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TCWF The Computing Articles
by Daniel Bowen

Techheads vs Users

There are those people in the world who know their computers like the back of their hands. The Techheads: the people who fearlessly delve into the Registry or obscure INI files to fiddle about with their computers. They aren't afraid to mess about with their AUTOEXEC.BATs. They can happily change the video display resolution and colour depth, and then re-arrange their desktop icons, all with their eyes closed. They don't even whimper (much) if they have to re-install Windows.

And then there are the people who, while they might be quite competent at using e-mail and Word, aren't quite up to the complexities of re-installing the video drivers or changing the file associations. They are the Users. They know just enough about the computer to be able to use it, because they concentrate on the real work they need to do, rather than the fiddly bits of their computers.

The Users might be tempted to call Techheads geeks and nerds, but they know that it's those very geeks and nerds that they will have to scream to for help if they run into trouble. Meanwhile the Techheads might be tempted to call the Users "L"users or various terms denoting lack of brain power, but they know that ultimately it's the Users who pay the bills.

I'm somewhere in the Techhead group. I earn my keep by programming, and when you're a programmer, you inevitably have to learn how it all works. And at most of the jobs I've had, I have had to help people in the second category through various computer crises.

Some things such as the oh so innocent looking Windows Explorer can deliver a great deal of power into the hands of a computer user. They can see the ever-increasing contents of their hard disk easily, move things around, dispose of unwanted files, quickly and simply. But equally, such powerful tools can be a danger.

Once upon a time, not too long ago, I was at a job where we had been writing a computer program that one of the managers was going to take away and show to somebody. We installed it on her notebook, and off she jetted to another city to do her demonstration to various bigwigs and corporate high-flyers.

In the mean time, as is always the case when developing software, we had found and fixed a bug - yet another in a countless list of them. From a technical standpoint, delivering the bug fix was simple, just a case of replacing one file in the Windows System directory. And since the manager would be dialling into our network from afar, it should be a piece of cake to get the file to her.

But she was a computer User, not a Techhead. She wanted to know that she could type her documents and print them out, show slideshows to people and run our demonstration software. She didn't want to know how the computer did all this, she was too busy running the demonstration, taking questions and selling our software.

So what seemed like a simple request to replace a file in the Windows System directory became a major drama for her.

Rather than attempt to get her to connect by FTP to our server and grab the file, which would have been the fastest way had she known all about FTP, we e-mailed it to her. So the e-mail program took care of getting the file onto the notebook's hard disk.

But the second step was the trickier. You've either mastered dragging and dropping files in Windows Explorer, or you haven't. She hadn't. This was soon apparent because as I was describing the process to her, and she was attempting to follow my directions, it became obvious that instead of dragging the file into the Windows System directory, she had dragged the Windows System directory to somewhere else.

I try not to laugh in situations like this, but I'm afraid I had to hand the phone over to someone else to tell her how to undo what she had done, because my amusement at the whole scenario had taken over from the responsible portions of my brain and I was unable to assist further.

Eventually we got it all sorted out, and the demonstration went swimmingly. And its important to remember that although she had troubles replacing that file, I would have had severe problems doing a presentation to a room full of industry heavyweights. So both the Techheads and the Users have their place in the corporate world, and any company that survives will have both. I'd bet my device drivers on it.


Toxic Custard Workshop Files - Computing

Copyrightę 1997-1998 Daniel Bowen