Why we need more control, not less when it comes to software
In the past few years, companies have started to simplify their products. In the browser world, it started when Google emerged on the scene with its Chrome browser.
It was a bare bones browser at first, that provided virtually no customization options. And while some liked that, others did not like it at all.
But browsers are not the only programs where simplification has become a norm. Operating systems too try to automate as much as possible for the user, or make decisions for the user based on company strategy or what the company thinks is best for users of its products.
Microsoft for example shipped Windows 8 with two interfaces, which was bad enough for desktop users who had no use for the touch-centric Start Screen interface. To make matters worse, Microsoft decided that it would be a good idea to load the Start Screen interface by default for all users.
There was no switch -- it came with Windows 8.1 - to change that, and while you could install programs to boot to desktop, it was reserved to users who knew what to look for.
Companies do have an interest in that, as less options or features means less support requests about something that is not working, or a broken program because someone played around with settings that should better be left alone. The other interest is to push something into the market no matter what, which is something that Microsoft tried with Windows 8.
The loss of control over functionality may not look like a big deal to many. The main issue that I see here is however that this generation of computer users is trained for consumption only. Many devices are consume-only, most tablets or phones for example.
Yes, you can run apps and games on them, and use Office programs and others, but that is all consumption.
That's not a problem for regular users for as long as everything works, but as soon as something falls apart, or returns a different result, helplessness may be the result.
I remember back in the days when I first started using PCs, that we would sometimes connect them for a LAN gaming session with serial cables, and that we sometimes spend more time setting everything up than gaming.
Things are a lot easier now in this regard, and that is a good thing, but in the software world, simplification not only means that you have less control over the program, it also means that you may not be able to troubleshoot issues on your own.
Good thing is, in regards to Firefox, that you can get back those controls, but that is reserved to users who know what they are looking for. Not exposing users to these controls may reduce the number of issues and support requests that Mozilla gets, and may keep some users from moving to another browser, but it also means that many users may never know about those features in the first place.
Chrome is probably the archetype of a simplified browser. You notice that when it comes to the browser interface, which you cannot modify at all, aside from displaying a bookmarks toolbar, and also when it comes to changes that Google introduces. If your first browser is Chrome, you may think that this is the norm. Unless you switch to a browser with better customization options, you will never know what a difference to your day to day browsing this can make.
Chrome users do not have control over most changes that Google makes. With that I mean that there is usually no option -- or only a temporary one -- to restore the "old way" of doing things. Firefox users on the other hand do have options. Previously, Mozilla made sure usually to add a config switch to the browser to give users a choice.
Recently, which means since the minute Chrome landed, the organization has started to mimic Google in some regard. As far as Australis is concerned for example, Firefox's new design that ships in version 29 of the browser, it is extensions that users need to install to restore old functionality.
Many computer users lack experience, and part of the reason why that is the case is that companies put them in a bubble so that they won't hurt themselves -- or the program they run.
But if you never try and experiment with things, you will never gain experience either. While that may not look like an issue at all, you may think different the moment something stops working the way it used to be.
Google removed the arrows of the scroll bar recently in Chrome, and it seems to have irritated users of the browser. Switching to another browser, as suggested by some, may seem like the easiest way out, but it does not really make sense to do so for that.
There are dozens of other options, from using the arrow keys or page up and down, the mouse wheel (if available), or browser extensions.
I think that the removal of choice is always a bad thing for a program's usability. Why not provide users with options in regards to the scroll bar design? This ensures that those who like the arrows can keep using them, while those who do not can use the new layout.
That on the other hand would mean more work for the development team, and it would also add to the complexity of the code and the browser.
What's your take on this?
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