I hate computers: system administrator confession

Original author: Scott Merrill
  • Transfer
I often ask myself: do plumbers have such a moment in their career when, after cleaning up another clogged drain, they begin to hate their profession? Hate pipes. Hate putty. Hate all the tricks they have learned over the years, hate to learn new. For God's sake, this is just plumbing: to connect pipes and let fluid flow through them. Can it really be difficult?

No, seriously, I hate them. I like the way they facilitate communication, I love the amenities that they bring to my life, I love that sometimes they allow me to tear myself away from the outside world; but, really, I hate computers themselves. They are breaking, incomprehensible things - a mishmash of glitches, iron and software restricting freedom. Why?

Every day I support users. I am not one of those snotty IT people who scornfully look at people who do not know what an interrupt request is. I am aware that users do not care about the device computers. A computer for them is a means to an end: to make a presentation to receive a grant, to study a new computational technique, or simply send a beautiful postcard to their family. They don’t want to “use the computer” enough to understand it. It’s the same with cars: I don’t want to know how the internal combustion engine works, how to change the oil or at least something that affects the areas of work of an auto mechanic - I just want to sit down and go to the store!

But these stupid computers themselves prevent us from doing the things for which they were created to facilitate. All this artificial paradigm with administrator accounts, security, permissions and all other things that people do not want to think about at all. A lot of auxiliary software has been created necessary for the computer to work, but all this software only complicates the system and makes it less stable, which usually leads to sad results.

What caused me another outburst of anger was the inability of the user to check whether updates are available in Windows Update. It starts off pretty well. But clicking on “Check for Updates” leads to a useless message saying that Windows Update cannot do this. The user is shown a meaningless error code, as if he could do something with it. Oh, there’s even a useful link “Learn more about common Windows Update issues.” But the list contains a bunch of different error codes, in addition to the one that the user received. And even the Windows logs, which I know how to get to, but the user does not know, also do not contain anything useful. And usually the user has only two ways: to ignore the error, hoping that this will not affect the work in the future; or try to fix the error,

Another client I supported was constantly tormented with Adobe Acrobat. Attempts to open the PDF from the browser ended in nothing. Either the links simply didn’t open, or they loaded a blank page, or Internet Explorer displayed a message about network problems. I was grateful if the user could find a workaround and right-click and select "Save As" to work with the file until I find a solution to the problem. But after all, many users do not even know why this right button is needed.

I find fault with Microsoft so much, because I believe that they fundamentally do many things wrong. But many other companies are also not able to make a normal design, implementation of something or feedback from their users. Google Chrome looks cute when it writes “Aw, don’t ...”, but if you look from the practical side, it does not provide the user with any information about what the problems might be, leaving the user helpless, feeling powerless and feeling of his own stupidity.

Yes, even when everything goes fine, users feel stupid. Installing almost any program on Windows implies an excessive number of clicks, all of which are “OK”, “OK”, “OK”. No one reads user agreements, no one changes the standard installation directory, no one changes the options during installation. Everyone just keeps clicking “OK,” that is, doing what they were accustomed to. And it all ends with 4 additional toolbars in the browser and a bunch of “helping” programs that never do what the user expects from them. And then he does not know how to get rid of them.

You can say a lot about the ease of installing programs on Linux or Mac. In the latter case, just drag the file into the application folder and you're done. Linux package manager will do all the dirty work without user intervention. If the program needs any additional libraries, the package manager will automatically pull them up and install them. In both cases, I can deliver the application for a small fraction of the time that Windows will take for this.

Removing programs is another users nightmare. Again, Mac and Linux are easy to use. Hell, on any Linux system, I can see in seconds which packages I have installed using one command from the terminal (or click on the corresponding button in the graphical interface). But on any Windows machine - even a new one and with super-modern hardware - the display of installed programs will take long minutes; and, even worse, “Add or Remove Programs” does not show everything that is actually installed on the computer. Removing a specific application does not always happen cleanly and to the end: a lot of junk remains in the file system and registry.

Speaking generally about file systems, why does finding a record in an SQL database among millions of others take fractions of a second, and finding something on the hard drive takes minutes? No, I'm sure there is a logical explanation for this, but, damn it, try to explain it to the user.

Ordinary users went to “computer classes”, on which they were trained to do something specific - usually working with an application (for example, how to use MS Word) or, conversely, how to solve a specific problem (how to use word processors) - but when faced with something broader than what they were in the classroom, the user can not solve this problem. How will he understand this pop-up error message? How to behave with a constantly crawling error in the application?

The pace at which the computer industry is evolving is against users. Coloring the ports in different colors was a great idea for better understanding, but now that the user needs to know the difference between VGA, DVI and DisplayPort, this is not enough. Many computers that come to my office have all three of these ports, and monitors support multiple sign-in, which leaves users wondering which one of them they need to connect to a computer. More than once, really smart students called me who could not understand how to connect a computer to the monitor. Of course, you can make a joke and laugh at the situation, but, in my opinion, this is the fault of the entire industry.

I have never had malware on my computer; but more than once I helped people get rid of them - the clients I support, as well as family and friends. Can you imagine a mother-in-law complying with this malware removal instruction ? Or, worse, correcting the consequences of an unsuccessful antivirus update ?

Hardware and software companies know that we use computers to store information that is important to us. And so far, the backup of information remains a huge headache. There are many "corporate" backup software that tries to protect us from errors (hardware, software or human). A bunch of "custom" solutions compete with each other in the fight for our dollars; but honestly, they all suck. Why do we need software from the outside in order to protect our "investments" in the computer? And usually, users don’t buy backup software, hoping that nothing bad will happen to their computer.

Nowadays, information accumulates very quickly - digital photos, MP3 collections, video - backing up all this can be a serious problem. Moreover, it is expensive. You bought a new cool camera for a few hundred dollars, and you need a couple more to buy an external hard drive that you can backup to. And, of course, the backup itself from the computer to the disk takes a long time, so you need to have a considerable amount of time or peace of mind to do this regularly. So you start to neglect it and - bam! - the computer breaks down - a hard drive, malware, whatever - and you lose weeks and months of invaluable information.

Of course, some computers come with redundant disks, but most consumer-level RAID arrays are a breaking mishmash of hardware and software, making installation even more difficult. Why didn't reliable, low-cost RAID solutions reach the masses? Why don't end users have access with useful things like snapshots or ZFS?

And what about these minor problems that users cannot begin to identify or diagnose, such as swollen capacitors on the motherboard or a faulty video card and RAM?

In any computer store, a crazy amount of computers is currently being sold, which can intimidate even the most persistent customer. What will these series of meaningless statistics say to a person who does not know computers? Will the difference from these 0.2 GHz be noticeable? This will add six months, or maybe even a year to the life of the computer? And why should a normal user have to worry about the number of bits in his operating system?

I hate computers.

I understand that my speech is a drop in the bucket: a huge, sluggish industry, making a lot of money from the complexity of this computer era, and only a small capitalist incentive to change the status quo. All these complaints are not new; most of them have been made over the past quarter century. We will try, as far as we can, to highlight some tangible problems, but that’s all we can do. What are you doing with these problems?

Perhaps I should become a plumber ...

* (from a translator) Here the author, it seems to me, is not meant to be a system administrator, but rather an enikeyshik or technical support worker. However, this does not affect the described problems.

Also popular now: