who is the boss - the human or the computer ?

Eric Dunbar eric.dunbar at gmail.com
Tue Dec 20 19:21:47 GMT 2005

(sounder... this is a response to an offlist post)

> What I suggest as a test of who's the boss is whether the typical user
> (and, I'm sure you know that you're no where near the typical user ;-)
> can perform the tasks quickly and without pain.
> In the DOS & CLUI world a lot of pain is involved for most people,
> effectively barring them from completing the tasks. In the GUI world,
> those tasks are simplified. A lot of unncessary work is eliminated.

And, not only are those tasks simplified, but they do what it is what
users need to do.

You have needs which extend far beyond that of the ordinary user.

One could perhaps make the argument that the "ordinary user" doesn't
know what they are missing (and, I've seen that argument brought up in
the past day-or-two on ubuntu-users), and, that they would be far more
productive if they could learn how to do more complex tasks without
hand holding.

True, in theory that's how it works, but in practice it's a bunch of
trade-offs. Yes, with simplification you can lose out on some
abilities (though, a well-designed GUI will capture most, if not all
of the important tasks, and make the lesser ones available through a
plug-in solution or scripting language).

However, that simplification allows many people who otherwise couldn't
access those solutions to perform those tasks.

(ignore the cost implications... these are secondary to the analogy...
unless you're a politician in which case anything to avoid discussing
the issue at hand is the best solution ;-)

You could argue that Google Maps, MapQuest, Yahoo Maps, etc. are weak
GIS systems because they only allow for _very_ limited tasks to be
performed -- to find a location, to determine a route and display
aerial or satellite photography.

By contrast, ArcView GIS is a stunningly powerful system and people
who know how to use it (and have access to those same datasets) can
perform far more impressive analyses and link other information to a
simple georeferenced location.

Yes, ArcView can do everything that Google Maps can. However, most
people only need Google Maps to show the address. Yes, it limits the
user's imagination, by necessity, but it makes the computer the tool
of the user as it means a *lot* of people can use it.

Anyway, I'm not working on a  paper on the philosophy of CLUIs and
GUIs so I'll go finish off some other stuff I'm working on (using
software that really simplifies the job of upload pictures to a photo
finishing site ;-) (now, if only the software on my computer was
advanced enough that I could simply tell my computer "Print the 25
pictures in directory "For mom" at a photofinishing store that's
within a 10 minute walk of my residence and will have them printed by

If my OS could do that I'd be really happy.


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