Friday, April 13, 2007

Lovin' Our LaCie External Drive: You get what you pay for

Over the years I have put together quite a few external hard drives, typically buying a bare enclosure to put around a "spare" desktop or laptop drive that had been replaced by something larger or faster. The primary use for such drives was backup storage, like a quick backup of my laptop before heading out on a trip, or archives of image libraries and business files. These are files that do not need to be clogging up my work drive, but still need to be available quite quickly from time to time.

On the whole, the external drives that I 'built' did a decent job, but they tended to be a bit noisy. Lately a new storage need emerged on our home/office network: access to large image collections, video, and music libraries. My wife's photo art was the prime mover. She's an Apple user and bought a LaCie brand external drive from the Apple Store.

I have to say at first I was a little ticked. These are not the cheapest drives and Apple Stores are not noted for their low prices. But after using it for a couple of moneys I am impressed. It is quiet. It is fast. It wakes up and goes to sleep appropriately and does not seem to skip a beat (in fact, after some reconfigurations of our home/office network we are now using it for the 80+ gigabytes of iTunes content we have accumulated.). While LaCie drives always seem to price out slightly more expensive than the competition, this could be a genuine case of "They're worth it."

Recently I noticed some decent prices on Amazon.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Intuitive Interface Myth: Why computers aren't any easier to use than they used to be

Back in the early Post-Columbrian era I taught computer classes, hundreds of them. Four hours each, these classes covered: Computer Basics, Word Processing, Spreadsheets, and Operating System. After taking those classes you would know how to turn on a computer, create/save/print a document or spreadsheet, and make a backup copy of your work on removable media. You would also know the difference between memory and storage, RAM and ROM, and be able to answer qustions like "where does my work go wen the power goes out?"

Just 16 hours or two work days. Done and dusted. Or spend another four hours with me (or one of the dozen or so other trainers at our company) and you could build your own databases.

All of this without any "easy-to-use, intuitive graphical user interface." No hard-to-decipher icons, no tricky point-and-click devices, just simple taps on clearly labeled keys. Now, more than two decades later, a frightening number of office workers and home users have less clue about how to do their work and operate their computers than graduates of those archaic classes.

Why? The answer is going to be in some of my next postings. Meanwhile, consider this test. How easy and intuitive is A versus E? Twenty years ago option E was readily available and clearly labeled on the screen. Todays' screens are bigger, and have a lot more than two colors, but are applications any easier to use? I would argue No. Especially when if you want to talk about web apps, where almost every site has a different user interface (links are underlined, not underlined, underlined only on hover, colored differently, appear only when the arrow is over them, an icon not text, text not an icon, etc, etc).

I would hazard a guess that less than half of all people who use computers in their work today have received anything more than 4 hours of training on how to operate a computer. And that's a hazard, and accident waiting to happen, probably already happening if you dug a little deeper into the constant stream of security breaches being reported.