Do We Make It Too Easy?

When I got my first IBM compatible PC, a 286, it booted up to a C prompt. That was it.

I had to know or learn what was a file and a directory, how to navigate, and that some files by typing their names and pressing enter would – gasp! – run program. Do things, make the computer be useful. By the same token, I learned that other files contained data or were in support of programs, and I learned that files had extensions, usually three characters after the period, and what those extensions were controlled what the system or a program expected them to contain or do. This became vastly more important with the advent of Windows.

These days, people get computers and fire them up to razzle dazzle graphics, but don’t know and often don’t care to learn the first thing about files and folders (directories), how to find and open things, and so forth.

So it is that I have routinely encountered a rather comical if sad scenario. People who never use and are unfamiliar with the concept of Windows Explorer, as such or accessed via “My Computer,” know that they use Word, and the File, Open dialog is a way to navigate and see files. And it is, to a point, because these days instead of the old Windows common dialog interface, it’s a wrapper to Explorer.

The unwitting user then tries to open a JPEG file the location of which they have been given on a network drive, or an EXE utility they have downloaded and extracted from a software vendor, and they cry out “all I get is gibberish!”

Well, yeah. You opened a picture or a program in Word as if it were a document. File open may be a wrapper to Explorer, but it’s a specialized one that says “open the file I have selected in Word as best you can.” Not “open the file I have selected with the appropriate program or action Windows associates with the extension” as it would be in Explorer proper, or from the run command line.

If this were a rare thing, I’d shrug it off. It almost routine though. I find it unbelievable the way people don’t care to learn to drive their computers that are absolutely integral to their jobs. It’s not rocket science.