Monday, 20 July 2009


Is this the stuff dreams are made of? Information technology stuff for the masses that doesn't require ringing your most techy mate to help you get up and running?! Probably.

Far too many times lately, I've had to help people get things done that could be so much easier if it wasn't written by geeks like me! Try explaining to your wife:
"...the reason you couldn't attach to the college VPN is because the router didn't allow IP-Sec or NAT pass-through: I've opened the relevant UDP ports on the router and the firewall and added the domain to our firewall trusted list and it's now working."
And breathe. It would obviously be foolish to start asking if she can check if college offer SSH, SSL or maybe even L2TP access cos these can be better for some tasks... Setting up her email from home was just as bad with questions about IMAP servers and what not.

The problem is that some this stuff could be so much easier if the geeks didn't build their little ivory tower of three and four letter acronyms. It's just as easy to say "virtual private network" as it is VPN. Maybe even just "Virtual Network" would suffice and be a lot clearer. A greater problem is that this vast array of technology is so close to the surface of what's going on when we use modern PC and web technology and it's really hard to insulate the user from it in a robust manner.

Is there a solution? Yes, but it will take time. There is already a thicker layer of non-techy people interfacing between the people writing the stuff we use in IT (sorry, information technology) and the users than there used to be and I think this needs to become more pronounced. We know about this problem in the software industry (and books like The Inmates Are Running The Asylum try to address it), but it's maybe not heeded in the sector where the technologies are created. Was there anyone around to stop whoever coined the acronyms NAT, PAT or L2TP from doing it and instead suggesting some more descriptive titles?

Responsibility for addressing these problems belongs to many, but mainly the software engineers who create operating systems, software for interfacing with devices and networks. Mac fans will doubtless wave their flags insisting it's all easier on their side of the fence (but some of the same problems still exist) and that's because Apple just seem plain better at engineering than most other software houses. Lets follow their lead and hide all of the crap from the users and dumb it down. Just as the premiere motoring experience was once the Model T Ford and is now a car that will almost drive itself, so (hopefully) using computers and the internet shall also be thus transformed.

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