Computers are still too hard to use.

Date:September 10, 2003 / year-entry #55
Orig Link:
Comments:    11
Summary:UK survey reveals that one in seven computer users needs help turning the computer on and off.

Comments (11)
  1. Ivan Towlson says:

    Glad to see someone linking to this. It’s a real indictment of how we as an industry are doing, If you’re interested, I have a couple more links at

  2. AlisdairM says:

    On the other hand, there are some very unreasonable expectations of how ‘easy’ a computer should be.

    For example, I understand how to use a hammer, a saw and a screwdriver very easily. But ask me to build garden shed, and I’m lost.

    A motor car is a very easy machine to drive once you have learned. Many of us take it for granted. But think back to the hassle we had learning the skill in the first place, and passing that test.

    Microsoft have actually done a very good thing laying out many standard interface primitives and idioms to follow. Generally once you learn how to use one Windows application you can use most other general purpose apps, or navigate them well enough to teach yourself the rest.

    But you cannot expect to just drop a general purpose computer in front of someone with zero background and watch them get up and running on their own. Gifted individuals might, but it is totally unreasonable to expect this of the majority.

    Unfortunately, this is exactly the attitude the critics have. I’m sorry but no matter how clearly and intuitively I lay out my user interface if the user does not know how to guide the pointer around the screen with a mouse there is not a lot I can do to solve the problem. Users need to take some responsibility for learning the basics.

    If they lose documents because they turn PCs off without saving or printing, despite many on-screen warnings, the error is NOT in the application.

    We let people write off computers as ‘hard’ too easily, when they aren’t prepared to take on even the basics.

    On the other hand, there are some attrocious UIs out there and I in no way want to make excuses for them! I simply refuse to believe that if 25% of users don’t know how to save a Word document today, that the problem is in the software.

    <rant off/>

  3. pdq says:

    I can’t believe you give credit to Microsoft on having a consistent UI. They have done a good job, but it is just a continuation of the good work done by Apple (and Xerox).

    Apple, years ago, provided a audio tape teaching people how to use the Mac. Within half an hour, people with zero computer experiance were using it.

    Dell has done a good job with the out of the box experiance with color coded plugs and a poster size installation instructions with pretty much nothing but pictures

  4. Rahul Singh says:

    > On the other hand, there are some very unreasonable expectations of how ‘easy’ a computer should be.

    I’m sorry I don’t see why its at all unreasonable for a computer to be as easy to interact with as a human. More on my blog at

  5. AlisdairM says:

    Sure I give credit to MS for popularising a consistent UI. You can look far and wide for all the influences you like, it is MS that got a single, consistent UI to the masses and kept it there.

    I am happy to give MS a lot of stick for a lot of things, but this is one thing I am happy to stand by them on.

    The fact that they don’t keep to their own guidelines is another matter! [Encarta was always my worst bugbear for this, but Office is no saint either]

  6. pdq says:


    Ok, when you put it that way, I agree. The only problem is that there isn’t to my knowlege any document saying what you can or cannot do. It’s only by trying to make your app be as much like an Office app as possible. For example, look at AutoCAD. It tries to be an Office app, but falls down where the functionality needed for CAD doesn’t match what Office does. They’ve done a great job, but there are still holes.

  7. Andreas Häber says:


    The only problem is that there isn’t to my knowlege any >document saying what you can or cannot do. It’s only by >trying to make your app be as much like an Office app as >possible.

    Seems like you don’t know about "Windows User Experience – Official Guidelines for User Interface Developers and Designers" (see, and maybe also "Windows Logo Program for Software" (see
    Those documents/books says how an application should be designed and behave on the Windows platform. The big problem is that a lot of applications/designers doesn’t follow those guidelines/specifications :( (see for example Microsoft Office ;))

  8. some says:

    Just what could be UI if it is not only GUI.

  9. I generally agree with AlisdairM. Computers ARE too hard to use but they will never be as easy to use as a toaster. Users need to take SOME responsibility in learning how to use them. I posted a longer opinion <A href="">here</A&gt;.

  10. Oops. Sorry. Didn’t read the documentation about HTML not being allowed ;-).

    You can click my name below

  11. Raymond Chen says:

    Commenting on this entry has been closed.

Comments are closed.

*DISCLAIMER: I DO NOT OWN THIS CONTENT. If you are the owner and would like it removed, please contact me. The content herein is an archived reproduction of entries from Raymond Chen's "Old New Thing" Blog (most recent link is here). It may have slight formatting modifications for consistency and to improve readability.

WHY DID I DUPLICATE THIS CONTENT HERE? Let me first say this site has never had anything to sell and has never shown ads of any kind. I have nothing monetarily to gain by duplicating content here. Because I had made my own local copy of this content throughout the years, for ease of using tools like grep, I decided to put it online after I discovered some of the original content previously and publicly available, had disappeared approximately early to mid 2019. At the same time, I present the content in an easily accessible theme-agnostic way.

The information provided by Raymond's blog is, for all practical purposes, more authoritative on Windows Development than Microsoft's own MSDN documentation and should be considered supplemental reading to that documentation. The wealth of missing details provided by this blog that Microsoft could not or did not document about Windows over the years is vital enough, many would agree an online "backup" of these details is a necessary endeavor. Specifics include:

<-- Back to Old New Thing Archive Index