Sharp Blue: From production to consumption


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Meri Williams wrote in a recent article:

For reasons best not explained here, I had to do an install of Win XP Pro this weekend. Whilst it was doing it’s thing and throwing up propaganda onto the screen, I glanced at what it was trying to get across. A lot of it revolved around only the options you needed being on the screen … about simplifying the interface. This is presumably what that horrible green-blue creation is all about .. making your PC “friendlier”. It’s definitely what that saccharine little paper-clip is all about. Is the next phase of software development not going to be about functionality, but about usability taken to an extreme? Are we just going to make things dumb and dumber from now on?

I think that in the world of personal computers were seeing a quite fundamental shift that is seldom commented upon: the move from computers as tools of production to computers as tools of consumption.

As late as the early to mid 1990s, people bought computers to produce things: to word process, to handle their accounts, to write new software, and so on. Back then, the only real use for computers as tools of consumption was the playing of games.

Since then, we’ve seen the rise of many applications that are essentially about consuming information: the Web, music-sharing, PCs as entertainment centres, and so on. I’d imagine that the vast majority of computer time in modern homes is taken up with such things, with perhaps a bit of emailing or instant messaging thrown in. Even I, despite being in the middle of writing several books, maintaining a weblog and working on a few programming projects, mostly spend my time sitting at the computer at home consuming rather than creating.

User interfaces, however, haven’t really made this transition. There have certainly been wonderful production-oriented interfaces (the UNIX shell!) but not, so far as I can tell, any decent consumption-oriented interfaces. Windows, though, is in the middle of the transition from a poor production-oriented interface to a mediocre consumption-oriented interface!

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