No matter what you do, someone will call you an idiot, part 2


There was quite a bit of reaction to what I thought was a simple “Hey, here’s what’s going on” article from last year, specifically on how the Adaptive Display Timeout means that Windows doesn’t always start the screen saver exactly on time. As you may recall, this feature adjusts the time it takes for the screen saver to activate if the user keeps dismissing it immediately after it starts. One of those small things that makes the computer adapt to you rather than vice versa, and an adaptation that you probably don’t even notice when it happens.

I think these two responses below summarize the extremes of the types of reactions this feature generated.

  • Vista/W7 has some nice touches too. http://is.gd/2FgKv Such little things is what we love about Macs.

  • Ich finde das erstaunlich. In einem Linux-System kann man soetwas relativ leicht selber scripten, und sich z.B. einen Button erzeugen, der den Bildschirmschoner kurzzeitig ganz ausschaltet. Sowas geht unter Windows freilich auch, aber kaum ein User kennt das System hinreichend gut. Deshalb stellen sich dort solche Probleme. Erstaunlich.

    Translation: This is incredible. On Linux, you can script this yourself relatively easily and create, for example, a button which completely disables the screen saver for a short time. Admittedly, you can also do this on Windows, but hardly any users know the system that well. And therefore we have these types of problems. Incredible.

On the one hand, the feature is something so cool, it must have been stolen from a Mac.

On the other hand, this feature shows everything that is wrong with Windows. I mean, on Linux, you can solve this problem by simply writing a script!

Comments (41)
  1. Marquess says:

    That German blogger appears to be a moron. His reasoning: Something which Windows does automatically can be easily done by a script on Linux (let’s not get into the matter of “easily done” and “script” in one sentence), which you could probably also do on Windows, but the few users would know how (which is why Windows does it automatically). And somehow, that is a bad thing.

    Linux fanbois say the darnedest things.

  2. mh says:

    Translation: people who know how to script it on Linux can script it easily.  People who know how to script it on Windows can script it easily.  Therefore Linux iz da r0xx0r and Windoze iz da sUxx0r.  Incredible!

  3. kog999 says:

    "This is incredible. On Linux, you can script this yourself relatively easily and create, for example, a button which completely disables the screen saver for a short time. Admittedly, you can also do this on Windows, but hardly any users know the system that well. And therefore we have these types of problems. Incredible."

    I highly doubt my Grandmother could write a script in linux that would disable the screensaver, but somehow the fact that she doesn’t have the knowledge to do it in windows either means linux is better. Not trying to linux bash here but if you going to make a comparison make it apples to apples; The ease of scripting it for a knowledgeable linux scripter in linux vs a knowledgeable windows scripter in windows and not a computer geek (typical linux user) vs a grandmother who can barely check her email (typical windows user).

  4. violet says:

    Well, yes, but the other thing this shows is that if the thing you do is clever, robust, and effective, comments against it — such as from that I’m sure very nice German fellow — look idiotic.

    (Comments praising it by likening it to the Mac’s niceties should probably be taken in the spirit they were meant. Apple’s usability image is just much stronger.)

  5. DoesNotMatter says:

    Conclusion: If you had an counter displaying the number of morons posting comments to your blog it’d be up by two ? (three /sarcasm)

  6. GWO says:

    @Marquess Linux fanbois say the darnedest things.

    They do.  So do Windows fanbois, Mac fanbois, Heavy Metal fanbois, Jazz fanbois, pop fanbois, classical music fanbois, football fanbois, baseball fanbois… well, you get the idea.

    It doesn’t matter what the subject is, there’s somebody on the internet who is proudly, vehemently and vociferously opinionated about it, who is also completely, demonstrably wrong.

    We call these people “the blogosphere”.

  7. mgbrown says:

    Let us not forget that you can do anything in Linux that Windows does. All you need to do is download the open source code, re-write the whole OS, compile it, debug it and reinstall it. But frankly I prefer to just buy a copy of Windows, it is so much easier.

  8. Karellen says:

    @mgbrown: Well done for proving GWO’s point in little over an hour!

  9. James Schend says:

    My favorite Linux-ism: whenever an OS or something adds a new feature, Linux always claims to have added it first. How it works:

    "OS X renders windows in the GPU now!"

    "Oh Linux has done that for a few years." "Really?"

    "Yah, there was a prototype for a plug-in to X11 that never shipped on any Linux distro and crashed every 10 minutes– but we had it first!"

    They also have a great way of deflecting any criticism:

    "Linux doesn’t work for me because it doesn’t have a good app to do Gantt charts."

    "Linux isn’t an distro! It’s just a kernel!"

    "Well, ok, the Linux kernel doesn’t support Sleep mode on my laptop."

    "That’s the distro’s fault!"

    Violet: I’m waiting for Apple to begin losing that reputation. Their ease-of-use in OS X has gone way downhill since OS X came out, meanwhile Windows and Linux have been advancing in this area in leaps and bounds. (Apple did amazing things for cell phones, though.)

  10. Leo Davidson says:

    "Admittedly, you can also do this on Windows, but hardly any users know the system that well."

    It only takes one user to write a tool, and then everyone else can use it.

    There’s a little tool + source on my webpage that disables the screensaver and/or monitor power-down, if anyone wants it. I bet there are more, too. (NirCmd might do it. It does lots of things like this.)

    I’m gonna guess that there are as many people who could work out how to do it on Windows as on Linux, but since some people have already worked it out & packaged it up, and the OS does something sensible for most situations by default, there’s no need for lots of people to know it anyway.

  11. asdf says:

    I don’t think the first response is implying that the feature was stolen from OS X, but rather that OS X has many little "touches" which just gives the warm fuzzy feeling that someone has cared about the software (and by extension, the user) to add them.

  12. Gabe says:

    I once touted a particular Windows system call as being a great optimization because of how much faster it made a certain common application, and a Linux "fanboi" called my concept an ugly hack the only bloats the kernel (among other things).

    Now he is so well known for implementing this "ugly hack" concept on Linux that it’s listed on his Wikipedia page!

  13. dasuxullebt says:

    Just informing you that the correct translation of "erstaunlich" is not "incredible", but "amazing" or "interesting".

  14. Anonymous Coward says:

    That second remark shows why systems shouldn’t ship with a command processor by default. It would force people to think a lot better about how to make their software configurable in nicer ways.

  15. paul says:

    Maybe the same adaptive code could be put to use with those “press cancel within 15 minutes or you’ll lose all your work because I want to reboot for upgrades” nagging dialogs?

  16. violet says:

    @JamesSchend – I’m inclined to agree that Apple’s actual usability doesn’t really live up to its image. Nevertheless, their marketing is very, very good, and the coherence of their brand is such that the iPhone helps OS X’s perceived usability in a way that, say, the Xbox ("X-Box" / "xbox" / "XBOX" / "360"?) does not help Windows. (Which is to say, I think it’ll take quite a bit to damage their image. Even more than, say, naming a tablet computer after a feminine hygiene product.)

    @mgbrown / Leo – In fairness, the manual hack might actually be easier on Linux (zenity –progress –pulsate –text="Click cancel to let the screensaver run" –auto-kill & while true; do gnome-screensaver-command -p; sleep 2; done). But that’s hardly the point, is it?

  17. Linguistics says:

    @dasuxullebt

    "Incredible" is often used as a synonym for "amazing" in the United States.

  18. Anon says:

    I know there are some of us Linux folk who would like adaptive screensavers: http://mjg59.livejournal.com/106581.html (yeah it’s fashionable to bash Windows even without merit… I think I can only apologise for that. I’m afraid you are unlikely to ever see a change in that regard…)

  19. Timothy Byrd says:

    When he was running NeXT, didn’t Steve Jobs say something like "If you see the command line, it’s a bug."?

    At one point I wanted to brush up on my scripting for Linux, since I hadn’t used that style of shell for years (and had become spoiled by 4DOS/4NT on PCs).  I searched and found a site with a pretty good tutorial, though the author was a bit condescending in comparing Linux to a certain "legacy operating system". Toward the end, there was a very telling comment. "On Linux, everyone is a programmer." He said this proudly, while I’m thinking this attitude explains why Windows is still so much more popular.

  20. Stuart Dootson says:

    @JamesSchend

    “Their ease-of-use in OS X has gone way downhill since OS X came out” – that’s meant to make sense?

    @Raymond – that twitter doesn’t say the feature’s stolen from Mac – it says that it’s the sort of feature that makes people love Macs. Big difference. Let me be honest – I loves my Mac. But WIndows 7? Yeah, loving that as well. Vista (as I have on the third computer I use regularly)? Makes me realise why I like Windows 7 and OS X so much.

    [I didn’t mean that it was literally stolen from a Mac either. I was saying “This is the sort of feature you expect from a Mac”, but doing so with a little flair. Sorry if you read it too literally. -Raymond]
  21. Gaspar says:

    @Stuart Dootson

    ""Their ease-of-use in OS X has gone way downhill since OS X came out" – that’s meant to make sense?"

    That does make sense.

    When OSX came out it had Y usability.  Now many years and versions latter its usability is 1/2Y.

    I am not agreeing with his comment but it is a very clear statement.

  22. David Candy says:

    System Agent which was a Task Scheduler that came with Windows 95 Plus! pack allowed oneto park the cursor in the cornersto activate orpausethe screen saver. Alas IE4 relacedit with Task Scheduler which only schedulesTasks.

  23. violet says:

    @Anon – That second remark shows why systems shouldn’t ship with a command processor by default. It would force people to think a lot better about how to make their software configurable in nicer ways.

    No. The best way to make software configurable in nicer ways is to make it *less configurable*. Settings that don’t exist can’t confuse users, and users can’t muck them up.

    But in doing that, you’ll lock down some settings that are mutable in principle, and that someone who knows what they’re doing (or thinks they know what they’re doing) will want to change. Which is a reasonable use for tools like a command shell or regedit.

    (Another reasonable use for a shell is attacking problems which are simpler to describe programmically than they are to perform interactively. The set of such problems is larger than it might seem — I’m a designer, and you’d probably be shocked at how often I cursed and wished Illustrator had a scripting interface before it did. [Now I wish it had a nicer one, proving that if you give a mouse a cookie, she will soon be asking for a full-blown IDE.])

  24. The Batman says:

    Well… I just use the video playback / presentation power mode on my laptop when this becomes an issue – seems to be included as a default  power profile in 7/vista.

  25. Drak says:

    How exactly is the iPhone ‘usable’?

    I’ve seen my colleague do 3 or 4 actions just to be able to get the volume down. My phone has a button on the side for volume, because "gosh" you might want to turn it up or down depending on the connection.

    Also I see people with iPhones constantly sweeping their fingers over it trying to find the program they want. I find it very odd that this is considered more user friendly than how other phones work.

    Then again, I am somebody who turns off animated dropdown boxes in windows because it makes me wait. Yay for windows for allowing me to turn it off btw :D

  26. GWO says:

    @JamesSchend: "Linux always claims to have added it first."

    Really?  Linux claims that?  Nice trick, for an operating system kernel.  

    Oh, you meant "A Linux Fanboi" … in which case I refer the honourable gentleman to the reply I gave some moments ago.

  27. peterchen says:

    @GWO: it seems Linux is people.

  28. Scott says:

    I note the defensive nature of the responses you cite. I’m not sure if there is a name for this effect, but I would describe it as: "The car I bought must be the best car, because it’s the one I bought."

    People will show surprising reluctance to admit there might be something better about a product different than the one they chose to use or purchase. It applies even to a minor improvement like the one you described.

  29. janm says:

    Funny, I switched to a Mac in mid-2009. One of the features I miss is being able to do a fast dismiss of the screen saver, and have the system adapt to how fast I do it.

    @Drak: Every iPhone has a button on the side for volume control, which seems to works.  Is there some context where it doesn’t work?

  30. Nick Lamb says:

    peterchen, you’re thinking of Soylent Green, not Linux.

    I think it does make sense to be proud of having most users be programmers so long as you’re achieving that by making non-programmers become programmers. There’s a rather tedious tendency to pretend that knowing how to program a computer is an obscure technical skill like knowing how to replace the engine in your car, when in reality it more resembles knowing how to read & write (also once mistaken for an obscure technical skill).

    Programmability is that fundamental. Having attained it, our culture isn’t going to give it up, so a basic understanding will still be relevant when you’re old and grey. Nobody expects grandma to write an OS kernel, but there’s also no need for her to be helpless when a program doesn’t quite do what she needs.

  31. Lawrence says:

    The implied "usability" of the Mac comment is very interesting. I agree with the earlier comments that the Apple reputation for usability is going downhill, fast.

    The iPhone, for example, is at least as famous for what it *doesn’t* do as what it does (it was many people’s first encounter with the term "jailbreak"; a smartphone where you can’t even change the wallpaper!?), and a Bing search of "iPad can’t" turns up more hits than "iPad can".

    Meanwhile, MS has made huge inroads in this space. I love my 360, and Windows 7 is indeed awesome!

  32. GWO says:

    Personally, I think its odd that people expect one operating system, or at least one type of user experience to be right for everyone.  

    We’re happy that some people drive automatic and some drive stick shifts without treating it like a holy war, or some sort of fashion statement (although, of course, some petrolhead fanboys will have incredibly intransigent opinions).  

    [Interesting choice of analogy, because each time I mention that I prefer driving an automatic transmission, those fanboys come out of the woodwork and tell me I’m wrong. -Raymond]

    @NickLamb: there’s also no need for her to be helpless when a program doesn’t quite do what she needs.

    There’s no need for me to be helpless when my car doesn’t work, but I am.  I can fix a bike, and a washing machine, but I’ve no interest in learning about internal combustion engines.  I’ll happily pay someone to sort that out for me.  The money is a small cost for not having to study something in which I am not interested.  Similarly, if some software on my mother’s computer doesn’t work, she doesn’t want the source code and to spend hours debugging and coding (even if she had the skill), she wants to pay someone for a fix.  

    [OK, technically she wants her doting son to fix it for free, but I digrees].

    One can only fix things for free if your time has zero cost, or if the fixing is itself enjoyable.  I like fixing broken computers.  Fixing broken cars holds no interest.

  33. Good old says:

    Someone in your company that thinks just like that decided to take out the manual transmission in their latest car just for the heck of it.

    The "Classic" Start Menu.

    I have never seen a logical explanation for that except "new code path".

  34. Lawrence says:

    @Good old: Really, how hard have you looked for a a "logical explanation" for not continuing to support a 15-year old legacy UI, which has been fundamentally bettered by it’s successors?

    That’s not a Manual/Automatic analogy. That’s a Car/Chariot.

  35. Andrew Jackson says:

    So you’re admitting that you’ve let Apple corner the market in cool and simple so much that anything cool you do must have come from them, and you’ve let Linux corner the market for extensibility and geekery so much that Windows, despite massive complexity, seems like a generic and weak computing tool.

    How’s that pariah monopolist middle market business strategy working out for ya?

  36. Drak says:

    @janm:

    it could just be the context of that user :) Maybe he doesn’t know about the volume control.

    If this is the case, I shall attempt to enlighten him :D

  37. Good old says:

    @Lawrence: What’s legacy about it? It works fine, it’s well defined and deterministic, less complicated and not hectic.

    But when one wants to sell automatic transmissions…

    And… Bettered. Yeah right.

  38. Pi says:

    "dasuxullebt

    Just informing you that the correct translation of "erstaunlich" is not "incredible", but "amazing" or "interesting"."

    "Incredible" and "amazing" are correct translations. "Interesting" is not. Considering the context, Raymond made the right choice.

  39. Bob says:

    If you can’t script everything, you don’t deserve a computer. Windows makes it too easy for regular folk to have computers! Thanks Windows.

  40. Timothy Byrd says:

    Bob: " If you can’t script everything, you don’t deserve a computer."

    Are you saying Bjarne Stroustrup doesn’t deserve a phone?

  41. Timothy Byrd says:

    “each time I mention that I prefer driving an automatic transmission, those fanboys come out of the woodwork and tell me I’m wrong”

    Huh? Are they saying you mean really prefer manual, but aren’t aware of it?

    [They tell me I’m wrong for preferring an automatic, that I’d enjoy driving a manual once I invested the effort into learning to do it properly — they’re assuming that I want to enjoy driving. I don’t. This explanation doesn’t sink in with them, though. They say, “Oh, but if you invested the effort into learning to drive a stick, then you’d enjoy driving.” It’s like telling somebody, “You know, if you invested the effort into learning about 200% declining balance depreciation, you’d start to enjoy it.” -Raymond]

    I used to drive stick, but now I’m too lazy – it just got really old in L.A. traffic – besides I need both hands to text. :)

    Nick Lamb: “I think it does make sense to be proud of having most users be programmers so long as you’re achieving that by making non-programmers become programmers. There’s a rather tedious tendency to pretend that knowing how to program a computer is an obscure technical skill like knowing how to replace the engine in your car, when in reality it more resembles knowing how to read & write (also once mistaken for an obscure technical skill).”

    I find that wrong in a number of ways.

    To begin – and I have not just replaced an engine but torn a car down and rebuilt it for racing – working on a car is not obscure and for pretty much any standard operation I can buy a manual with step-by-step instructions on how to do it. It’s mostly a matter of buying all the needed tools/parts/equipment and paying attention to what you are doing. Even so, these days I still find it more efficient to have other people do most of the work on my car. Look at how simple an oil change is: open plug to drain oil, replace oil filter, put plug back in, refill oil. I simply have no desire to mess with it – it’s like having to recompile the video drivers because the kernel got updated.

    Next, knowing how to write is entirely different from knowing *what* to write. To me, your argument implies that Shakespeare didn’t do anything special.

    To quote Joel Spolsky (http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/GuerrillaInterviewing3.html):

    “I’ve come to realize that understanding pointers in C is not a skill, it’s an aptitude. In first year computer science classes, there are always about 200 kids at the beginning of the semester, all of whom wrote complex adventure games in BASIC for their PCs when they were 4 years old. They are having a good ol’ time learning C or Pascal in college, until one day they professor introduces pointers, and suddenly, they don’t get it. They just don’t understand anything any more. 90% of the class goes off and becomes Political Science majors, then they tell their friends that there weren’t enough good looking members of the appropriate sex in their CompSci classes, that’s why they switched. For some reason most people seem to be born without the part of the brain that understands pointers. Pointers require a complex form of doubly-indirected thinking that some people just can’t do, and it’s pretty crucial to good programming.”

    Becoming a programmer is like becoming a mathematician (but more so). It requires an ability to keep a number of semantic levels in mind at once. Here’s my latest favorite paper:

    http://www.cs.utexas.edu/users/EWD/ewd10xx/EWD1036.PDF

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