There is, certainly, a minimum level of time and effort you must spend in order to do any thing well. It is my belief that, in all cases in this human world, people end up spending far and away more than this minimum, and the problem is especially bad when it comes to learning how to use computers and their software. This is one way in which the designers of computer software have, so far, failed humanity as a whole, in that their work has not been made more accessible to more people.

UNIX is a perfect tool for computer engineers. It is also great for many other uses. I have considerable fondness for Linux, and hope to switch to it completely as soon as my favorite programs get Linux versions. However, my father sees things differently. He has a busy life, he works a 9-to-5 job while I am a lazy college student, and his free time is important to him. He also has a low tolerance for frustration. He is not a lazy or stupid person, but I tell you, if I had to teach him how to use the tools people are expected to use to set up even a relatively user friendly Linux distribution... it would be impossible, let's leave it at that. Hell, he even has trouble with Windows, to the extent that he took a class on it at a community college. He can do some things which are simple by comparison, or rather, have been made simple. He can search for MP3s because Napster is comprehensible to him. He can do his checkbook because Microsoft Money is understandable to him. (He doesn't understand I can't help him much, because I don't use MS Money. To him, "knowing about computers" means knowing everything about computers. How much could there be to understand?)

I'm not saying that all software is as simple as Napster or Money, but most of the stuff that most people need to use in their every day life is not yet easily accessible under UNIX and UNIX-like OSes. I do feel that the problem is not insurmountable, and I see that Linux itself even has some user-friendliness bonuses over Windows. (Oh, how many times I've wished Win98 had a good packaging and maintenance system like RPM or DEB! If only Windows Update worked like MandrakeUpdate! If you could upgrade with something like apt!)

While I am ripping on Linux and friends, a little, I am not trying to defend Microsoft. I think they are as guilty as anyone, maybe even more guilty than the UNIX guys for imposing so many stupid limitations on users because they didn't want to write good software (how long did we have to suffer with 8.3 filenames?) and because it suited the company (like all the obvious features – and sometimes bug fixes – that should be in a program that aren't because otherwise no one would buy the next, advanced, NT, "professional," or "server" version). I do not believe that computer software will ever evolve into its great potential until it mostly becomes open source or of similar status, thus freeing it from the predatory behavior of companies which care more about manipulating the marketplace through proprietary standards rather than making a good tool that many people can use, and until designers, and society as a whole, have come to unlearn their narrow, limiting perspectives on what a program is. (Do not ask me what those might be – I claim no special insight there, for I am affected, too. But the fact that one guy went and wrote a thing like Napster without a great deal of trouble, when the rest of the world continued on blind until shown how, that indicates, to me, that we have had our visions narrowed.)

And yeah, I scrawled this out because I read a writeup, thought black thoughts to myself, then blurted out a response. I think more essays are written like this than most would admit.