Home > Computers and Internet > Why doesn’t my computer help me?

Why doesn’t my computer help me?

Have you ever tried to do something on your computer, couldn’t figure it out, and then go to Help? You probably have. How many times have you done it? Probably not more than once. Microsoft goes through a lot of effort to hire technical writers and who try to predict why people will use Help. The end result is a lot of effort gone to waste. Most of the time (in my opinion) people are trying to find an option, button, or configuration that they know they’ve seen before, and now they just can’t find it.

Macintosh started going in the right direction in having the Operating System help the user with the Spotlight feature in Mac OS X. That was released in 2001 and they’ve done some really nifty things with it since. I don’t think Macintosh has solved the problem yet, but they are way ahead of everyone else. Windows started to go in the right direction with the Control Panel in Vista (released in 2006). Type a word into the Control Panel search bar and human readable sentences will appear, which are links to windows. But this still involved a human thinking of all of the ways to express problems and solutions to the problems.

I can’t believe it took to Windows 7 to get the control panel search results into the Start menu, but it did. Even in Windows 7 it’s not quite right. If you’re on a Windows 7 computer (and it probably works with Vista) go to the control panel and type Environment. That seems like a reasonable way to look for how to change environment variables. The first sentence that shows is “Edit System Environment Variables”. This looks promising. But if you click on it you get sent to the System window under the Advanced tab with options for “Performance”, “User Profiles”, and “Start Up and Recover”. What the crap? None of these have anything to do with Environment Variables. Looking harder you see at the bottom there is a button to edit Environment Variables. Clicking on the button the Environment Variables windows pops up. Why wasn’t this the window that the control panel search linked to!

Even though there’s work to do, someone on the Windows team gets it. Now what they need to do is propagate this through out the rest of the OS. Here’s what they need to do. In addition to all of the well thought out help files (which are never used) have the OS index all of the menus and submenus in a program when it gets installed. Then when the user opens up that programs Help and does a search, if there is an exact match to the search phrase in the applications menu’s, have that be the top of the search. Then when the user clicks on the result it will take them to the sub-menu tab where the search phrase exists. This will solve the vast majority of user experience issues with Windows computers. The operating system will be able to help users solve their problems.

I’m fairly confident that a measurable percentage of the rise of Google came from people trying to find out how to use their computer. They were thinking “I know there’s a way to do this, I’ve done it before” and since Help didn’t help them, they turned to the internet. From a Google search they found a blog or forum post where they found somebody describing how to find the hard to find option. How happy would Microsoft would be if users could start turning to the OS to start solving their issues instead of “Googling it”?

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