A Distro for the Tech Illiterate

After 40 years of using computers, more than 20 years of using Linux, many years working as a tech writer, many years of often being tagged the “local computer guru,” and six years writing in this blog focusing on usability issues, here are some thoughts about supporting the “tech illiterate” with a Linux distro.

  • Everything — everything — must be pointy-clicky. A distro using window managers rather than a desktop environment, tiling windows, and traditional geek tools will not be used by the tech illiterate.
  • Forget custom keyboard shortcuts. Most computer users do not know a single keyboard shortcut, including the standard shortcuts for cut, copy, and paste.
  • Do not have a terminal window icon in the panel or desktop. From the perspective of the tech illiterate, the command line must be reserved for emergencies only.
  • Use a traditional desktop interface.
  • A Windows or Mac theme is not mandatory, but the overall look-and-feel should be close to Windows or Macs.
  • Most tech illiterate expect some kind of “start menu” button.
  • Do not use virtual desktops (work spaces) or add any related widgets in the panel or system tray.
  • Most tech illiterate do not understand file managers or file and directory storage.
  • Package updates need to be automated and transparent.

Important is accepting that the so-called tech illiterate are not going to install an operating system. The system must be pre-installed.

The tech illiterate do not give a hoot about “cool” technology. Wobbly windows are meaningless as well as using the mouse wheel to cycle through desktop or window elements. All they care are about is using computers as a tool and a means to an end, which is to be productive.

Creating a distro for “lazy” computer enthusiasts is different. Remember that “lazy” enthusiasts are not tech illiterate. Designing for the tech illiterate requires a significant amount of energy and dedication and eliminating presumptions. Some people might argue that certain distros qualify as a distro for the tech illiterate but those distros fall short. Linux is and remains the domain of the geek and computer enthusiast.

For decades the Microsoft and Apple folks have been trying to create computer operating systems usable by the general masses — the so-called tech illiterate. These days many people will argue that general computers remain less than “user friendly.” Why do Linux enthusiasts think geek tools and geek oriented customizing are usable by tech illiterate” users?

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

Next: Disaster Recovery Testing — 7

Previous: Disaster Recovery Testing — 6