% fortune -ae paul murphy

How "Wintel thinking" reduces productivity

For many jobs there's a PC way and a Unix way. For example, I write these blogs using vi under either CDE (Solaris 10) or Gnome (Solaris 9) and just embed references and format information as I go along. The result is extremely portable because the text is independent of the format, the embedded DTD (HTML) can be changed at the drop of a sed file, and there just aren't many systems out there that can't handle the file in one of its many equivalent forms.

Until recently, for example, posting one of these to Zdnet was a one minute cut and paste operation - but not anymore. Zdnet recently upgraded to a Wordpress release that requires a Windows style work process - no more bulk HTML input. Now, there's a "visual editor," in which a carriage return over-rides <P> because the assumption is that you type your stuff using the mouse to highlight text and select "code" when entering HTML -i.e. you're expected to hard wire each change, link, or formatting decision in-line as you go along.

My blogs for June include 14,473 words and 595 HTML formatting commands - and that may not sound like a big deal, but try timing this:

  1. focus on some text on your screen

  2. move one hand to the mouse, select the text

  3. release the button, focus on a menu, move the mouse to that menu

  4. use the mouse to select something,

  5. refocus on your text, move your mouse hand back, click again.

Still no big deal? bet you can't do it 595 times in less than an hour -I've learned to cheat the system a bit by sending the file through a sed/nroff combination first, but it still takes several times as long to post as it used to.

The Microsoft work process - that whole focus, click, focus, click, wait, drag, click, and focus thing - got started, not with MacWrite (which could be used without invoking many mouse actions) but with Microsoft Word for Windows 3.X. What happened there was that Word's half screen menu bars became the perfect vehicle for selling executives terrified by WordPerfect's typewriter emulating blank screen, on clicking and pointing their way through note writing. No professional typist of the period would give Word a second look, but people who couldn't type loved it - largely, I think, because the Windows point, click, and wait process substituted a delay they could live with for an expertise they didn't have.

What they didn't notice, or at least didn't care about, was the combination of format lock in and productivity losses these decisions imposed on those who did know how to use more advanced tools.

Now that process is everywhere - from Wordpress to the latest BI application people assume that applications target one output form and require iterative click, point, and wait cycles during use.

Unfortunately the real bottom line on the windows work process is that it kills both productivity and flexibility by denying people the ability to change work processes as they learn. An expert clicking and pointing his way through a Word document may use more functions, and perhaps even the occasional keyboard shortcut, than a neophyte; but the overall work processes are pretty much the same - and the 100th document is handled in exactly the same way as the first.

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.