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In praise of the walled garden

I recently read these comments from someone who works in a computer support department about a hapless computer user:

Unfortunately I've dealt with enough of these types of customer service issues to know with almost abolute [sic] certainty, that the customer in question here is your typical ignorant arsehole. 
He will have been the kind who in general doesn't listen to simple instructions, has no clue how to operate a computer, and will have installed a million browser toolbars, 6 unintended antivirus programs, and every peice [sic] of crapware available on the internet within minutes of plugging the dam [sic] thing in. 
He then phones some poor hapless call centre support bod, and shouts for fifteen minutes demanding a brand new computer. 
This all too typical genus [sic] is incapable of learning, because he/she refuses to accept just how useless they are at using a computer (never actually reading a message that pops up on the screen before clicking wildly in the hope of getting a new screensaver), and therefore makes the call centre bod's extremely difficult job simply impossible.
Now, as it happens I have run the PC support department of a large company and it is certainly true that you do get some difficult customers. But even so, I think the support guy here has got matters back to front (and has some problems operating a computer himself, given the number of spelling errors). What he is describing is not a fault with the user, but with the computer. Why should a customer know all the ins and outs of computer maintenance? He shouldn't have to.

One of the joys of having moved off a PC onto a Mac is that it is, in some ways, more restrictive. When I moved over, a friend said 'You are the last person I'd expect move into the walled garden,' because I used to program computers, so used to be good at getting my hands dirty, fiddling around at a low level. But no more. I understood DOS pretty well, but have little idea about what's going on in a modern Windows implementation. I want the protection of that wall. I don't get offered 'a million browser toolbars' and '6 unintended antivirus programs.' And I would argue it would be better still if it was even more of a walled garden. Yes, this means you are limited in the bells and whistles a fanboi can bolt onto their operating system. But 99.999% of users just want to get on with the thing and use it, not be constantly fiddling around with it.

Compare it with another really complex bit of technology many of us own, a car. On the whole, unless you are one of those odd custom car people, you buy a car and you use it. You don't keep upgrading the operating system (I assume it has one somewhere) or downloading extra bits of software to the CD player so it can tell you the time in Hong Kong as you drive. I'm not saying that a computer should be as limited as a car - it is a more flexible tool which requires a more flexible approach. But I'd say the amount of upgrading and bolting on and adding on that is allowed is just confusing for most users. Many of us have concealed computers in, for example, PVRs and Sky boxes. They get upgrades automatically, but on the whole they just work. A 90-year-old with no experience can use them. There is no reason at all why computers shouldn't be the same. Of course you have to be able to install programs (though not browser toolbars), but in a controlled way. As for upgrades that are fixes, they should be done invisibly - anything else should be kept to a minimum. Fine, have an unlock control in the system preferences that lets you do anything you like - but for the 99.99% of us who just want to use the thing, lock it down.

So I'm sorry, Mr Ignorant Support Person, the problems you describe are not because the customer is an 'ignorant arsehole' but because the computer software is 'badly designed' and doesn't offer the customers the protection they should expect when they buy a computer.


  1. Absolutely right!! Mrs Crox and Crox Senior, and to some extent myself, would be described by your PC support person as 'ignorant arseholes'. Really, they are people who need computers as we use cars, to get them from A to B without worrying that what's under the bonnet is an internal combustion engine rather than fairies riding tiny unicorns. When Mrs Crox and Crox Senior started, at various times, to whimper and obsess at their PCs, my advice was 'get a Mac' - and they are now much happier. I sometimes think PCs still exist simply to keep tech support people in jobs.


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