Easy to what?

Is “easy to use” an overloaded UI term?

Is the term “Easy to use” in the computer user interface (UI) world overloaded? I am starting to think so. Before I go any further take note that the Unix shell is a UI. Graphical UIs (GUIs) are generally considered to be the easiest way to use a computer. But are they? Here is a list of command shell steps to change the email address that gets root’s email on a Fedora Core 2 system:

  • su to root.
  • cd /etc.
  • vim aliases
  • Search for root: (/ is the search key in vim)
  • $ to go to the end of the line.
  • bdw to delete the last word on the line (this is the email address or account name).
  • A to enter insert mode.
  • Type the email address, then press ESC
  • :wq to save the file and exit vim.
  • newaliases to update the aliases database.

That seems like a lot but I timed myself and I can easily accomplish all of these steps in under 30 seconds. What could be easier? I doubt this task could be accomplished in under 30 seconds with a GUI. If you are not fluent in the Unix shell you are probably getting quite angry at me right now. “But I don’t know those commands” you say. This is where the term “easy to use” breaks down. The average computer user is not looking for easy to use. They are looking for easy to discover. The normal computer user does not care if a task takes a little longer than the optimal way. All a normal computer user cares about is the ability to easily easily re-discover the steps necessary to accomplish the task the next time they need to do it. These users don’t want to learn the skills necessary to optimally control their computer. Instead of talking about computer UIs with the term “easy to use” I think it’s time we start talking about “easy to do” and “easy to discover”.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *