easy vs. powerful OS

Una Smith unasmith at phoenix.Princeton.EDU
Tue Mar 19 16:35:29 EST 1991


I read Peter Markiewicz's article about modes and metaphors of
computing with interest.  He touches on most of the issues, but
in my opinion he draws too strong a distinction between the goals
and functions behind the Mac and Unix operating systems.  The
designers of each of these systems have the same goals (in fact,
they are sometimes the same people!):  to make the best computer
possible.

There should be computing standards, but there should always be
more than one standard.  Human beings will never invent the ideal
computing systems, but the computing systems that humans invent
will be continue to improve.  According to evolutionary theory,
the rate of evolutionary change is increased when diversity is
high, but the success of a species often depends on how common
it is.  At the same time, success tends to lead both to commonness 
and to greater diversity.  I see the same dynamics in many human
endeavors, especially in the computer industry, and I think that 
is a very good thing.

"Power" is relative, and the most powerful computer system will tend
to be the newest, and thus the least polished and perfected;  this
means that "power tool" computing systems will probably always need
manuals.

As computer designs evolve, there will be a continuing cycle of
emphasis on functionality at the expense of usability, and usability 
at the expense of functionality.  With each cycle, however, the
cumulative effect will be to increase both.

Different people have different computing needs;  some need the
functionality that Unix systems offer, while some need the user
interface of Mac systems.  Let's respect one another's needs, and
stop asking "which is the best system."  The real question is 
"which is the best system for what I want to do?"

Although both are much improved nowadays, Macintosh computers are
STILL hard to program, and Unix systems are still hard to use,
but each does some things better than any other system.

I am an ecologist, and I use computers frequently.  If I were
very, very wealthy, I would want a Mac, a PC, a Unix-based
graphics supermini, and an IBM mainframe, all connected to one
another using the very best communications protocols.  I like
them all, and I use them all regularly;  each one makes my 
life simpler because it does something for me that none of the
others can do nearly as well.  Take your pick, and enjoy.

	- Una




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