I’ve harped heavily here before about how Windows doesn’t work well for people who are just starting out with computers. I’d like to go into a bit more detail about thoughts I’ve had recently and give a little background to what I’m talking about.
The Three Types of PC Users
As a general statement, I would like to put forward the idea that there are three types of PC users:
- Inexperienced Users
- Experienced Users
- Power Users
When I think about consumers going to Wal-Mart and buying el-cheapo PCs that run Windows, it strikes fear into my heart. The problems with Windows when relating to the Inexperienced Users group is that it’s very easy to mess things up with just a few clicks. You can have a fresh out-of-the-box PC, and within an hour have it in a state of un-usability simply through not understanding the consequences of your actions.
To give an example, I was working on a client’s PC that was unusable. Every program you tried to launch would not show up. According to the Task Manager, the process would start after clicking the icon, but would immediately disappear from the running process list.
After spending a few hours cleaning it using the various Ultimate Boot CD For Windows’ bundled antivirus, registry cleaners, spyware, adware and defragmenting programs, the system was still unusable. So we had to go for the contingency plan, which entailed using a vendor-created restore partition to reset to factory settings.
Not 30 minutes after I had restored Windows XP Media Center Edition, the system was rendered unusable once again. Confused, I tested the hardware to the best of my ability, and was able to use different LiveCDs without any issues. So, I did a system restore without connecting the PC to my home network, and immediately installed antivirus software at the next boot.
To my surprise, while attempting to get to Windows Update through Internet Explorer 6, already there was a virus infection in the PC. Now, I don’t run any other Windows PCs on my network, so I know that it couldn’t have been some spreading attack from inside the network. From a clean install, Windows was compromised within 30 minutes of being connected to the internet.
What does this tell you about what happens to the average not-tech-savvy Inexperienced User who buys a budget PC from Wal-Mart unsuspecting of the future of their computing lives? And what do malware creators get out of this whole deal?
I know that they certainly keep me busy and out of living in a cardboard box on the street.
The virtual world of the Inexperienced Windows User extends only as far as Microsoft products are concerned. They live in a blissful world where consequences don’t exist, and there is no alternative to Windows Media Player, Hotmail and Internet Explorer.
Let’s talk a bit about what an Experienced User really is. An Experienced User is someone who has spent years understanding the way the system works through trial and error.
These users are unafraid of making mistakes, and have learned many ways to recover from those mistakes and possibly even preventing themselves from making the same mistakes over again. They tend to read dialog boxes that pop up, resisting the urge to just click “OK” on everything that passes in front of their eyes.
Experienced Users tend to have an understanding of third party software, and are comfortable with using non-Microsoft technologies in their everyday work habits. This includes seeking and purchasing software from MicroISVs and learning about Open Source and Freeware projects.
These users also extend assistance to the Inexperienced Users in their life, though they may not have the years of troubleshooting experience to be able to grasp a situation and fully eradicate the foreseen and unforeseen consequences of their assistance.
Power Users are a completely different beast. These users are the driving force behind the innovation that is happening on a daily basis in the computing world. If there were no Power Users, we would be stuck in a world where small email inbox quotas are normal, and everyone was happy with the black-and-white world of Windows.
It takes a lifetime of work to become a true Power User in a Windows environment. Trial and error becomes a petty understatement of the hassle and long hours of troubleshooting that get one to this point. Though they are usually gracious enough to extend help to those other two classes of users, Power Users tend to begrudge any task that takes them away from their core computing processes, whether it be gaming, 3d modelling, web development, etc.
These users tend to not only use but to also support Open Source software, as well as investing tons of time and hard earned money in larger software products, such as the Adobe Creative Suites, which help them complete their tasks in a more elegant, time sensitive manner.
The other aspect of Power Users is that they are not afraid of getting their hands dirty. These users tend to shun buying vendor-built PCs, and instead build from parts. They also tend to shy away from using Windows after dealing with a decade or more of inefficiency and constant headaches. And when they do deal with Windows and other high-end products, there is more tendency to acquire said products in ways which the software vendors do not approve.
What Does This All Mean?
The point that I’m getting at here, is that as a Windows user, you must have fear in order to go from an Inexperienced User up the ranks to a Power User.
If you do not fear and respect your PC as more than an appliance to be replaced once a year, then you are going to stagnate in your knowledge of how a computer works. Some people don’t want or feel the need to know how a computer works, but I think that as a Windows user, you must know how a computer works in order to expect to have a working system over time.
Read Part 2: Cost of Ownership, scheduled to be published January 7th, 2009.