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Newbie? Or Normal?

Those that many of us consider to be “newbies” probably reflect the majority of computer users.

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Hi everyone, this is Leo Notenboom with news, commentary and answers to some of the many questions I get at

One of the things I try to do here from time to time at Ask Leo! is to be an advocate for real people. By that, I mean the real people that use their computers and software every day, but use them as tools, not as a hobby, a toy or an avocation. The “newbies” among us, who aren’t really new at all, those who are just not as enamored with the technology as we are.

You know, “normal” people.

So, what is it that needs advocating? It’s quite simple really – simplicity.

It’s nothing new, and we all complain about it – it seems like most software, sites and tools are chock full of features that most real people never use.

Now, if real people never use it, you might say that’s not a problem – but it is. All those whiz bang features and gizmos end up cluttering up the interface that real people still have to deal with.

Consider the cellular phone. Over the past year I’ve had several requests for a recommendation for “just a phone”. Apparently in the mobile world, “just a phone” doesn’t exist. Phones have to have features – lots of features – address books, voice response, speaker phones, ring tones, email, internet, text messaging, wallpapers, … the list goes on.

Those are all fine, fine features. But there’s a huge market of people out there that just want to dial a number to make a call, and answer the phone when it rings. Nothing more.

And they’re out of luck. Not only are their needs not being addressed, but they’re suffering serious frustration as they attempt to use the simplest but still feature-laden phone they can find. They don’t want to, nor should they have to, study a users manual for an afternoon just to make and take phone calls.

The same is true for computers and applications.

We have to remember that most real people aren’t as impressed as we are by all the things software and electronics can do, and aren’t interested in figuring out how to make it all work. You and I, we’re in it for the fun and wonder, and that’s great, as far as it goes – but real people are trying to actually do something, something that’s probably not related to the technology they’re using to do it. And all those things we think are so cool and exciting are actually getting in people’s way.

So the next time you’re designing some nifty new feature or product, keep real people in mind. Will they really care? Really? Nine times out of ten, I’m sure they won’t.

Do the job, do it simply, do it well, and people will beat a path to your product.

My guess is that the first company with a truly simple cell phone will really have a winner.

I’d love to hear what you think. Visit, and enter 10559 in the go to article number box. Leave me a comment, I love hearing from you.

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6 comments on “Newbie? Or Normal?”

  1. gotta agree with you Leo. I am in the middle on this one myself. I have a certain tech savy. I know enough about computers and electronics to keep my system running and in tune (I can do system re-installs and a some hardware), but the bottom line is I just want things to work. I these are partly my toys, but as a student they are, ultimately, my tools.

    As for the cell phones, its best to look for the cheapest models, usually the ones that come free with a new contract or renewal. I have a samsung A-650. It has a few bells and whistles such as voice recognition, but no camera. Most of the main features that I use were fairly easy to configure and it holds up well….

  2. Hi,
    I just setup a brand new out of the box purchased HP 794c computer which was never unpacked from 2-3 years ago. It has a Win XP Os with 1 gb ram, 250gb HD with an 8 gb partition for restoring to factory setting if a crash should occur. The OS was authenticated by HP who installed the OS. It runs very well and everything works. My question is:
    Can I use a M$ cd mailed to me from 2004 with sp2 on it for installing sp2 and get the remaining updates online? Or do I need to do a download from M$ of their current sp2 instead of using this perfectly good sp2 cd? I am not worried about going online as this computer will be part of a network with a linksys wired router and I could enable the terrible sp1 network firewall until I downloaded the online sp2. Also I know there are 2 year old drivers that are still working fine and since this drive is clean, I’d rather not update the drivers until sp2 is installed and my other AV and malware software is active. Please tell me how to proceed with the sp2 issue as I hope you will allow me to just install it via the 2004 cd sent first with sp2 rather than going and waiting for the download from M$ in a more vulnerable state? I do not have the original cd to slipstream a sp2 cd for further installs and that is of no concern as the restore partition exists and I could always go through the sp2 install in the future again, should the drive crash, etc.

    Thank you for your help and support. I realize there are several ways of doing this sp2 installation, etc.


    M.E. Stone, M.D.

  3. Tracfone! We have three Nokia 1100 phones with prepaid service from them. This model is “just a phone”. No contracts. I think this is as simple as it gets, these days.

  4. Miles: I think either would work, but I thinking after all this time much of what you install via the CD would get replaced with a download once you visitied MS Update. My approach would be to start with the CD if you have dial-up, but if you’re on broadband I’d skip it and visit Windows Update first to get the latest of everything that way.

  5. This is a great topic, and one that is also the main topic in Alan Cooper’s book, “The Inmates are Running the Asylum”, which I’m sure you must have read! :) Thank you for addressing this!

  6. Thank you for your remarks. I am probably at an intermediate level of knowledge for computers. (I wish I had known about your site earlier!) I, too, just want a phone. I have a basic phone through T-Mobile. (no pics, no video) I still haven’t used all of the features after 2 years! I want a phone for convenience and emergencies, not to impress my friends.


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