I can remember, back in the day, when we were arguing about user interfaces we said “It should be as intuitive as a car is. Any experienced driver can get in a new, strange, car and figure it out in minutes.” Well, I’ve been using a bunch of different computers and driving a bunch of different cars lately, and I think we’re there. With a sad picture and some automotive micro-reviews.
What happened was, our nice Audi station wagon got into a fight with a Mercedes M-class, and well, we didn’t win.
As a result, in the last month, we’ve driven, along with our own 2001 dieself Golf and the usual business-trip rentals, two iterations of the Pontiac Montana van, my Mom’s 20-year old K car, and a Camry courtesy car from the body shop.
Normally I live on the Mac, but last month, I spent a few weeks in Ubuntu land, plus I have to use a Windows box now and again to play a game or scan some slides.
The computers are, by and large, an easier switch than the cars. Yes, the pedals and steering wheel and shifter are consistent, but getting the windshield wipers to do what you want is a research project on every car, as is setting the interior lighting and adjusting the audio for bass, treble, and so on, and a bunch of other minor functions that you need to do all the time. But cutting and pasting and moving files and editing text and browsing the web and reading mail and improving photos and so on, these days that’s all much of a muchness, whatever computer you’re sitting in front of.
So, while we complain all the time about software interfaces, and that’s OK because they could be better than they are, we’re really not doing that badly.
Micro-Reviews · Our Audi (A4 station wagon with the 3.0l engine and a stick shift). I love it, it’s a truly great car except for the windshield wipers, it’s still in the shop, sob.
Our Golf TDI. Unbelievably practical and well-designed for the (low) price. It’ll never outrun a Corvette, but it’s solid as a rock and super-maneuverable and comfy and gets you there.
The Montana vans. Lots of well-designed stowage—really lots—and an immense gas tank, so you can go a long way. Pretty good pep, too. But they wallow along the road, galumph around corners, and lurch to a stop.
Twenty-year-old K car. It goes. It almost never breaks. It starts reliably in the Saskatchewan winter. Its design was never very refined, and after a couple of decades of Canadian Prairie weather, it has achieved a disdain for mere appearance that approaches the monumental.
Recent Camry. What a great car. Too bland for me, but it’s fast, it’s lively, it’s comfy, it’s roomy, and it feels light and responsive. I read that it’s the best-selling car in North America, and I can see why.
Mid-size Ford/GMC/Chrysler boxes from rent-a-car companies. Detroit is doomed.