The Right Tool for the Right Job!

This week’s discussion on DistroWatch and this here blog entry motivated me to articulate certain concerns I bear in respect to choosing “the right tool for the right job”. codeinfig makes a couple of extremely valuable points in his writing (linked above). First and foremost, people (and I mean mostly end-users) should learn some old-school, decent modesty. Not everything has to be streamlined ad infinitumLearning is an important human activity. It stimulates the brain and provides skills useful in the future (Earth turning into an orange-ish nuclear mushroom and whatnot). Secondly, each tool was designed for a specific job and one should really spend some time to understand that job. Case in point, the PDF format. It was created to standardize end-point document presentation (especially for printing), including fonts, images, text, etc. However, that’s about it. It’s not meant as a dynamic file format nor for storing high quality images. These things it does badly. For these things we would be better off using HTML, for instance. However, rather than focusing merely on specific tools and their uses, I would like to discuss the consequences of using tools wrongly.

A great example of a tool is the web browser. We use it everyday for most of our modern-world Web-centric (read: almost all) activities. Unfortunately, as you might have noticed if you use average, off-the-shelf PCs, the Internet has become a place overloaded with data that serves no other purpose than to attract your attention. That data consumes a lot of computer resources for very superficial reasons. I browse the Web to read articles, watch videos and communicate with fellow humans. In other words, to experience the world. Reading requires properly formatted, well-contrasted text, sometimes accompanied by movies and/or images to ease the author in conveying his message. What it does not require is flying title bars, jumping windows, aggressive background animations, etc. Apparently, that’s what we mostly get in the Interwebs nowadays. How about we all throw a big, fat “NO”? How about we inform the people misusing web design for eye-candy that we don’t need all of this bollocks? I dare say JavaScript and CSS abuse should be frowned upon. Another thing wrong with the web browser as a tool is the fact that developers try to cramp as many features into it as possible. Chrome/Chromium is a nightmare in that regard. This modern disease is called “featuritis”. Why not then turn a web browser into an operating system, eh?  I forgot, we’ve got that already – ChromeOS!

I guess a rant would be useless without a proper take-home message. I believe we should not fall for first impressions and the notion of Swiss Army knife tools. They get inconvenient, broken, slow or just unsafe way too quickly. Let’s look for tools that do one job and do it well. In need of a GUI-enabled media player? There is mpv and mplayer already. Both can run in the terminal as well as with a pretty UI. They do everything a modern media player should. Still not enough? Try xine then! Minimalist, one-job tools are available in every BSD or GNU/Linux system’s repository. They just require finding.

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2 thoughts on “The Right Tool for the Right Job!

  1. this of course, is not a new thing we are presenting. people have drawn this line in the sand for years and years, and moores law (or whatever similar law may replace it) has kept us without a complete need to hold the line.

    but as andy importantly points out, one of the resources that it costs is our attention– if we dont want every “swiss army knife” to become a singing, dancing paperclip then we will have to forge them in practicality now and then, and strip them of their excess novelties. for those without the tools or free time to do so, at least apply market pressure when you can. thanks for the link, andy.

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    • Your very welcome! I think you have a lot of great ideas, which well deserve appreciation. An alternative to market pressure (soft advertising, featured articles, etc.?) would be building simple tools doing their job well. It would be easier for the end-user to grasp and easier for the developers to work on also. Might be daydreaming at this point, though.

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