Closing the Gap Between Users and Developers

I recently suggested to my father that he switch from Internet Explorer to Firefox. My father went and did a little poking around the internet as to the merits of Firefox and uncovered Adam Kalsey’s blog entry about why he doesn’t recommended Firefox to the general public. My father pointed me to it, and asked what I thought about it. Well, here’s what I think about it:

Everything Adam Kalsey has said is absolutely factually correct, but in my opinion, nothing he has said is a reason not to recommend Firefox.

Quite simply, most people don’t use most of the features any product offers because they’re average
users. Average users only do typical things, and for anything typical there is no need to get into anything fancy. The fact that more features exist is not a reason not to recommend a piece of software, like a browser.

Mostly, however, the sense I got from Adam Kalsey’s entry is that users are not smart enough to learn how to use Firefox. I agree that there are things Firefox could do to ease people’s transition from another browser, and I also agree that there are some things in the interface which are geared towards people who have a better understanding of the fundamental concepts of the Internet.

However, there is no reason why having a simple conversation with someone shouldn’t clear up every issue Adam Kalsey has mentioned. I’m not just saying this: my mother, possibly the most computer illiterate person I know, uses Firefox because I taught her how to.

The bottom line is that Firefox is easier to use than IE so long as you can let go of old habits. As a blunt example, instead of the IE logo, click the Firefox logo. What’s the difference? The logo. That’s it. That’s not hard, and geeks have to start giving average users the respect of being smart, just like Adam says we should.

The major problem with people who think that we have to dumb stuff down in order to make sure that ordinary users can use software is that it creates a huge gap between users and developers. That’s precisely what people like Adam Kalsey want to avoid, right? Well then, they need to do something about that.

Explain the difference between a search bar and an address bar. It’s not that hard. It took me five minutes, three different wordings, and two examples to make my mother understand, but now she knows the difference. She even knows how to get to her favorite search engine from the address bar, and then run a search. Even Penn, my seven-year-old younger brother, understands it, so why can’t an average computer user? They’ve never been given the chance, that’s why.

Firefox gives them that chance.

Computer technology has begun a new revolution for mankind because it offers us a new set of tools. Ever since that time, computers have been able to perform more and more complex tasks, forcing people to adapt to the methods of how to use these new tools.

A mere two decades ago, no employer cared if you knew how to type. Now, you can’t even get into retail if you don’t put some kind of computer application skill on your resumé. You need to have at the very least a basic computer-related skill set, you need to “have some smarts” that were unheard of before.

In the mean time, these tools are developed in an effort to accomodate an ever lower common denominator. That doesn’t make any sense, and it needs to stop somewhere. Let’s let it stop here.