% fortune -ae paul murphy

More on the Windows work process

About a decade ago I wanted to compare OCR error rates for various packages and in the process of doing that got an abject lesson in both PC work process productivity and the reasons people prefer it.

What happened was that a client was setting up a Sun based Resumix system with PC desktops and had selected TypeReader 4.0 with Word, an HP autoloading page scanner, and Windows 98 for resume input and conversion. The first 1,000 resumes entered using this technology amounted to 2,614 pages and took a clerk just over six days to process - and, in the end, it took over three man months to enter the backlog and very nearly half an FTE just to keep up with the daily flood after that.

In contrast a script provided by Dale Remmers at Mentalix to control their PixelScan and OCR software product on my dual 167Mhz Solaris 2.5.1 machine took 173 minutes to scan, convert, and load the same documents.

Mentalix won on output quality by a large margin: producing cleaner (600DPI) images with fewer OCR errors - about one in every six words to TypeReader's one in five and losing no files during the Microsoft Word document format conversion - but the point here is that the "Unix way" had obvious cost and performance advantages arising mainly from differences in work flow conceptualisation.

The client preferred the Windows way: she said because she was data defyingly certain that having a clerk eyeball each resume being scanned would reduce errors and because she assumed, incorrectly, that having the Sun machine do the scanning and OCR would reduce database performance. In reality, however, these were excuses - what really drove her decision was her background as a Microsoft Word user comfortable with the Windows work process and uncomfortable with the black magic of dropping resumes in a hopper and clicking on a process start button.

Hardly anyone ever thinks about stuff like this, but things like an unthought through decision at Wordpress to enforce the Windows work process amount to a tax on user time because, as I said yesterday, the Windows work process treats everyone as a beginner: when that clerk got to her 20,000s resume, she followed exactly the same click by click procedure she used for the second one.

And yes, I know that there are keyboard shortcuts for applications like Word, but I don't know many people who routinely use more than a half dozen of the most obvious ones - and even those often seem more like keyboard macros than editor commands.

And no, I'm not saying that the point click and wait approach isn't useful - it's great where the user isn't knowledgeable about the application. What I am saying is that people want to learn, and therefore that the key reason the Windows work process is such an enormous invisible productivity killer everywhere the PC gets used is simply that it neither supports, nor recognises, nor rewards learning.

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.