Benjamin Geer on Sun, 28 May 2000 18:03:11 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> OFSS01: First Orbiten Free Software Survey (fwd)

On Wed, May 24, 2000 at 11:21:54PM -0700, Amy Alexander wrote:
> On Wed, 24 May 2000, Benjamin Geer wrote:
> > If you dumbed down Unix so that it conformed to the expectations
> > of today's average user, you'd just have a more stable Microsoft
> > Windows or MacOS, and I think that would be a shame.
> interested to hear what you think of the "shells if you need 'em"
> approach of KDE/Gnome and especially MacOS X.

You can hide away the shell, but you can't hide away all the concepts of
system administration (e.g. permissions); there are certain decisions that
a human being has to make.  This is why I like the idea of sysadmins
making house calls.  Nowadays you can hire such people even for Windows
95, but it's very expensive.  Since Windows 95 promised people
zero-administration computing, and failed, and since most people don't
want to acquire the level of knowledge that would be needed to administer
Windows NT (or the sort of hypothetical Unix we're talking about), perhaps
it's time for everyone to accept the idea of having their computer worked
on by a sysadmin from time to time, just as they accept taking their car
in for a tune-up every so often.  (Of course, some people enjoy learning
about cars and can do their own maintenance, but most people can't be

> > average user would benefit much more from learning to use Unix as it
> > is, starting with a shell and a bit of scripting.
> yes, but due to my job working with art students and faculty who ask me
> the same question constantly, i am obliged to put on my devil's advocate
> hat here and ask what they ask me:
> "*why* do we/they need to know this? what does this have to do with the
> art we're making?" or its variant, "why do they need to spend so much time
> learning technical things - it takes time away from their
> artmaking. windows takes less of their time away from artmaking than unix
> does, because it's easier for them. why should they learn any command
> line things at all? they're artists - not programmers! can't you just
> write GUI programs for them to do what they need to do?"

Suppose an artist wanted to create art in the sky using smoke trails from
an airplane, and wanted to pilot the airplane as well.  The artist would
have to take flying lessons, and get a pilot's licence, before he or she
could start making art in this way.  If the artist complained that this
was too much trouble, would this complaint seem reasonable? 

Perhaps someday someone will make the perfect computer system for artists,
which lets them do everything they want with a minimum of technical
knowledge.  Until then, artists will have to live with the fact that
computers are general-purpose tools, like airplanes, and that one must
learn to use them as such. 

> my concern is that the current schism could have the effect of
> keeping systems which are best-suited to content *distribution*, not
> just consumption, in the hands of only geeks and the people who can
> afford to hire us (i.e. mostly companies.)

Distribution means doing things that could affect other people in
undesirable ways, just as piloting an airplane could affect other people
if you crash landed on their house.  On the net, if distribution tools are
misused, the result can be annoyance (in the case of spam) or chaos (in
the case of viruses) for a large number of people.  Just imagine the chaos
that would ensue if untrained users were running their own routers, DNS
servers, mail hubs, etc.  Do we need something like a pilot's licence? 

Benjamin Geer

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