Wednesday 11 March 2009

Advanced users don't customize

I was scanning an old post of Joel Spolsky's and found this quote really rung true for me:

"But wait!" you say. "It's important to have options for advanced users who want to tweak their environments!" In reality, it's not as important as you think. ... Most advanced users use several computers regularly; they upgrade their computer every couple of years, they reinstall their operating system every three weeks. It's true that the first time they realized you could completely remap the keyboard in Word, they changed everything around to be more to their liking, but as soon as they upgraded to Windows 95 those settings got lost, and they weren't the same at work, and eventually they just stopped reconfiguring things. I've asked a lot of my "power user" friends about this; hardly any of them do any customization other than the bare minimum necessary to make their system behave reasonably.

It kind of surprised me that it was true, though: I used to be an obsessive preference tweaker but that animal urge seems to have died out along with the desire to immerse myself in video games until 5:00am. I still troll the preference dialogs of any new application, looking for options with as much clout as the Turbo button on old 386 machines, but I can usually close these dialogs without saving.

There are a few customizations I do any time I have a new computer (like deleting useless icons from the Dock or its equivalent). There are even customizations (like setting the refresh rate of the monitor higher than 60Hz so it doesn't hurt my eyes!) I do on every machine I touch. Firefox settings come with me whenever I copy my profile onto a new computer (I want my bookmarks). Other than that, if I can't share the customizations between computers (with an NFS-mounted .bashrc for example), I try to keep them to a minimum.

Of course, with Linux this issue is much less of a problem. I once had a system that I had to expand by putting in a second hard drive. As a result, I ended up with /home on its own drive. The next time I re-installed the operating system I was delighted to find my desktop and all my application settings exactly as I had left them.


Anonymous said...

Well, windows XP standard settings are so bad that I still take some time to remove the personal menus, switch to classic mode, show all hidden files, show file name extensions, open the explorer in details view, no grouping and install firefox.

Julian Fitzell said...

Yup, I do pretty much all of those things too.

Depressingly, I think those all fall under "the bare minimum necessary to make their system behave reasonably". :)

The other one (or maybe that's what you mean by "personal menus?) is the Microsoft Office setting which only shows recently used menu items.