Saturday, 7 March 2015


It's easy for professionals in any field to get to the stage where they're so comfortable with the technology that they work with that they start to forget that 'normal' people may not be so relaxed about things.

I've been working with computers for many decades, and I hope that I manage to remember that what is second nature to me is a bit more complicated for other people to understand and, more importantly, that other people may be frightened that they're going to break something. And that's a very real problem. Windows, in all its various flavours, can be a nightmare to use. Different programs do similar things differently. What should be a simple process can turn into a nightmare. Click on a few wrong pop-ups and your bank account can mysteriously end up empty.

Perhaps this is why Apple products are so popular - they may cost a fortune but generally they work the way the user expects, because all the software is effectively made by the same company. The same thing with Android phones - people just use them. Okay, they may not understand exactly what they're doing, and how risky it might be, but they don't worry about it.

Windows is different. People worry. At a recent talk that I gave on Internet safety this was a common comment - people were actually frightened of doing something wrong - or even doing something right!

I thought this was something that I was aware of and appreciated, but didn't thing I was likely to suffer from myself. WRONG!

My main laptop is now nearly five years old. It works well, but the main disk partition is getting close to full - regularly! The problem was that when the system was new I decided that I really didn't need a primary disk partition of 512GB, so I split it up into several bits, and gave the main C:/ drive a 'mere' 120GB (I can remember putting a new hard drive into a computer some years ago that was 512 MEGA bytes - and cost £250). The rest I used for an extra data drive, and then installed Linux to have a play. Now I needed to extend the C: drive, but Linux was in the way. I decided to delete Linux and add the space to C:. Straightforward process once I'd acquired some souped up partition manager software (the standard Windows 7 stuff is a bit limited). Basically just delete the old Linux partition, reset the boot manager to Windows instead of Grub, and away we go.

I was TERRIFIED! Playing around with partitions and boot managers in the wrong way is one way to trash a computer, and this is a very important computer. Yes I've got backups, yes I've got other computers I can work on in an emergency, but if anything went wrong it would waste an awful lot of time. I knew what I was doing (sort of - I'm a software developer not a computer engineer), but when it came to rebooting to see if the machine would come back to life I was sweating.

Of course I didn't need to worry, it all worked perfectly, but it was a useful reminder of how some people feel every time they approach a keyboard.

Our job is to make things as simple, friendly and foolproof as we can, and to train people properly so they don't panic whenever they use our software.

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