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10 November 2006

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Jay Fienberg

The issue with control is, IMO, a pervasive one.

Many computer users don't perceive that they even have a choice between Windows and another OS. So, if you're feeling somehow forced to use Windows, all of the ways it can't be personalzied / customized can feel that much more opressive.

On the other hand, people who use Mac tend to be making a choice to do so. And, so, why complain that you get a set of sounds ny default without being promoted to personalize them?

OS X has all kinds of defaults that actually sort-of congratulate you for choosing a Mac. You don't want to change the defaults--you appreciate that you don't have to think about them at all.

Of course, at other levels, OS X is at least as oppressive as Windows, e.g., all of the closed / proprietary file formats, like with iTunes playlists.

In any case, I don't think people need to be told they have a choice for everything, or asked from the start if they want to change defaults. Many people would rather have good defaults than have to think about it. But, two things:

1) we need to know that, when we want to change anything, we can

2) different people need different defaults, and different levels of prompting for customization

All of this is part of what makes OS distributions like Ubuntu so interesting--and, for some, so appealing.

Greg Mizell

Jay hit the nail on the head. I think there are two types of computer users: those that want control over their environment and those that don't. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that the latter group wants control taken away from them. They don't want choices, they just want it to work. So to satisfy both groups, the OS must provide flexibility but it also must come with a sane default configuration.

Personally, I'm not in that number. I like having control. For many years I used a window manager on my Linux boxen called enlightenment, or sometimes just "e" for short. This WM takes the idea of control to the extreme. Literally everything in the WM is configurable. Not just how it looks but how it behaves too. One of my peeves about windows is the location of the X button right next to the maximize button. Every so often I go to maximize a window and end up killing it instead. So I found a theme for e that not only contained the requisite eye candy but located the kill button in the upper left corner instead of the upper right. (It also has features that you can't even find in Windows, such as a windowshade function, an iconbox and great looking pagers.)

I don't use enlightenment any more ever since I started running Fedora. I drank the Kool Aid and started using Metacity since everything integrates pretty nicely with it. It's a lot more Windowsy than Linuxy and I miss the control I once had. But eventually even a control freak like me got tired of having to edit menus every time I installed a new application.

I guess my point Jim is that we are the few and will be forever frustrated by the many. The best we can hope for is a reasonable amount of control and a set of defaults that is at least usable enough to let us change those things that require changing out of the box (e.g., the disgusting Fischer-Price default XP theme).

ps, I happen to like the new Vista sounds.

Jim Benson

I guess I'd say "exactly."

It is apparent that many people would rather sacrifice freedom to simplicity. This is because we all have our areas of expertise and sometimes OS configurations might not be among them.

For me it's microsurgery. When I'm on the table I'd rather have a surgeon making those decisions and not me.

However, I'd rather have a surgeon make those decision than have the Microsoft Neurosurgeon Vista just use its default settings on me. If I had no access to anything else, than the defaults of MSNV would be great. But otherwise, I'd like someone in my community to set the parameters that are right for the situation.

It's not necessarily the sounds, it's the assumption that the need for control by the user is purely cosmetic. This will become more and more clear as Windows Genuine Advantage starts randomly shutting off people's boxes.

That's when I'm thinking the rise of Unbuntu will come.

Peter Kirn

Right, except you DO have quite a lot of control over sound themes, in both XP and Vista. In Vista, you have the addition of profiles that are app-specific. We could be talking about that implementation and how Microsoft could be developing it better -- or the implementation in Linux and Mac OS, both of which also have a ways to go. The simple fact is, none of these OSes behaves truly intelligently when it comes to connecting and configuring audio devices; all have room for improvement. Sound alerts are important, as they're part of the annoyance factor of using a computer. The other tasks for audio -- like producing music, for instance -- are also important.

So I'm confused, because this whole blogosphere tempest appears to center entirely on aesthetics alone.

Isn't that what Windows users make fun of Mac users for?

Jim Benson

Odd, I made it clear I wasn't just talking about aesthetics. I believe you may have not read the whole post or the comments above.

The points we were making were on control of the environment in general and the inclusion of elements of control beyond merely the aesthetic.

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Jim Benson is a collaborative management consultant. He is CEO of Modus Cooperandi, a consultancy which combines Lean, Agile Management and Social Media principles to develop sustainable teams.

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