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Science News

The Paradox of Choice 537

Posted by Hemos
from the so-many-options dept.
sproketboy writes "Psychology professor Barry Schwartz has written a book which is a must read by those wanting to get Linux on the Desktop. Dr. Schwartz examines the problem of too much choice in our society. Maybe Microsoft has it right after all? Here's a video interview with Dr. Schwartz, a review of the book from the New Yorker and more info from PBS." Of course, the choice issue applies to far more than desktop computers, but is still instructive in that area. Thanks to Stefan Hudson for a SciAm story that has more information.
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The Paradox of Choice

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  • Freedom of Choice (Score:5, Insightful)

    by The Queen (56621) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:04AM (#8703770) Homepage
    is what you got...

    Freedom From Choice
    Is what you want.

    (Are we not men?)
  • by Penguinisto (415985) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:07AM (#8703805) Journal
    Last Monday, Miguel de Icaza (at Novell's BRainshare here in Salt Lake City) mentioned Novell's push for the Linux desktop, and covered a lot of the same ground, but he presented it quite intelligently...

    You can have a simple desktop that Joe Sixpack can play with, and at the same time set up a dialogue that allows the tweaker in some of us to have free reign over what each little widget and bit of desktop does.

    I just don't get why it has to be such an "either or" choice here...

  • by Russ Nelson (33911) <slashdot@russnelson.com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:09AM (#8703840) Homepage
    It's not about the number of choices. It's about the quality of them. Even the poorest schmuck has plenty of choices. It's just that they all suck.
    -russ
  • Re:I think (Score:3, Insightful)

    by .nuno (153038) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:12AM (#8703872) Homepage Journal
    And you have been reading 1984 recently? Or do you work for Microsoft?

    Smarter people should find ways to get the rest to do informed choice instead of "mass-hysteria-induced" choice. Getting "smarter" people to do choices for "dumber" people will only allow them to remain "dumb", even if temporarily more productive.

  • by ajs (35943) <ajs@a[ ]com ['js.' in gap]> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:13AM (#8703887) Homepage Journal
    Choice is a fine thing for now. Most of the world is still being introduced to desktop computing. It is not yet time to select the best technologies for any given application because we don't understand the application well enough yet.

    Even something as "basic" as word processing has changed radically in the last 10 years as a wider variety of people have gained access to computers. The "outliers" in the sample set have, in some cases, become the majority of users.

    Open source OSes are especially subject to this. Our systems are designed by those who have a combination of real-world-need and ability to implement. As time goes on that will be a broader and broader segment, and others will be brought in to implement for those who have the need, but not the ability (certainly already happened in some areas).

    Give computing 20 or so more years to find its feet and it will be time to make hard decisions, but for now I think choice is a good thing.

    Now, moving on to the officeplace (which is where most people think of desktop computing in terms of adoption strategies), I think it's key that OS vendors such as Red Hat, Mandrakesoft, SuSE/Novell and others produce a desktop with clear defaults and clear ways for admins to limit choices. This is important for large scale systems admin where you are maintaining 2,000 systems on people's desks. You need some uniformity in order to scale that support reasonably. This does NOT meant that choice should not be available, but that it should be available to the admins who install the systems and the system should behave well once those choices are made.

    I think Red Hat and Mandrake do a decent job here. I'm not as familliar with SuSE, so I can't say. But, that is clearly one of the jobs of a vendor: to establish best practices and ease compatibility.
  • by burgburgburg (574866) <splisken06@eBOYSENmail.com minus berry> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:14AM (#8703900)
    while not forcing them to constantly make them. Having a simple, functional default desktop but with the adaptability/personalization we've come to expect is the best way. For those willing/desiring to modify, their options are open. For those who have better things to do (like work), the default is there for them.
  • by Lumpy (12016) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:18AM (#8703953) Homepage
    Unfortunaely, in a wealthy society like America, even stupid people get to be rich.

    Unfortunately.. it's usually the rule that stupid people get to be rich.

    The gaining of wealth has nothing to do what what and how much you know.

    it has everything to do with who you know, your sales ability or your ability to talk people out of their money for what you are offering..

    very very few brilliant scientists or engineers are rich... it's tipically the businessmen and those good at selling that are.

    and these people usually are pretty darn dumb when it comes to anything outside selling to persuading people...

    Case in point... the Mercedes owner that needs the gas station attendant to explain and or show him how to use the gas pump, or the rich people that almost fall to pieces when the power in their area goes out for 3-4 hours and they do not know what to do and cannot fend for themselves without a microwave oven or resturant. (No joking, it happened here during the big blackout and we had interviews on tv from soccer mom's that could not figure out how to get food for their families when the power was out. one even complained.. "you cant even open a can of food!")
  • There's only a lot of choice in areas where there is still a lot of experimentation into the possible solutions. In areas where a suitable and economic solution has been found, choice is really rather limited.

    It's a standard aspect of evolution: early forms show extraordinary variation and complexity; as time goes on the simplest and most economical solutions get standardized and the bizarre varieties get killed off.

    The same happens in technology, which is why we converge on mature standards such as TCP/IP and (dare I say it) Linux.
  • Re:I think (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bircho (559727) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:19AM (#8703969)

    Aunt Anne doesnt know which e-mail program to use in linux, but can cook better than most of us. She can choose a better sauce for this or that.

    Joe sixpack know how to choose too. He know what the best beer is.

    People want to choose when they KNOW what is to be choosen.

  • by back_pages (600753) <back_pages@co[ ]et ['x.n' in gap]> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:21AM (#8704001) Journal
    As for the "either/or" mentality, I guess it doesn't matter much. The important thing, I think, is to draw a line and decide which is part of the "easy to use" desktop and which is part of the "experts only" desktop. Then you can support one or the other without telling Grandma to open up her config file in vi and edit the daemon options to support more client connections.

    There are plenty of "easy to use" packages for linux, but having 10 easy to use programs with 30 hard to use programs makes for a desktop that's hard to use. Even if it's 50/50, it's a desktop that's hard to use. If you make it an "either/or" choice, then some people can have a fully easy to use desktop but you still get to sell the complete linux clockworks.

    I really don't see a way to give both at the same time without frustrating the hell out of both the expert and the novice.

  • by gurps_npc (621217) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:22AM (#8704015) Homepage
    In many ways he is correct - with so many choices it takes a lot of work to figure out what is worth what.

    The problem is made worse by the rapid improvement. Rules that apply last year do not apply this year.

    But on the other side of that if the manufactures were not scum, that problem can easily be dealt with.

    All it takes is a classification system, similar to what we do with cars.

    People know what you mean when you say:

    Compact

    mini-van

    jeep

    SUV

    sports-car

    station waggon

    What we need are some similar terms for the newer technologies to become more common.

    We need categories like: game-system (high end video/audio), word-system (low-end MS word,Excel,presentationsm with low memory, low speed etc.), net-server (designed to host a web site or other network), etc. etc. to be come common terms that everyone knows and uses.

  • by lambent (234167) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:23AM (#8704020)
    That sounds like fascism, to me.

    Consider: how many manufacturers and models of cars do we have? Consumer electronics? Colours and styles of paint?

    When you go to the grocery, do you ask for 'meat', or do you specify species and cut?

    You can feel free to live in your one size fits all soylent world. Go to your car dealership, and say like a simpleton, "I WANT A CAR". I'm sure they'll be happy to oblige you, and fill you out with a nice payment plan that suits your needs without you even having to read the fine print.
  • by heironymouscoward (683461) <heironymouscoward@@@yahoo...com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:25AM (#8704041) Journal
    It's a common mistake to confuse choices with decisions. Decisions are what confuse and annoy people, not choices.

    Some simple illustrations of this. Choice: "these are the desktop themes you can play with". Decision: "please choose a desktop theme to continue installation.

    Choice: "tired of your wife? Here are ten more girls to choose from." Decision: "you gonna marry me or what?!"

    Choice: "choose from fifty different fabric colors for your car interior". Decision: "what color interior do you want your next subway car to have?"

    Basically a good designer maximises choice but minimizes the decisions needed to get started.

    I believe the article has made the error of confusing the two.
  • by OwlWhacker (758974) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:25AM (#8704049) Homepage Journal
    Which do you take, full freedom of choice or none whatsoever?

    If you have the opportunity to choose from a great deal of options, you usually find that there are a few that are the best of the bunch, and the majority will go with those options.

    This is especially true with software, except when you have a monopoly using anti-competitive practices in which to 'influence' or 'force' you to use a particular product.

    Choice is good, it provides competition and allows people to decide which is best, rather than being forced to use something.

    At least if choice is taken away from end-users, an elected body should decide what is or is not to be used. Decisions such as these should not be made by a monopoly. Anyway, isn't this attitude one that encourages monopolies? We all know what happens where there is no competition...
  • by bperkins (12056) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:26AM (#8704055) Homepage Journal
    I saw this on a silly cable TV show and have been thinking a lot about it. Choice is nothing new, it's just that the types of choices we all have are changing. If you think about what career you should taken or where exactly you should live, the choices are absolutely staggering. These, for the most part aren't new developments, though more people have the ability to make a wider array of them.

    What's interesting to me is that things that people have had to choose from for many number of years have special agents who specialize in making these choices; travel agents, real estate agents and career counselors. I expect that we'll see more and more of these agents in the future, though it's hard for me to imagine how a breakfast cereal agent would work exactly.

    I understand that some people may feel overwhelmed by the breadth of choices presented to the average person, but it seems rather condescending to imply that you ought to give up your choices. The underlying attitude seems to be choice is bad for _you_, and I'll go ahead and keep reading the Economist and drinking my reserve cognac.

    Concluding that choice is bad because it causes indecision is like concluding that the sun is bad because it causes sunburn.

    After all, is freedom really slavery; ignorance, strength?
  • by Hao Wu (652581) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:26AM (#8704056) Homepage
    This is why I hate Pyschologist call themself "scientist". They create artificial scoring schemes and contrive arbitrary tests and scales to fit with measurement they desire most, or to some degree.

    "Hi. I'm an I.N.T.J. !!! (Introverted iNtuitive Thinking Judging)

    Hi, I'm Hao Wu and I'm gonna kick your ass because I spend 10 hour a day doing real science using difficult equation and concentration factors that makes your B.S. appear highly unfit for publication....

    Can I get an Amen?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:27AM (#8704064)
    "Too much choice" has no bearing on why Linux hasn't taken over desktop/joe user computers.
  • OS Winner by TKO (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Mulletproof (513805) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:28AM (#8704087) Homepage Journal
    " Dr. Schwartz examines the problem of too much choice in our society. Maybe Microsoft has it right after all?"

    Um, Microsoft being right or wrong doesn't really factor in here. It's the lack of effective competition that's creating a lack of choice. Apple OS has more or less limited themselves to their own platform, which is generally more expenisive than the average computer user is willing to pay, while Linux is still too obscure for the average user to screw around with. It's not that Windows is a spectacular product that by nature crushes all competition in it's path, it's the fact that what competition exists has been limiting itself in one form or another, giving MS free reign on the PC. As such, most products now cater to it, which makes it more popular.

    Too much competition doesn't even begin to enter into the PC OS market, because there never has been that amount of competition. MS won by default, which has nothing to do with them being right or wrong.
  • Nice Troll (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Azureflare (645778) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:28AM (#8704090)
    What the hell are you talking about?

    Thousands of programs? 95% of which are useless?

    13 web browsers? 3 desktops? What Linux Distribution are you using?

    Come on man, have you tried some modern distros oriented towards the new user? (I.e. Mandrake 9.2/10, SuSE)? They give you a default desktop. In mandrake's case, that is KDE. They give you one browser (Konqueror). One email client (kmail). The alternative apps are buried in menus, but those apps are NOT immediately viewable to the user.

    Most modern distros do a very good job of eliminating excessive choice for the new user. Mandrake is the easiest, and you should be using it if you are a linux newb.

  • by onebitcpu (682182) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:29AM (#8704100)
    I read the article, which is about how people who will keep looking for something beyond the "good enough it works for me" stage are less happy with life in general not just linux. One lesson to be learned for linux desktop is that lots of people are happy with the "good enough" but linux isnt quite there yet, IMHO. I tried to switch my home system to mandrake 9.0 a while agin, and the "good enough" wasnt quite there yet. Yes, openoffice works, but cut/paste between that and the web browser didnt work. Reading files from my digital camera with usb took too much fiddling. The biggest PITA was that every single "top" cd burining software could not deal with the simple task of appending to a multi-session cd without lots of playing with switches etc. I read the manuals, checked the web, worked with parameters etc, and did get it working eventually. I still wound up giving it up, because getting it to do what I wanted was too hard - too much fiddling, where windows would just work. Its not the better/more features that is keeping linux off my desktop - I use it at work, and put cygwin on my pc because I cant live without ls and bash. I am comfortable with command-lines, but that doesnt mean I dont want the software to get the job done quick and easy like windows. Some people might want to buy a dvd player that lets you assemble and configure your own interfaces, but life is so much simpler if you can just open the box plug it in and watch the movie.
  • by Chuck Messenger (320443) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:30AM (#8704117)
    Linux has a much better answer to the problem of excessive choice than Windows does. Look for example at the KnoppMyth project. Its aim is to produce a live CD which gives you a PVR. That's incredibly powerful! In principle, all a user needs is this CD, plug it into their PC (assuming it has the necessary hardware), and PRESTO! All the complex stuff has been figured out by someone else, and the user has a simple interface to accomplish exactly what it is they want - to record/playback their television shows.

    I imagine this special-purpose live-CD phenomenon will prove to be very powerful, and will be an important channel through which Linux will eventually eclipse Windows.
  • Your problem (Score:5, Insightful)

    by bonch (38532) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:34AM (#8704155)
    I have no sympathy for people who have so many good choices that they have trouble choosing just one. None.

    Wow. You're so heroic.

    Your problem is that you think NORMAL people--i.e., people who don't visit Slashdot 10+ times a day and download the latest point release of something called "GNOME"--have the time, energy, and patience to learn which of their 8 text editors is the best. To them, the whole idea is ridiculous, and they'll ask you, "why don't they just make one good one?"

    Are you going to whine at them how you have no sympathy for people who blah blah blah something about poor people in India blah blah blah, or are you just going to nod and agree like any sane person would?

    The day anti-social, non-approachable nerds like you (this is not a troll but an accurate description of the mindset) stop controlling the direction of the Linux desktop community is the day it finally starts gaining real momentum outside of its current niche position.
  • by MattRog (527508) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:34AM (#8704164)
    This is a well-known phenomenon in people management. If you're trying to persuade someone to make a choice and give them 50 options they are most likely to not choose any of them (or in this case, stick with Windows). When you have so many options they get worried and confused - did I pick the right one? What if I had picked XYZ? What makes option XYZ better than option ABC?

    Now, I'm not suggesting that choice is bad - but if you want someone to decide you must initially present them with a small number of options - A or B - not A or B or C or D or .. N, etc..
  • Joel on Software (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Boing (111813) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:41AM (#8704228)
    Chapter Three [joelonsoftware.com] of Joel Spolsky's User Interface Design for Programmers has an excellent, clear presentation of this problem.

    The summary (as I read it)? People like choice when it's related to what they want to do. If they're making a greeting card, they want to choose what font it uses and what overused clip-art to use. They don't want to choose its orientation as it comes out of the printer, or whether it's saved in MS Word or PDF or RTF or HTML or BMP.

    So when I install a linux distribution, and I want to compose a word processing document? I don't care all that much whether I'm using KOffice or StarOffice or OpenOffice.org or AbiWord or whatever, because the point is not what program I'm using. The point is to write a document, and I shouldn't have to make a needless choice just to get to that point.

    That's why modularity (versus "yes" or "no" to compiling it in) in the linux kernel is such a good idea, for example. It allows me to say, "make this choice for me if I need it, and don't hassle me about it."

  • by Ayaress (662020) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:42AM (#8704237) Journal
    Actually, when you go to the dealership, they DO make decisions for you. Like you said, there are thousands of cars, and about 500 variations of any given model - more on the expensive cars with lots of options.

    You don't go in there knowing what all these options are. Most of them are shit you've never heard of. What the hell is Quadromechinational Steering and why the hell does it cost $5000? They tell you that stuff, and they help you make a decision on wether you want it, or want to take the normal power steering everybody else has.

    They don't make the choice for you, and the above post doesn't suggest that. But you aren't just shown a list of the fifteen engines, four steering assemblies, seven or more fucking DOOR HINGES that any given car can have installed at the factory while the salesman sits there with a blank stare waiting for you to pick which ones you want.

    Most of it you just get and don't worry about.

    I don't care what kind of flanges are on my trunk door, just so it opens and closes, I'm happy. But I could picked from two different flanges on that hood. I don't even know what a flange is or does, let alone how one or the other is better, but they both cost the same thing, so I don't care.

    After wrecking the car I've been talking about, I also learned that the 1997 Chevy Lumnia could have had one of four different engines, each of which has two different head assemblies. I don't know what all that shit is, and I don't want to pick one or the other.

    I want that white car over there. You put the shit in it that makes it drive, I don't want to worry about flanges and fittings and what kind of clips hold the radiator hose in place. Fine, ok, I have seven different fan belt choices - I DON'T CARE, just make it DRIVE.

    See? That's how people are with their computers. The coice is there, but they don't know what all this shit is. Yes, they use it, but they don't know one from the next, and that's why the vast majority of people still use Windows. You get the stuff, it's there, you don't have to think about it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:49AM (#8704310)
    Not from me you won't because science doesn't limit itself to physics and mathematics.

    You'd like to think that equations are harder to understand than complex human systems but then again you only believe what you want as it flatters you to think so.

  • Re:Good Title (Score:5, Insightful)

    by BiggerIsBetter (682164) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:49AM (#8704312)

    I think marketers actually inflate the problem on purpose, making it seem that there is more choice than there actually is - since that boosts the chances that a consumer will buy your product.

    They do this, and it's really bad in small countries; in some markets, you can go to every store in a town and find the same range of products, which have all come through the same two importers (two, so there's no monopoly, I guess).

    But there's another insidious problem with "choice" - Most of the time, you aren't making one. I went to a local supermarket which is the only one open at 4 am, and there are signs saying "Thank you for choosing to shop at [supermarket name here]". The only choice I made ws to get food now or later, not to shop there. Or you get a Dell and it has Windows on it, and there's a little note saying "Thank you for choosing Microsoft" or similar. You didn't choose it, it just came with the computer whether you liked it or not.

    People are so used to being told they are making choices when they plainly are not. When confronted with a real decision, it overwhelms them and they freak out and run back to their comfort zone. The paradox of choice is not that we have too much choice, it's that when given a real one most people don't want it anyway.
  • by koreth (409849) * on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:50AM (#8704327)
    I think you need a little less myopia in your definitions of "smart" and "stupid." Intelligence is a much broader thing than just "talent with numbers and machines."

    Mozart and Picasso and Alexander the Great probably wouldn't be able to write a Perl script or analyze a chemical reaction if they were alive today. But I think few people would call any of them unintelligent.

    As for wealth vs. intelligence, here's a book for you: "Rich Dad, Poor Dad." [amazon.com] A bit repetitive, but it talks at length about how someone can be very smart in some ways but not when it comes to money.

    Being able to figure out the decay rate of a new radioactive isotope doesn't make you good at figuring out which underpriced region is going to have the next big real estate boom. But both of those things require smarts.

    That said, at least one study [mugu.com] (admittedly, performed by someone whose views on the subject are controversial) shows a pretty good correlation between high IQ and financial success. That tracks pretty well with my experience in life: most of the rich people I know are pretty sharp. All of the self-made rich people I know are pretty sharp. If you can provide a pointer to any research showing a reverse correlation, I'd be fascinated to see it.

  • by ThosLives (686517) on Monday March 29, 2004 @11:52AM (#8704350) Journal
    Ah, but the issue is not complaining about having too many or too few choices. The article refers to a paper/book (which I heard about *outside* the confines of /.) that makes the observation that in a society with more choices (regardless of the quality of those choices) that society has a higher incidence of psychological issues categorized as "unhappy". The findings indicate that that as choices increase from some very low level (i.e., find food and shelter or die) that happiness increases, but there is a point where the happiness ceases to increase and then actually decreases as more choice is given.

    You have to realize this is a collective phenomenon, and it doesn't necessarily apply to each individual. I'm not a psychologist or anything, but I have observed this phenomenon.

  • by globalar (669767) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:05PM (#8704487) Homepage
    It is easy to adopt a new program, it is not so easy to adopt a new OS and everything else.

    The barrier to Linux adoption is mostly entry. There are not only so many choices (some required, most just clouding the decision) to make the first step, but a new way of thinking about software ("How good can free software be?"), new applications, (not really) new security dynamics, new names, new acronyms, new conventions, etc.

    The way to mediate all these is to make a common, extremely well documented and supported, simple, and well-crafted base design. Introduce the design (maybe through big corporate rollouts, preinstallations on PC's) and then let people play with it. But there can only be so many designs to fit the market. The average users does not need to consider over a dozen Linux flavors (let alone two desktop environments).

    I think Linux could be a little bit more like OS X in these regards.
  • Re:I think (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:08PM (#8704527)
    > While that's a related problem, I don't think its the root cause. The fact is the choices aren't being made easy.

    Yep. Think about all those editors, etc. How would someone new to a free/libre OS choose between them? The descriptions are all "This is the best text editor ever, with great powerful features!". Or worse, during an OS install, just "A good text editor" or "The GNOME/KDE text editor" with no other description. Trying to make a choice without good information is frustrating; you find out the info you need to make the choices after you've already made them.
  • by G4from128k (686170) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:14PM (#8704582)
    I do agree with concept that we have too much choice in our society, or rather, we are deep in information overload. Too much choice is not a problem if you can quickly whittle down what you want and what you don't want. The problem is when the choices become confusing and ambiguous - and I think that has happened for the average individual.

    Very good points. I see the issue in terms of 4 factors:

    Rising Cost of Decision Making: Excessive options and excessive information on each option drive up the cost of choice. The cost of decision making can easily exceed the marginal benefit of making the decison.

    Psychological Risk of Decision Making: Some people are more comfortable without choice because it absolves them of responsibility. If you have only one choice, you get to bitch about it. If you have multiple choices and you chose incorrectly, you have only yourself to blame.

    Cost of Competition: We seem to live in a competative, judgemental socitey in which people are judged by the choices they make. This increases the importance of every minor decision. Faced with a number of reasonably good options, people often spend too much time deciding. They feel compelled to do this because of the perceived social penalty of making the wrong choice. Nobody wants to pick the second-best option even if it is nearly as good as the #1 option.

    Scale of Society: The bigger problem is the increasing scale of society. Many might think that have umpteen types of mustard, text editors, or cars is too much. But there is no unanimous agreement on which alternatives to remove.

    This problem will only get worse. I would wager that in most industries, the number of economically viable choices scales with the log of the market-accessible population. With global trade and rising standards of living, we will only see more choices.
  • Re:Paradox? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Jaeph (710098) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:19PM (#8704640)
    "Choices are hard for most of less intelligent people. Any choices, not necessarily those related to computer software or even the technology as a whole."

    I suspect that you have it backwards; it's the intelligent people who have problems with too many choices. They see the options, the details, etc, and tend to get lost in all the minutiae.

    People who don't see all the options have it easier.

    -Jeff
  • by gfxguy (98788) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:19PM (#8704644)
    That's really a sad approach, though. How long you take to make a decision on something should reflect how long it's going to affect your life. Little things can make a huge difference.

    If you plan on spending $20,000 on your new car, and you plan on keeping for ten years, then you damn well better know the "door hinge" options and figure out which one you like the best. One little thing like a squeaky hinge (hey, you cheaped out) will annoy you for years and years.

    Anyone who walks onto a car lot without knowing basically what they want, with the options they want, and knowing the price they should expect to pay, is an idiot who is going to end up paying too much money for a car they didn't really want.

    Long term purchases require some actual THOUGHT be put into it.

    What annoys me is people taking a half an hour to decide what they want to order off the menu when they won't even care tomorrow.

    As far as computers are concerned, your choices today may impact you long after that 10 year old car is gone. Then again, it may not. Pick MP3 now and convert it to the next great format every few years. Whatever.
  • by The Spoonman (634311) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:21PM (#8704670) Homepage
    Consider: how many manufacturers and models of cars do we have? Consumer electronics? Colours and styles of paint?

    How many models of cars that do things differently from every other model of car? If I buy a Ford, I don't need to take training because my last car was a Pontiac. Everything works the same. Sure, the placement of the A/C or cruise controls are a little different, but the steering wheel isn't square and in the trunk. The basics of "a car" does not change: it has four wheels, (in the States) a steering wheel on the left front side, two-three pedals, etc. Hell, even the order of the gears on an automatic are the same (P R N D 1 2 3).

    Contrast that with Linux distros where some applications are present, and some are not. Some applications are placed here, and some are placed there. Some use this window manager, some use this one. Some keybindings are like this, some are like that. Some will work with hardware better than others. Some have this, some have that. Hell, I've tried 2-3 distros in the last few months, and only one that I remember contained a GUI util to change the screen resolution (an important util for noobs as most distros set your damn resolution to the absolute highest it will go, regardless of how you want it or not!)

    I can climb into any car, start it up and drive it. Change your Linux distro, or just upgrade in some cases, and you spend hours just trying to figure out where everything is. THIS is why Windows is winning the desktop day in and day out. It has nothing to do with monopolies or political bullying. It never ceases to amaze me that the Linux community will stomp and scream like small children about anything that violates an open standard in any way, shape, or form, but outright REFUSES to create a single, standard, default desktop that is consistent across all distros. There's nothing stopping you or anyone else from changing it later, but start with SOMETHING.

    Give 'em four tires and a steering wheel, if they want a Cartman antenna topper or a Jason Mewes window sticker, they can add it themselves. And, I know, there's gonna be tons of flames on this post..."Don't tell me what I can and can't run on my desktop!" "Who gives you the right to decide what's included in my distro?" For those contemplating such flames...get a clue. No one is suggesting locking anyone into a "one size fits all soylent world", idiot. They're suggesting giving a consistent base to build on.
  • Re:annoying... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by EnderWiggnz (39214) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:23PM (#8704688)
    but at a restaurant, you get a menu of complete dishes, and not a list of ingredients.

    imagine if the waiter came out and said:
    well, the chef has some chicken, some salmon, a couple a nice cuts of beef... some vegetables, this list of spices, and some potatoes...

    what would you like?
  • by Esion Modnar (632431) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:27PM (#8704733)
    Even Windows has choice, but minimizes decision. For example, there are multiple screen savers available, but one is chosen for you by default upon installation. Same for themes. Windows has one standard text editor (notepad), but you can easily install others if you wish. Same for browsers, etc. Choice is alive and well.

    It seems that most people posting WRT this issue think that it is a question between choice or no choice. Of course, I want choice. Just keep my decisions to a minimum, and provide me with an easy means to customize my default applications. A Linux distro can and should provide 5 different browsers, just don't install them all at once by default.

  • by glassware (195317) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:33PM (#8704800) Homepage Journal
    On the other hand, Apple's software philosophy is to have only one way to do something, and to have that work well and be obvious. Check out the Macintosh Human Interface Design documents.

    Even more importantly, this philosophy extended to the Macintosh API. Even Microsoft moved in this direction. Bill Gates once said, "Why should everyone in the world have to write a File-Open dialog?" The Microsoft Common Controls API was the best thing that happened to Win16 programmers back in the early '90s.

    Yet, after a few years, Microsoft started putting together OLE, DDE, ActiveX, and a bunch more stuff - there were tons of choices. Consider Microsoft's media player: there was a text-based API, a procedure call API, and an object oriented API. Microsoft programming has been getting harder, thus they introduce .NET and standardize everything again.

    I'm all for choice when it works. For example, KDE offers you tons of choices; by default there's this multiple-virtual-desktop thing with all sorts of options and shortcut keys and soforth. But the one choice I want - the ability to stop files and folders on my local harddrive from acting like hyperlinks - isn't available. I suppose that, given a few months of practice, I could get used to treating my hard drive like a website, but it isn't working out for me at the moment.

    I dunno if I have a real point here. But I think Extreme Programming has at least one useful idea: customer stories. Try writing down all the things a user wants to do - "Map a Network Drive", "Change double-click behavior", "Organize My Documents" - and then put together an obvious way for the user to do it, or (if it's too hard to make it obvious) at least a straightforward help page that explains the task.

    Am I rambling? Feel free to call me redundant.
  • by Nurgled (63197) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:38PM (#8704861)

    The choices also must mean something. "Gnome or KDE?" or "SMB or IPP?" probably don't mean much to your average user, at least when they're getting started. If they need to make those choices before they can get any work done, it'll be considerably off-putting.

  • Re:Your problem (Score:4, Insightful)

    by tsg (262138) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:39PM (#8704871)
    Your problem is that you think NORMAL people...have the time, energy, and patience to learn which of their 8 text editors is the best.

    If they don't care enough to find out, why should I care if they don't find out? They don't need the "best", they need what meets their requirements. And the only one who knows their requirements is them. They have to determine what they need, what they don't need and what they don't care about. Then they have to make an effort to find out what meets those needs. If they're not willing to do that, fine, that's their choice. But don't limit my choices because some people are too lazy to make one.

    "Too many choices" is just another way of saying "I'm too lazy to think for myself."
  • by buzzoff (744687) on Monday March 29, 2004 @12:43PM (#8704936)
    I recently bought two sets of tires for my SUVs. The set of brands and models were overwhelming. I got through the process by looking at reviews for the tires. Within 20 minutes I had narrowed the list to four models of tires. I checked prices locally and made purchases within the week from two different vendors.

    Not only is choice of tires good, but choice of vendors. The qualification is, you have to be smart about it. I can see how choice could be bad for people with low comprehension skills. For those who negotiate prices and want the best quality, the more choice the better.

    Reviews, either formal or informal, are key for high involvement purchases (choice in low involvement purchases don't matter as much, because the product is inexpensive, not critical, etc.).
  • Re:Nice Troll (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Petrol (18446) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:02PM (#8705185)
    No no, he's not trolling. It is alot like my first experience with a Mandrake distro. I picked up 8.0 because I felt confident enough to get my feet wet. It gave me the choice of Gnome/KDE/Sawfish... etc. at least 6 choices. I installed 5 and ended up using only 1. I had the same kind of experience with browsers, office software, and since I don't code, i got loads of SW I didn't even know what to do with.

    I may be reletively clueless, but I'm curious. I now know what I can do with alot of that formerly 'useless' software. But I wouldn't wish that experience on anyone I know, even my computer literate friend. It's not necessarily that he doesn't want the choice, its that he doesn't have the time or patience to sift through and choose the best.

    Most people really don't want to tinker and explore. they have a task they want to complete and want any tool that will do.

    Just because you need to go to the store for milk, doesn't mean you want to assemble the car.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:04PM (#8705211)
    Grocery shopping is easy. I just buy whatever brand my mother bought when I was a kid. I happily ignore the fact that there were often reasons behind those choices that no longer apply now that I'm a single adult.
  • by Valar (167606) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:18PM (#8705394)
    I think it is even easier than that. For every configuration item, come up with a good guess. Then in the dialog to change it, present a simple list of the options which joe-user can be expected to understand (hm, do i want big icon or small icons?). Then, down in the corner, put a little checkbox labeled 'advanced'. If they click it, they get the 'tweaker' box.
  • Re:I think (Score:3, Insightful)

    by SnappleMaster (465729) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:20PM (#8705439)
    "Or do you work for Microsoft?"

    A huge percentage of the Windows user base is people who do not have a clue how to use a computer. This forces MS to design their products so that these people do not call MS PSS eighteen times a day because they've broken something.

    If you had any clue you'd realize that MS doesn't want to force people into a mold. They want to give the idiots of the world a software experience that is powerful enough to be useful and "powerless" enough so that they can't hurt themselves. Microsoft wants to give people the richest possible experience but unfortunately it has learned that doing so is often a recipe for a support distaster.
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:5, Insightful)

    by rev063 (591509) on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:21PM (#8705442) Homepage
    Put another way, choice is an abdication of responsibility on the behalf of the programmer.

    When an interface gives you dozens or hundreds of different choices, it's because the programmer (or designer) was lazy. Instead of trying to figure out -- in advance, or by context -- what options would be best for the user, the programmer throws his hands up in the air and says: "YOU figure it out, loser!".

    There are SO MANY instances where programs insist on making you make irrelevant, useless choices. Just look at the typical installation program, for example. Like 95% of users, I don't CARE where the program is installed, what the application is named, or what skin I'd like the interface to use. I just want the damn thing installed -- and stop bothering me, dammit!

    An interface with fewer options is easier to use, no doubt about it. An interface with fewer, well-selected options also makes a BETTER program.
  • by Yakko (4996) <eslingc&linuxmail,org> on Monday March 29, 2004 @01:21PM (#8705454) Homepage Journal
    What's advantageous about the second set of choices is that they can all be chosen at once.
  • by Finuvir (596566) <rparle&soylentred,net> on Monday March 29, 2004 @02:00PM (#8706024) Homepage
    There's an important insight there that I think needs to be highlighted. That is that, a lot of the time, it's easier to learn than to choose. If I ask "What button do I press?", I want to hear 'F1' or 'ESC', not "What button do you prefer?" Of course I'll inevitably decide, after some use, that the button that I was forced to use is often out of my normal reach and I want to reassign it. That's why we have defaults and options rather than a host of questions at the outset. I think that the kind of choice that is lamented is the kind that needs an immediate descision and can't be put off until we descide it needs to change (or forever).
  • by Trolling4Dollars (627073) on Monday March 29, 2004 @02:13PM (#8706205) Journal
    Recently I was discussing what I see to be a central conflict in human beings. It is the conflict of two desires that every human being has:

    1. The desire to be an individual. To be unique.
    2. The desire to be part of a group. To be accepted as being the same as others.

    I'm not sure of the forces driving these two desires, but it certainly has an effect on making choices. Which leads to another issue which I think this article was focusing on: who has the control?

    In situations where one entity has all the control (a centralized system), there are fewer choices to make and therefore the system tends to work better. However the downside is that the system will entity will naturally impose restrictions. This is the point where the desire for individuality comes into direct conflict with a centralized system.

    In a situation where the individual has control, the system they are working within must allow for a variety of choices to be made since no individual is the same. With all this choice, the system has a tendency to be very complex and break down frequently (witness Macs vs. PCs, with PCs being more complex). It also has a tendency to lead to situaitons where there is no continuity. On the PC you have a gazillion choices no matter what OS you choose. Expand that to the hardware, and you have even more choices. With a Mac, you only have a handful of choices, but they are the "best" choices based on experience. The user gives up a certain level of control for a simpler experience.

    So... what's the answer? There really isn't one. It's a flaw in human design. We would be largely better off without the desire for individuality and centralized control, but we would also be a lot less interesting. However, the trains would probably run on time... ;P
  • by Mr. Slippery (47854) <tms AT infamous DOT net> on Monday March 29, 2004 @03:08PM (#8706863) Homepage
    wealth == choice == freedom == responsibility

    No.

    Choice is not wealth, especially not when 99% of the choices are crap. Having hundreds of different phone plans to choose from does not make me wealthy. Having good companions, good food, nice toys and tools, and a warm dry place to sleep and keep my toys and tools, makes me wealthy. Wealth is satisfaction of needs and wants, which can either come from being satisfied with less, or from having more.

    While freedom implies choice, choice does not imply freedom. The condemned man can be offered his choice of methods of execution; the voters may be offered a choice between Democrat and Republican. In either case the system has removed most of the meaning from the choice. ("Don't blame me, I voted for Kodos. [snpp.com]")

    Freedom is clearly not responsibility, as one is often sighted without the other. People have been known to behave responsibly under horrible, unfree conditions, and people with great freedom often have irresponsibly. In fact, what people who claim "freedom == responsibility" mean is that they want to limit the freedom of people whose actions they consider irresponsible. (Though they often have odd definitions of "irresponsible".)

    And certainly wealth has nothing to do with responsibility. I've known too many wealthy irresponsible people, and responsible working poor, to ever believe that.

  • by Angst Badger (8636) on Monday March 29, 2004 @03:23PM (#8707009)
    I just don't get why it has to be such an "either or" choice here...

    Money.

    Though it really, really grieves me to say this, Apple got this right first, and Microsoft eventually learned from Apple and their own customer feedback. The only people who want a whole bunch of choice and configurability from computers are geeks like you and me who enjoy the computer as a thing-in-itself. Everyone else is just trying to use the computer to accomplish their jobs, a particular hobby, or something else where the machine is just a means to an end. And those people are where the money is. (There certainly isn't much money in folks like me who rejected the Macintosh because they preferred the joys of the Applesoft command prompt and 6502 machine language programming!)

    It also means less expensive support if you don't have to train your support drones to answer questions about a million conceivable configuration possibilities.

    This is no doubt what Novell is thinking. For all I know, the executives at Novell think free and open software is a great thing in and of itself, but at the end of the day, their jobs depend on making money, so reducing interface choice is an eminently rational route for them to choose.

    Novell's efforts will go to whatever they decide is the "best" interface, period. If geeks like you and me want special feature X, we'll have to code it ourselves, because only we care. There is a sliding scale of preference for complexity in users, starting with zero for the general public and sliding all the way to infinity for Java development toolchains, in inverse proportion to the likelihood of profit.

    This is, however, nothing new.
  • by sheldon (2322) on Monday March 29, 2004 @03:26PM (#8707043)
    Too much competition doesn't even begin to enter into the PC OS market, because there never has been that amount of competition. MS won by default, which has nothing to do with them being right or wrong.

    There was that much competition in the 1980's, before Microsoft became dominant.

    You must be too young to remember this, but there was a day when you could go to a store like Computerland and be faced with a choice of 8 different computers. None of which interoperated with one another.

    Over time people got tired of this, they got tired of seeing something and finding out it wouldn't work on their computer. So they started making purchasing decisions based upon compatibility. This led to the final decision to standardize on Microsoft. This has also been going on with hardware, the advent of CPU sockets and SIMMs, IDE ports, USB ports, and so forth is all about making the computing easy to understand and hook up and make work.

    You're right in that this doesn't make MS right or wrong. Microsoft never made that decision, it was instead the Consumers.

    But it does help to explain the dominance of Microsoft software.
  • by groomed (202061) on Monday March 29, 2004 @03:45PM (#8707286)
    Another choice to choose the level of choice? What a nightmare. Can you imagine the documentation? "Select Tools->Options, unless your user level is Clean, in which case you must go to Control Panels->User level, except when you're in Beginner mode, in which case you have to log out and ..."

    That's not making things easier. It's deferring responsibility.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday March 29, 2004 @03:46PM (#8707296)
    Try the customize PC....now see how many choices you have...the matter of choice isn't a problem its the orginization of that choice. Have a basic option for people who don't want to think about it then have multimple levels of choice for people who want it different...most Linux distros have this option in thier installers. It isn't a problem.

    By the way with this whole "problem" with linux choice hurting desktop usage could someone explain to me why linux is gaining market share?
  • by 1iar_parad0x (676662) on Monday March 29, 2004 @04:13PM (#8707585)
    I would argue that our system of government, in its ideal form (thus adhering to the constitution), was meant to be system of checks and balances. Remember, the people did not directly elect their Senators. We elected electors to elect the President (IIRC correctly, they could vote as they choose). Also, the courts lacked the power of judicial review. Thus, the people's voice would be heard by the revolving door that would be the House of Representatives, the Senate would be filled by those who emerged victorious in a struggle for power among each state's competing elite, and the presidency would be held by the man with the most political pull. Unfortunately, we allowed Senators to be directly elected by the people, incumbents in the House basically own their seat, activist judges play lawmaker by setting precedents, and the president tends to be bounded by little. Oh, I forgot to mention the little detail of lobbyists, drafts, taxes, social security, social programs, and abused police powers. Still, it's not a bad form of government; it's just not what was intended.
  • what paradox? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mzipay (577247) on Monday March 29, 2004 @04:30PM (#8707774)
    freedom of choice implies the freedom to choose to choose (or not).

    .. *dizzy* ...

    let me try that again: before i can make a choice between two or more options, i must first want (i.e. choose) to make that choice.

    as an experienced computer user and programmer, i want to choose linux (or another alternative) for my desktop so that i can have the freedom of choice it offers.

    as a casual user, my sister has no interest in choosing to have the kind of freedom of choice that linux offers; to her, windows 98 is still to this day "good enough" for her needs.

    that one of us chose an option that leads to more choices and the other did not is immaterial; we each exercised our freedom to choose in coming to a decision that best fits our respective needs.

    in my mind, there is nothing "paradoxical" (in the way that schwartz means) about not choosing in the face of myriad options, because to not choose is itself a choice.
  • Choices. (Score:2, Insightful)

    by MicklePickle (220905) on Monday March 29, 2004 @06:02PM (#8708740) Homepage
    I have to say several things:

    I agree with Dr. Schwartz to some extent. Australia is seeing a huge amount of privitization throughout all industries. We are having to make a huge amount of choices for everything. I know the US have had it for years, but I get annoyed having to make too many choices every step of the way. I see it as a waste of time and energy that can be better spent elsewhere.

    The other side of the coin is, though, that we need to have choices to avoid a monopoly/dictatorship. Whichever way you look at it - Microsoft is a dictator. They tell us to jump and we say 'how high?'.

    This is unsatisfactory. So for this reason alone I prefer to have choices. Even if I do get annoyed, I would much prefer that I get annoyed than have some monopoly dictating my life.

    The other thing to note is: Microsoft is treating the OSS movement as a THREAT to it's existance. Therefore, they are going all out to get at OSS in anyway possible. I see this study as FUD by Microsoft, (whether initially intentional or not).
  • Re:Nothing new (Score:2, Insightful)

    by shadow_slicer (607649) on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:28PM (#8709909)
    But not providing the capability to make those "irrelevant, useless choices" is also "an abdication of responsibility on behalf of the programmer."

    A good programmer will figure out the best settings and instead of HARD CODING them in to the program, [s]he'll make them be DEFAULTS. That way the application works sensibly, and the user will not be bothered by extraneous choices unless they explicitly look for them.

    A well designed interface should have the common options in obvious, easily accessible places, but also still have obscure options hidden, available through some intuitive method (like an "Advanced" tab).

    I don't particularly want to recompile $APPLICATION because some idiot hard coded the cdrom drive to /dev/cdrom or hard coded the text black, (which doesn't match my background...--well actually it doesn't look that bad, but it's hardly functional with my black background) either of which would take maybe 30 minutes of programming, testing, and debugging time to fix (2 hours if they are a slashdot reader).
  • Excuse me, but.... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Sargerion (712886) <blah.fucknuts@com> on Monday March 29, 2004 @08:52PM (#8710055)
    Too much choice? Well, perhaps for some people. But a where a line must be drawn, people always crowd around and push it one way or the other. Frankly, I'd rather be befuddled by too much choice than restricted by too little choice. I do believe Dr.Schwartz can kiss my ass.
  • by groomed (202061) on Tuesday March 30, 2004 @02:49AM (#8711928)
    You set the user interface according to the preferences, and the abilities, of the user.

    So, essentially you just hand the user a bag of bricks?

    The perfect interface for the novice and for the computer expert are not the same.

    It's not just the interface. It's the whole program. You can't just remove a few buttons and say "now the interface is perfect for the novice". You actually need completely different layouts and different functionality. Frankly I don't think it can be done. I think you'll almost always end up having to create different programs for novices and experts. It's a lot more involved than you seem to think.

    Apple's one-button mouse is the perfect example.

    I never feel the need for a two button mouse when working on a Mac. It's more of a Windows-ism.

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