Saturday, November 9, 2013

The Complexity of Simplicity

To know how simple computers are today, we need to go back to twenty or forty years ago. (I can only vouch for the twenty years ago, though.) The way things are headed, in a few years the concept of computers will be as simple as our thoughts, or breathing itself.

Those days (twenty years ago), claiming that you attend computer classes was a sure way to instant celebrity status. There was nothing personal about computers. They were merely used in computer labs to write programs that said "Hello, World!" or to print out prime numbers until infinity. They also sometimes added one and one, and confirmed that humans had got the basics right. You could also try to divide by zero and make sure the computer knew its computations well. (It would burst into a series of expletive beeps if you try to pull that one).

We celebrities switched on our computers in the specially air conditioned labs (we also took off our shoes at the door in reverence) and waited until all the Greek text ran up, and stopped at a command prompt (also known as DOS prompt).

We proudly typed "chdir" and told the feller to go where we wanted it to go. Then we typed "dir *.*" just to show off, and also to make sure that none of the other fools who used the computer lab had deleted our files for fun. One of our biggest jokes was that we will go to C: (C-colon) one day and do a "del *.*" We would roll on the floor laughing, but we did not ROFL yet.

There were commands to open a file, to edit, to copy, to make or remove a directory, oh there were so many of them, and if you spelled one wrong, this feller would reply, "Command not understood", with another aggressive beep, sounding just like the robot that he was. No auto correct, no suggestions like Google does, nothing. Command not understood, and then the command prompt reappeared, waiting. It would wait as long as we wanted. If we returned one hundred years later, it would still be waiting, and it would not even ask, "Where have you been??"
Such insensitivity.

Then one day came Windows (I think it was Windows 3.x). But it did not have its own existence yet, we still had to login to DOS, type "win" at the command prompt and wait for the Windows desktop to show. The rest, as they say, is...

Sounds terrible, doesn't it. So many commands that one had to know by heart! But believe it or not, no one complained. People attended computer classes to learn them (sometimes not even knowing why they were learning those).

Today, there is no complexity related to computers. Anyone can use them. It was designed to be used by anyone. You are a celebrity if you do not use one - you probably use an advanced thought-processor or something, embedded directly in your brain. No one needs to know any commands. If you make a mistake, the robot slave makes suggestions. Politely. He is no longer the boss who says Command not understood.

And yet, possibly owing to the difficult path I had taken to learn the beast's language, today's simplicity (or the appearance of it) seems too complex than the complicated commands of twenty years ago.

If you haven't yet figured out what I am driving at, here you go, in the simplest terms: I installed Windows 8. And imagine my nerve - I then upgraded it to Windows 8.1.

Even though I was prepared for the Windows 8 interface, I was taken aback when I finally met it face to face.

I think of Windows 3.x - the complex, simple, old Windows. Then I look at Windows 8.1. Where has Simplicity taken us, people? Where, where? I don't know about you, but it has brought me right to the doorsteps of Google.

For every action I need to do on Windows 8, I need an equal (and step-by-step) explanation on Google. ("How to log out of Skype on Windows 8", for example, was the top scorer. Worse, "How to open Notepad on Windows 8". Then as time passed, I would scream at Google, "Where the hell is Calculator??" "How do I close this @#$#@@!! app?" and so on).

Windows 8 is so simple that no one knows how to do anything. I think the idea of Simple comes into existence when the version is somehow derived from the older, much familiar version, so that the users of the older version (especially people who have seen Windows in its rawest and crudest and immature form) are not at sea in the new one. Fortifying the underlying architecture is one thing. It's perhaps robust on the inside, complex and powerful and 'nothing like anything' everywhere, but if a user can't use it, what's the purpose?

Suffice to say that Google has saved me from drowning inside the chaos called Windows 8.
In its defence, I will say that - it works. It hasn't broken yet. It works just like Windows usually does - somehow. And for people who like a change, oh yes, you will have it in plenty.

However, if the creators intended it to be simple, if that was their goal, then I have no further comments.

Well, maybe just one more. If this is how Simplicity looks today, I wonder about the future. 


  1. He he - thank you for an amusing trip down memory lane:-) Enjoyed reading:-)

  2. Loved your line " You are a celebrity if you do not use a computer" Hilarious. But on a serious note Jeena I completely agree with your underlying thought about simplicity being more complex. The problem is that the simpler UI has made us users dumber. We no longer understand or even wish to know the underlying logic, solely dependent on google and Wikipedia.