Since I “work with computers” I tend to get asked to do fair amount of unofficial technical support for family and neighbours. I’ve noticed that the same confusions about IT crop up again and again. Here’s my top ten.
(Note that due to my background this is going to be Windows-centric. Please don’t take this to mean that I think Windows PCs are unfriendly – it’s just I don’t know enough about other systems to be able to comment. I also don’t want to come across as elitist – if non-IT people don’t understand something, that’s not because they’re dumb – it’s because we haven’t made computer systems obvious enough.)
1. When to Click and When to Double-Click
This one is a continual source of annoyance to IT people, and especially to those in support. It seems obvious to us which should be used when, but before you get mad with the user you’re helping, consider this: can you make rules for when to click and when to double-click? Why do you double-click an icon to perform the action, but only single-click a button? What if Windows is set to “single click to open an item”?
Add into the mix the close cousin right-clicking, together with triple-clicks in text editors, double-single-clicks to rename, and of course modified clicks (holding down control or shift), and I think confusion is the correct response.
2. Hierarchical Folders
Hierarchical folders are a great idea – don’t get me wrong – but they’re a good example of a neat metaphor overextended and hence confused. Most people are familiar with cardboard folders that can store bits of paper – and equally most people are happy to store their files in folders on their PC. Where it all goes wrong is with folders within folders, as this very rarely happens in the real world. Many users are simply unaware that they can create additional folders
inside “My Documents” – hence the usual tendency to find hundreds or even thousands of files, all at the same folder level.
Making the problem even worse is the fact that “Save As” and “Open” dialogs often look nothing like the standard file explorer. This makes it more difficult to mentally link the save operation with the save location. This leads to the common problem of a user “losing” all their files – when in fact the “open” dialog has for some reason defaulted to another directory, and hence shows a different list of files to those the user was expecting.
(And don’t even get me started on the fact that folders like “My Documents” appear in TWO locations in the folder tree – the physical one that users can’t find or recognise, and the virtual one which isn’t supported by all applications).
3. Using Add/Remove Programs
I need to clarify here. When a user wants to remove a program they chose to install, they head over to Add/Remove Programs – no problems. I’ve found however that when it’s software they didn’t install (or didn’t intentionally install) – there’s a problem. Messages that pop-up on start-up, unwanted system tray announcements, even auto-starting applications – these are all a source of annoyance, and often there’s no obvious way to associate the offender with the appropriate entry in Add/Remove Programs. Often trialware pops up nag screens at startup, giving the user the option to purchase it – but without an option to uninstall.
Even worse is the case where a user wants to keep the application, just not have it launch at startup.