 1982

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? yes

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? straightforward

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Windows 7 security creates more obstacles than it's worth

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? I thrive on crashes

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? They're bigger - so am I

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 6 hrs.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? yes, very much

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reply
by varick / February 11, 2011 8:51 AM PST

Can you remember when you started using computers? back with C=64

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? yes

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? yes

-- Do you have any challenges even now? no

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? no,..fairly easy for me.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? yes

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? from when i get up to bedtime..basically 12 to 15 hrs a day

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? i suppose so, yes
surprised ya didn't ask ages...esp. since i'm 57 not 17 or 27.

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Why are computers so difficult to use
by jumbo47 / February 11, 2011 8:51 AM PST

--Can you remember when you started using computers?

Fall of 1961.

--Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with?

Yes, Fortran is pretty straightforward Happy

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?

On the whole it's been pretty straightforward. In the early days of Web programming some of the technology was awfully complicated and documentation was poor. Nowadays if you have a problem you can just Google it; easy.

-- Do you have any challenges even now?

Sure, I no longer remember what I've read the way I did at 18.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies?

Google!

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now?

No, it's much harder now. Computers and their programming systems have become steadily more complicated over the years. In 1961 you could sit down and read a few manuals and you would know everything you needed both about the computer and the language used to program it. With the IBM 360 in 1965, that became much harder. Now you needed several feet of large manuals, but it could still be done in a few months. Today, it's simply an impossible task. You only learn the parts you need.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices?

Four hours.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?

Yes, I love them Happy

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reply
by jlodman / February 11, 2011 8:52 AM PST

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? 1978 - Sol Terminal Micro

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Yes, once the concept was grasped.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Challenges have been the user interface changes between models and generations. Software "upgrades" have been a pain.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Software that no longer runs on Windows 7.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Yes, complain, find alternatives, vmware shell.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Absolutely. No more interrupt issues on PCs for example. PCs are for the most part standardized and modular which makes building them simpler.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 8+ hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Yes

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Why are computers still so difficult to use?
by Resistorguy / February 11, 2011 8:58 AM PST

- Can you remember when you started using computers? 1983. New job. New people. One IBM PC with 10-12 inch monitor, 2 floppy drives and a 10MB HD. Output was on a 9-pin printer with tractor paper. No one knew how to use it!

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? For me, a very techy type, Yes.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Unstable operating systems or apps that were poorly matched to the OS. Synchronous modems and their handshake protocols. Rapidly changing software & hardware.[You can either learn to use the system or do your work. Not enough time to do both!]

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Still learning every day! The latest challenge is UBUNTU.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Yes. I keep one system that is stable and clean to do my work on. One or two more systems are for developing/experimenting and one is for the internet.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Problems that we used to tackle via Fidonet or some other BB application are far easier and faster to solve with broadband inet and hoards of knowledgeable people at hand.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices?>6 hours, <9 hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?
Indeed, I do! I have libraries filled with answers at my fingertips. [At last count, I had 276 volumes in my professional library, all on CD/DVD discs. They fit in a small box!] I can manage my finances online. I can keep in touch with colleagues and collaborate on projects without leaving home. I can plan travel, buy tickets, make reservations and explore new venues. All that and I still don't have 3G or 4G toys!

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Answers to your survey
by sonherder / February 11, 2011 8:58 AM PST

- Can you remember when you started using computers? 1975 - DEC computer in college

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Not easy, but I was drawn to computers, and it became fun for me.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? I worked as a programmer then a systems analyst from college graduation in 1979 until April 1992. I enjoyed working on mainframes, and resisted switching to a personal computer. I am not a programmer now (went to law school and became a trial lawyer - I miss being a programmer!)I now use my laptop to run my law practice - quite a switch from actually writing software.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? The operating systems have gotten so complicated that I can't normally do the type of troubleshooting I could in the early 1990's.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Working on the computer is actually one of the activities that calms me. When I get frustrated I just walk away for a day or so and that seems to help.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? No, because, even if I could do what I did throughout the 1980's, I probably wouldn't be living in the US. I think all of those jobs have been outsourced to other countries.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 5-6 hours, counting the laptop and the Blackberry. I run my law practice on my computer. I also use it to practice my music (bass player).

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?
I do appreciate the functionality, although I wish the operating system and various software packages were more stable right out of the box. I think the pervasiveness is good and bad. The good: there are tasks that could take an enormous amount of time that are made easier by computers. The bad: I do believe that most people in the US who own a personal computer with a Microsoft operating system have absolutely no idea how to maintain them, how to set them up and how to troubleshoot them. I'm the "go to" person in my family if anyone has a computer problem. Software vendors should not release software without extensive testing (shouldn't have to update every other day, it seems). I don't have any experience with Apple products, but a MAC would be a bad choice for me because most of the software I need for my practice is only Windows compatible.

Hope I wasn't too long winded, and I hope this helps.

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RE: Why are computers still so difficult to use?
by boni777 / February 11, 2011 9:02 AM PST

--Can you remember when you started using computers? yes. I had a temp job as a receptionist and taught myself the Word program to keep occupied. Then, went to community college and took basic class(but learned more from the geeks in the lab than from the teacher in the class.

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Not at all. I'm smart, but not really a detail person, and it took a while.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? It's always something. Just about the time you think you've got it, something else pops up that stumps you.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? About a year ago I switched from Windows to Mac. There are still times where I say "I know how to do this in DOS, but not on the Mac.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Everything is different. Sometimes I can come up with the answer myself(and that makes me feel good) and sometimes I have to go to an expert(which I must say is a LOT easier with Mac.)

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? I don't think so. Probably because it was difficult to find help "back in the day". Anyone who actually knew anything usually wasn't capable of talking in actual English that I could understand. Now, I have a 10 yr old grandson who helps...in addition to many other people I know.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? Currently, I'm not working and spend a major part of my day in front of the Mac. But when I was working, I would say probably 40% of the day on the 'puter, plus a little more on other small things. I don't feel the need to be connected at all times and although I have a cel that will connect with the net, I don't pay to do that. I can wait til I get home.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Yes. Even tho I don't use it outside of the home now, I may in the future. Besides that, I am constantly looking up What Was the Name of That Movie? and Where's the Nearest Walmart? and What is a Narwal?
I currently have family living with me and they are always using my Mac because it's so much faster than the Dell they have. Every time I go to the bathroom I come back to find someone else in my chair.

Good luck with your research. Any more help I can give?

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why are computers still hard to use?
by s35flyer / February 11, 2011 9:07 AM PST

My opinion after 37 years of experience is because people do not know what they don't need to know about and therefore do not know what to ignore, discard, or not worry about while trying to do a simple task. We can make all the excuses in the world but there is a reason that people get Comp Sci and Engineering degrees. Technology is complex and its hard, producers of product provide every option, gadget, etc., why because they have to in order to compete, and that's why its hard. This is why people say, I just want it to work, problem is the producer of the product does not know what that means to that person and they have to scale in order to sell enough product to be in business.

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Computers. Hard to use?
by gwinel / February 11, 2011 9:18 AM PST

I don't understand the "hard to use" title. I have never thought that they were. My first 'puter was about 1985, an IBM PC Jr. It had no floppy drive, booted with DOS 2.1. It was an exciting challenge!

The "Challenge"? It's not spending too much time with it when I should be doing something else!

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My Take
by BadLag / February 11, 2011 9:24 AM PST

I started with a Pong game truthfully, as I loved playing games in the video parlours, I was impressed I could play these games at home, Atari 2600, Coleco's, Intellivision, Vic20 etc. I was hooked..Along came the Commodore 64, This was a computer I could and play and program the games...very cool....I used Paperclip to get on the internet and my brother and I connected our 64's with a 300 Baud rate modem, those were the days...1985?

The computer was a real learning curve, Basic language then tried CP/M, programming is boring, I wanted to play games....LOL
Nothing was easy in the early days, then came the PC, still a steep learning curve but trial and error, buying PC mags all helped, there was no Google, setting up hardware with IRQ's and DMA's was the norm!

Now its pretty much plug and play, as I advanced from Windows 1 to Windows 7, it has become very easy to make a PC work the way you want. (no IRQ's or DMA's anymore)

I started building my own PC's in 1996 and have upgraded my video card every 2 years since then and all 300 - 500 bucks each so I was usually on the bleeding edge....All to play video games! I have a very fast machine now, liquid cooling etc. I have upgraded my PC about a yr to 2 after the tech comes out...I would like to buy an Intel Extreme CPU every year but it is expensive...

Because of the internet and search engines, working with, testing, installing, upgrading the computer is very easy, if you use the correct search terms...LOL

My computer experience as a hobby has turned into a career, I am a licenced mechanic and after fixing cars for 25 yrs, I changed careers and now have fixed PC's for IBM for the last 12 yrs, guess that makes me experienced, no old!

In closing, I have really enjoyed learning computers the hard way, school of hard knocks etc, no courses until I was employed as a IT Specialist, I have enjoyed every minute of it, every day is different, I love fixin Windows/Hardware issues....LOL

Dave in Toronto

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Love them Hate them!
by hedgehog437 / February 11, 2011 9:25 AM PST

Can you remember when you started using computers?
1988

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with?
No
-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?
Programming was not user-friendly, early programs were buggy, and there were few people to turn to for assistance.

-- Do you have any challenges even now?
Yes. A good example is Microsoft; changing the look and layout of successive versions of Office without an accompanying increase in user-friendliness.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies?
Its like gridlock in a major city; if you wanna live there you've gotta put up with it. Same with computers; if i want to use them I have to suffer through the nonsense.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now?
Yes; accumulated knowledge of how they work helps immensely

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 10-12 hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now?
Functionality, yes; pervasiveness, no!

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Re: Microsoft changing look & layout
by tfitzmauro / February 19, 2011 9:56 PM PST
In reply to: Love them Hate them!

My main use of computers at work is for word processing, etc. so I have a very hard time with Microsoft Office. It is the "standard" that everyone uses, but I find it very difficult, with everything I actually need hidden in a sub-menu. I stubbornly cling to my old computer, using WordPerfect and converting my documents to PDF so that anyone can view/print them. Frankly, the bells & whistles are unnecessary and slow me down when I'm trying to get some work accomplished. My wish? That developers would think "simple" for the users who don't want to be online or gaming or streaming videos.

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Computer Survey
by evadvan / February 11, 2011 9:27 AM PST

1. I started programming on a main frame in 1969. I bought my first PC in 1985. So yes I do remember.

2. It was not easy, but it was exciting, fun, fascinating, etc, and it was possible to completely understand what was happening (once you learned some very esoteric things (like DOS)). After you got past the initial obstacle, it was easy. Today, my impression is that the initial obstacle is small, but most people can never know what is happening behind the GUI facade.

3. As an electrical engineer, I have much training and experience with computers and compared to other things, I think my evolution was straight forward.

4. I become frustrated sometimes because I do not know what is happening with a system that is constantly being changed through downloaded updates. I have to trust systems and unknown programmers. This is a philosophical challenge.

5. I guess it's like religion; you need blind faith.

6. Of course, things like word processing and spreadsheets make many tasks easier, and these programs are much easier to use. But before, I knew what was happening.

7. I am now retired but still use my computer 4 hours per day.

8. Yes of course. If you can plug it in, or if it needs a battery, the latest version probably uses some type of "computer". We cannot live without them.

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Cannot agree more...
by Robbie Mosaic / April 19, 2011 6:34 PM PDT
In reply to: Computer Survey

With DOS, which totally runs within 640KB memory space, it's possible to imagine what the program is doing. With Windows 98, which totally runs within less than 100MB memory space (including virtual memory), it's still imaginable what each component is designed for, though not easy to understand the exact behavior. With Windows Vista and up, even among the services that start with the system, there are more than half that I will never understand what they do, although they're necessary...

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Complexity is the reason
by jm1042h / February 11, 2011 9:27 AM PST

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? Yes, 1965 - IBM 1620 "mainframe" (only computer in the college, learned programming and worked as an operator part time)

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Yes, but I was an engineering student with a lot of interest. Programming in Fortran IID.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? I don't think anyone has a "straightforward" journey, but I went through IBM 1130, IBM 360, 370, Kaypro 2, PC "compatible" but no Apple products except more recently to use at the local Community College.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Yes, current Microsoft OS is much less transparent than the earlier versions - I can no longer drop out to DOS and expect to troubleshoot problems from the command line.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? The Internet helps when you Google the problem, but that doesn't always work either...

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? In the early days of PCs (mostly in the '80s and early '90s) I think those who worked at it a little really understood what the OS was going to do with your commands - today it's all buried in a graphical interface that is great when it works, but really hard to figure out why when it doesn't.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? Only 3 hours or so, I'm now retired and spend more time reading the papers...

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Internet search is a wonderful thing, giving us access to a wide spectrum of views on many topics at what seems like lightning speed. Answers to nearly any question (except "Why won't this machine do what I WANT it to??!) are ready practically before I finish typing the question.

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PE disc can be used for troubleshooting
by Robbie Mosaic / April 19, 2011 6:52 PM PDT

Yes, it's less transparent, but for Windows 2000 through Windows 7, you can troubleshoot problems by using a CD/DVD called PE (Pre-installation Environment). Preferably you can build a PE disc with your own favorite tools on it. However I admit it's still not an ideal environment for troubleshooting problems, since so many GUI tools need to be "installed" rather than run directly, making it hard to put on a PE. However, I've seen some tool that can install a mini Windows onto a flash thumb drive!

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Why are computers still so difficult to use?
by grandma golf golf / February 11, 2011 9:54 AM PST

1. 1979.
2. No.
3. Figuring out code. (Still used punch cards.)
Started on Apple computer, then PC with Excel and Word. Then went to a dedicated WANG word processor, then back to PC.
4. Always something new to learn or some catastrophe to cope with (especially my husband using the computer).
5. Try not to get too stressed. If we can fix it fine; if not, at least I've backed it up.
6. Probably because I'm retired, it's easier today.
7. About an hour.
8. Not sure, maybe because they lead to less personal interaction face to face.

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Computers are easy, obuse software is difficult
by Wings92126 / February 11, 2011 10:07 AM PST

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? Yes, with a wonderful Commadore 64 about 1983.

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Yes. The Commodore was great.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? DOS machines were much easier to deal with than today's operating systems, browsers, and applications.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Sure. Many applications (such as Rhapsody) are buggy and don't operate as advertised.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Being patient and methodical. I reread manuals / use the "help" function (rarely helpful)/ join user blogs / use Google to search the problem / get online help from the company as a last resort.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? No. Programming and debugging is and always has been demanding. But, as a user, the windows interface, when it works as it's supposed to, is much easier than DOS or UNIX was from a command line.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 3-4 hours or more.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Very much. My PC is my phone, typewriter, photo manager, music manager, radio, research library, universal how-to manual, and much more.

If YOU find computers to be difficult I'd generally recommend becoming very proficient in your main operating system (Windows, Linex, MAC OS, whatever) and browser (I prefer Mozilla Firefox). That's the key to finding your way around most well-behaved applications.

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Why are computers still so difficult to use?
by sue.dekalb / February 11, 2011 10:21 AM PST

Can you remember when you started using computers? 1969

Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Yes, I found it fascinating that you could make machines do things for you.

Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Trying to keep up with all the changes from mainframes to personal PC's was a bit of a challenge.

Do you have any challenges even now? There are always challenges trying to keep up with all the changes. In the old days we punched cards and now we have GUIs. It is constantly changing.

Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Access to the internet makes life easier. You can get answers instantly.

Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Things seem to get more complicated now because things change just for the sake of change. Unless you are going to make it better, there is no reason to change stuff. There is so much stuff out there now it is hard to keep up.

On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 4-5 hours

Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Yes, it makes life easier in many respects.

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Exponential development of Tech
by Jerry Clarkson / February 11, 2011 10:43 AM PST

Could you also tell me of the context in which you use computers (e.g., as a software developer, moderate user, etc.) --video editor, web developer (html, css, java, php) for international training of leadership development.


-- Can you remember when you started using computers? 1993 w/ dos3.3 - 6.1 followed by Win3.1, 98, xp, vista, ubuntu (8.4 - 10.10)

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Relatively easy, I learn easy. From Excel I learned VBA until some of my students told me that I should be programing. Using VB, Basic, and C++ were then just a natural progression.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were?

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Keeping up with the exponential development of technology.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Help files and forums.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Yes, more forums are available.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? Up to 14 hours.

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Most of time, sometimes one just needs an escape.

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Why Are Computers Still So Difficult to Use?
by jzofop / February 11, 2011 10:43 AM PST

Can you remember when you started using computers? In 1990 in college. Took DOS class & was doing papers on MACs in the school newspaper office.

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? Not in the beginning but got way easier as I had more experience with computers.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Pretty much straightforward. Biggest challenge was my 1st computer when the HD needed to be replaced. Co replaced it but I had to load ALL the software & had no computer experience at that time. Calling India=priceless! Taught me A LOT though.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Yes attempting to spend time away from computers/devices.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? Think in steps like a computer. No, not steps but layers. Main coping strategy is keep everything simple & don't worry about what everyone else is doing.

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Yes once I learned that I will always be learning & accepted that.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 8-10 hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Yes definitely but realize time needs to be made for "off computer time" especially with a young daughter who is a tecchie like her old man. Also appreciative of how the internet & IT has evolved & all the help that's out there too.

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Your Question: Why are computers so hard to use?
by jclittle / February 11, 2011 10:54 AM PST

I don't think these questions you hope to ask this "community" will truly answer your primary question . You could measure the level of their frustration and relate it to their exposures, challenges, methods of coping, etc ... but that's not answering your question. AND I do believe that you have hit upon a VERY important question ..
Transfer your question to a "television set." When a vendor sells a customer a TV set, they want to be sure there's uniform design in how to turn it ON, OFF, change channels, modify the volume, etc .. The engineers who design TV sets work at being sure their "design" suits the needs of that customer ..
BUT our computer vendors - since the 50s when the first electronic computers were sold (or leased), our vendors have not concerned themselves with what's "easy to use," but instead with what works fast and efficiently when an expert user tries it out. Unfortunately, we are not all "expert users."

If I were you, I'd ask the questions about WHAT the community thinks is "hard" and why ... getting their demographic background, academic history, experience, etc is important to use as variables in determining for each category just what is "hard." Then ... if you can come up with a recommendation for improvement of the "design" of a computer for the user .. you'd really have something !!

Now, I realize there's lots of different configurations of computers .. BUT select one or two, and get started studying "what part is considered hard," for each of those users .. You might find lots of interesting relationships ..

I'd love to see your results ..

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Why are computers still so difficult to use?
by davism940850 / February 11, 2011 12:26 PM PST

Just as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the complexity or difficulty of computers is much the same.

-- Can you remember when you started using computers? First was a main frame I wasn't allowed to touch but had to use a punch card to "program" for a class in 1973. Obviously, I didn't do very well. My next experience was in 1981 was Atari games, then Honeywell systems at work, an IBM 8088, and purchased my first computer in 1985 in celebration of my sons birth with an Apple IIe.

-- Would you say this was an easy process to get to grips with? It was amazingly easy for me. Not any different than raising my children. For example: if you tell your kids to clean their room they will stare at you, laugh at you, or totally ignore you. However, if you tell them to put their blocks in the blue bin, the stuffed toys in the yellow box, and everything else in the red bin and when finished you will read them a book. Voila, finished (assuming they love to be read to) Just like early computers you tell them to do xyz and it was completed as long as you entered the data correctly.

-- Since then, has your journey been straightforward, and if not, can you remember what some of your challenges were? Being an intelligent computer knowledgeable female with experience but no "paper/degree" to prove the education or knowledge, I was frequently figuratively patted on the head saying: get your degree then we will talk. While the guys sitting next to me before the interview would get the jobs and I had to train them to our system, over and over. If they had more experience, education, etc. it wouldn't have bothered me at all because I could learn from them too. But to find out they had NEVER worked on PC or main frame computers, networks, unix, programming, with NO experience and NO education beyond high school and I'm sitting here with 120 units of college and 5-10 yrs experience just burned me and I knew it was happening all over.

-- Do you have any challenges even now? Pretty much the same, I now have a degree but the school canceled the computer science programs (web certificate and security minor) after I was half-way through. I'm just older so I don't care as much anymore.
* Most of my challenges now are dealing with hardware that doesn't last the life expectancy of 18 months.
* Having to teach people basic computer knowledge of how to cut and paste.
* Just because I work on computers, and "do" websites. Doesn't mean I want to give away my services that others pay for, VERY few friends are THAT good a friend. Pay me for my time, I will teach you and write it down, anything you want to learn.

-- Did you/do you have any coping strategies? LOTS of meditation, then go play with my computers, they are more rational than people. Happy

-- Looking back, do you think the challenges you faced are any easier to tackle now? Yes, women are able to become Computer Engineers now. In 1972 even with Calculus and Trig under my belt women weren't accepted in the mid-west into those programs.

-- On a typical day, how long will you be interacting with computer devices? 10-12 hours

-- Do you appreciate the extended functionality/increasing pervasiveness of computing now? Yes, the loss of privacy worries me. Not for myself because I am almost fanatical about trying to protect myself. However, I see people "hang all their laundry" out there which sets them up for so many problems such as identity theft or worse.

Why are computers still so difficult to use?
Why are there so many computer companies and none of them are totally standardized?
Why can't all software be made to work with Microsoft and Apple OS?
Why aren't we into voice recognition instead of still using keyboards and a mouse?
The list goes on but I'm tired. lol

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You're getting there, jclittie!
by JeffAHayes / February 18, 2011 3:51 PM PST

I got this far, and it's far enough for me. I can't bear to read all 166 posts, since so many are so similar (that's for the questioner to sort for his "thesis," or whatever it is).

My perspective is that I remember when I learned to drive back in 1973, my Mom fretted a bit that we didn't have a straight-drive vehicle for me to learn in, AND that driver's ed at the school didn't use them, either. Her thinking was that she learned in a straight-drive, and that if you could drive one of THOSE, you could drive anything. Eventually, several years (and cars) later, I saw a car in a sales lot I wanted that WAS straight-drive, bought it, and sort of taught myself... Never regretted it.

Although I had "some" computer exposure prior to then, I got hit big in the fall of '85 when our school newspaper bought its first computer, a Tandy 1000. At first it had only floppies and 256K of RAM (hard drive and more RAM came much later), and DOS 3.1, I think. We did EVERYTHING using MS-DOS commands and the Wordstar word processor. I didn't know there was anything else. Later, I learned about all-in-one programs, such as Microsoft Works, which preceded Microsoft Office (did all the same things as the light version does, just maybe less of them). I became an EXPERT at probably the LAST DOS version of MS-Works, and I've never been as productive on a computer BEFORE or SINCE.

Yes, I LOVE all the streaming video and the fact that I can store and manipulate all my digital photos (and I AM also a photographer) on my computer today. And like some others, I built my latest computer. But I remember WELL back when FONTS weren't an issue and we could build very simple databases and spreadsheets that it was A WHOLE LOT EASIER to get A WHOLE LOT MORE WORK done! At the time I was a free-lance writer, having just graduated from college. I'd split the screen in Works, have my notes on the bottom half (do interviews on the phone with a headset and type them right into the file), then cut and paste notes into the story-in-progress on the top half as I went. When I was finished, I'd save the completed story file, which had been saved AS a new file at the beginning of the process so the NOTES file remained "virgin."

Were I still doing interviews and writing stories today, I'd do the same in MS Word -- except WORD makes things a WHOLE LOT HARDER than Works ever did. I can remember when Word wasn't so darned complicated -- at least on the Mac (I've been through PCs, then Macs, now back to PCs again). It seems everyone has tried to make ALL PROGRAMS do EVERYTHING for EVERYONE today, making most of them WAY TOO COMPLICATED. Even Photoshop Elements can be a bit of "a bear" to master, much less the full-blown program I can't afford anyway.

So IS my experience today better than it was 25 years ago?

Yes... and NO.

Yes, like everyone else, I like all the "bells and whistles." But I really DON'T like all the complexities and junk that come with them. I don't mind having to run Security suites and firewalls and keeping Windows Update on Automatic (and even then I check behind it). What I DO mind is that even though I built a 12 GB DDR3, state-of-the-art Core i7 machine with a solid state hard drive, a 10,000 RPM Velociraptor second drive and a 2 GB DDR5 ATI 4870 graphics card less than two years ago, and keep EVERYTHING updated -- ALL DRIVERS, BIOS, EVERYTHING -- I still get "hiccups." The system STILL "hangs" sometimes (ESPECIALLY IN AOL, which I'm about to give up on), and, MOST FRUSTRATING OF ALL -- even with Windows 7 64-bit professional installed to take advantage of all that RAM, almost NONE of the vendors have released 64-bit-clean versions of their software yet, even though there's been 64-bit versions of Windows since XP!!!

So am I FRUSTRATED?!?!? What the HELL DO YOU THINK????? I have 12 GB of RAM, and I run a desktop gadget app that shows how much is being used. I think it's actually passed the 4 GB mark, only VERY BRIEFLY, maybe ONCE in the past 20 months (I bought Vista Professional 64-bit with a $10 upgrade to the Windows 7 version).

This computer business is like the biggest "racket" I've ever seen. Every 2-3 years, no matter WHAT you bought, it's obsolete... Even your OS becomes obsolete and you have to upgrade OSes or you start falling behind. Yet the faster the processors get, and the more and faster RAM, bigger and faster hard drives and video cards we put in, the SLOWER things seem to run, much of the time, because faster than we can buy or build newer, better computers, software developers are building new software that hogs even MORE resources -- not to mention all the STUFF that runs in the background, most of which we have NO CLUE as to what it does.

There was a time, back in the DOS days, when one could install the entire OS (and I don't mean early on -- I particularly like to think about DOS 5.0, a very nice version), and it consisted of just a few files... dozen or so at the most. Try right-clicking your main Windows folder even RIGHT AFTER you install Windows and do a "Properties" on it and see just HOW MANY files are in there... It'll be AT LEAST 70,000! Is there any WONDER we get "glitches" and things run slow???

Right now, including this program, I have four programs running besides a handful of TSRs along the bottom of my Desktop, such as InstantBurn, my Display control, and so forth. But if I do a check to see how many processes are running right now, it'll be around 120, and as I scroll through them I have NO CLUE what most of them are even associated with. Who does?

They've turned these lovely machines we love to chat on, put our pictures on, watch videos and news on, send email on, into incomprehensible devices intowhich even the most advanced user can only hope to have GLIMPSES into the inner workings. When I have problems -- like the other day, when I couldn't get online -- the Windows Error Code that came up? There was no clear definition or explanation of it. MOST of the major Windows Error Codes? You can even GOOGLE them and not find what you need. Anyone wonder if maybe that's BY DESIGN???

No, I'm not a conspiracy nut (maybe just a regular nut), but I certainly think our modern home computing industry is the absolute BEST example of "planned obsolescence" EVER CREATED!
Jeff Hayes
Spartanburg, SC

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