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Most people purchase a computer or tech device with the belief that it is a piece of property that they own and control. There may be features, functions, and aspects of the user interface that motivates them to purchase a certain device. People assume they can make changes at their own pace and time of choosing. However, tech devices, software, and websites can change sometimes without notice. This can be unsettling and disruptive for people. This document describes why this happens.

Better Practices

Here are some better practices for implementing changes to services and systems:

  • Sometimes advance notice will be given for upcoming changes to websites, software, and operating systems.
  • Beta versions may be phased in slowly allowing some people to experience and participate in testing prior to a larger rollout.
  • When the new features are made available, a tour of features will be provided.

Some companies will provide an announcement prior to implementing a major change, such as, “Click here for a preview of our new user experience” and then while you are trying the new user experience you might see a link or button that states “Click here to provide feedback.” This helps because people feel involved in the development process, and feel their opinion matters. Sometimes there will be a toggle option to go back to the classic original familiar interface for a while if that is preferred.

Hidden or Cryptic Menus and Options

A popular trend in websites, software, and operating systems is to have hidden or cryptic menus and options. This creates some confusion and disorientation for first time users, and also difficulty for tech support people who can’t tell users, “Click on the _____ menu” if it is a hidden menu that only appears when the user’s mouse is in a certain location.

There are not yet standards for menu icons, although some designs are becoming common such as three small horizontal parallel lines (YouTube and Gmail have this), or three vertical dots in the top right (such as with Google Chrome). The lack of continuity and standardization makes things more difficult for users.

Full Screen Mode

Windows and Apple computers support Full Screen Mode for programs. This feature makes the Start Menu (Windows) or Apple Menu (Apple) and all other window control icons and menus go away.

A common tech support request is from users who say, “I’ve lost all my menu options and can’t figure out how to get them back.”

Remote support software would typically be used to help people with computer questions. However, if the person can’t find any normal program icons, they won’t be able to start their remote support software.

For Apple computers, the user can move their mouse/trackpad pointer to the top of the screen to reveal menus again. However, they must hold it in that position for a while before the menus will show up. Then they must click the green “restore size” button.

For Windows computers, pressing the Windows key on the keyboard will help bring up the Start Menu.

Understanding the Geek Mindset

In the typical public school experience that many people have growing up, there is an early emphasis on learning polite and thoughtful behavior. If we are going to do something that might disrupt someone’s day, we would want to ask them first or at least inform them of the upcoming change. Inclusion, democratization, and participatory processes are popular methods of engaging people in developments and changes that will impact them.

Certain personality traits and anti-social behaviors have become normalized and glorified in tech culture. There’s an expectation that obsessed computer programmers and skilled coders are going to be socially awkward, quirky, and self-absorbed or absorbed in their projects without thinking about others. They may not intend harm on anyone, but they just don’t think through how the changes they implement will impact others. Even a positive change, if it is unexpected and not explained, can have negative results, at least initially.

So, this is the context and reason for unexpected and unannounced changes you may see on your computer. Software, websites, and operating systems may suddenly change with little notice or explanation. 

Staying Informed and Agile

When people are informed ahead of time, and have appropriate expectations, then there’s less of a shock and changes are less of an unexpected disruption. 

A good way to stay informed and prepared for these big changes is to keep up with industry news. You can also have a techie friend or tech support person periodically keep you informed about changes that are coming.

Some advance notice of changes can help people watch videos and read documentation on new proposed systems, or even download sample versions.

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