Sunday, April 12, 2009

Warschauer and Microsoft Bob (Arf Arf)

While reading the "Conclusion: The social embeddedness of technology" article this morning, I found myself disagreeing with one of the arguments that Warschauer makes about personal computing and biases. He states:
"Another bias of personal computing is the desktop interface, which is based on an office metaphor (e.g. files and folders) rather than on other possible metaphors (a kitchen, a tool shed, a farm), thus being more accessible to people with certain kinds of prior experiences..." (203)

One software flop from over 15 years ago seems to prove this argument wrong: Microsoft Bob. In 1995, Microsoft decided to take a different approach to the interface of desktop computers and create an interface that resembled what seems to be a house (upper-middle class from the screenshots). BOB is much more graphical than the Windows or OS X. Instead of files and folders, your information is sorted into different "rooms" which you, as the user, give different attributes. To select a program, you pull it off of a shelf in order to invoke its usage. Also, BOB includes its own word processing, spreadsheet (limited in features), and email applications. All of BOBs native applications are essentially dumbed down for users who do not have the ample skills to use standardized software such as Word, Excel, or Outlook. The issue, however, is that the applications were too simple in their functionality. The word processing software, known as "Letter Writer", allows users to change fonts, alignment, and copy/paste. However, it seems as if the application doesn't have any other "simple" features, such as bullets or numbering.

Microsoft BOB sold poorly in the market and eventually was discontinued before Windows 98. Today, the program tops numerous "Worst Products" lists, including CNET's "Worst Products in a decade" and PC World's "Top 25 Worst Tech Products of All Time".

Do you think this is evidence that
Warschauer was wrong in this portion of his argument? Or was this just a simple error on Microsoft's part?


  1. (Sorry - how does this disprove Warschauer's argument?)

  2. Well, Microsoft has a bad habit of dumbing down too far, and this definitely seems like another case of that. (Also, to judge from when it was issued and based on those graphics, possibly it put too much of a strain on the capabilities of the machine? It definitely sounds more process-intensive than Win95 or 98.) But I really don't think you could draw any conclusions about a general concept like that from one instance of software tanking. Good software tanks all the time.