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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars cogent and constructive
"The Trouble with Computers" is an eye-opening book, clearly giving a case for the thesis: Computers are difficult to use because insufficient effort is made to test programs for usability (i.e. how easy a program is for a human to use, not just whether it performs technically as expected by the programmers). Great improvements can be made with even modest...
Published on March 24, 2000 by prinskinner

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7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars an anecdotal collection, no "true scientific research" here
One of the first clarions of the so-called computer "Productivity Paradox", this report is often cited by other unsubstantiated, anecdotal "studies". But there is no "true scientific research" here. Written in 1994 (or '93), published in 1995 (with the fourth printing in "97), it must necessarily ignore the enormous impact of the Web...
Published on August 6, 1999 by Glenn Ralston


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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars cogent and constructive, March 24, 2000
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
"The Trouble with Computers" is an eye-opening book, clearly giving a case for the thesis: Computers are difficult to use because insufficient effort is made to test programs for usability (i.e. how easy a program is for a human to use, not just whether it performs technically as expected by the programmers). Great improvements can be made with even modest testing with typical users.
He gives wonderful examples of computers' being less useful than they could be. One of my favorites: After hundreds or thousands of years, humanity learned to replace inefficient-to-read scrolls with easily-turned pages. When computers arrived, we went back to scrolling.
His assertion that computers hindered productivity growth is bound to irritate people and garner some negative reviews. However, this book is a very constructive one--he states and bolsters this surprising assertion and then tells us what we can do to improve the situation. Having worked in technical support for years, a branch of the booming high-tech economy which owes its existence to the difficulty of using computers, I find it amusing that anyone would dispute the thesis that computers could be made much easier to use. I highly recommend this book.
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Still true today, April 1, 2001
By 
SunByrne (Pearland, TX United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
Despite the claims of other reviewers, the evidence that the situation described in Landauer's book has improved since the surge in the internet and its sub-technologies (e.g., the Web) is absent. I'd refer the interested reader to a recent article in the New Yorker entitled "The Productivity Mirage" (J. Cassidy) to see some interesting numbers that bear on this question.
It's not that IT investment doesn't result in productivity gains for some individuals, but that there's little evidence that it does much for most organizations as a whole. This is a point critics often miss, because most critics are computer-savvy and subjectively feel like they're more productive as a result of their computer use.
Most of the problems outlined by Landauer still plague current information systems. This book is a must-read for anyone serious about user interface or IT productivity.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Debunks the myth that computers always improve things., November 10, 1997
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This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
Landauer has good credentials to be talking about what's wrong with computers. He talks about the two main phases in computer history: 1)The 50s and 60s where bookkeepers were replaced in great numbers and 2) The 70s and 80s when word processors and spreadsheets came of age. He says that the productivity improvements in the first phase are obvious, but the results from the 2nd are dubious in terms of economic gain. He does point to a few big recent successes such as the communications industry. This book came out just before the Web became big, however. Landauer describes software testing methods in detail and believes better testing could make the difference in current software user productivity. He includes lots of memorable statements, at least to programmer types. He mentions that nowadays many people do things with computers simply because they can, not because it makes sense. He also points out how people pump money into PCs getting them to do things badly, which are easy and cheap to do by other means, just because they are so amazed a computer can do them.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A most important book about computers and productivity, February 5, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
Why are computers so hard to use, and what is this costing us? Answering this question is the focus of Thomas Landauer's in-depth study of computers and productivity. If you are interesed in the economics of computing, software usability or the effect of computing on our nation's economic performance, this is a must-read book.

It is not light reading, but it is well documented and worth the effort. (And the price is right!) Landauer, formerly head of Cognitive Research at Bellcore, is now a professor at the University of Colorado.

I have posted a more detailed review of this book at:

[...]

Lokk under "discussion papers".

Charles B. Kreitzberg
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a book to give away, August 13, 2003
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
I read this book for the first time 5 years ago. I worked at a telecom company and everything he wrote on the paradox of IT investments not returning any money is 100 % true. So I bought 20 copies of the book and gave them to upper management. Needless to say it didn't really help.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A must read for any developer or IS person, February 8, 1997
By A Customer
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
In a relatively short book, Mr. Landauer has brought to focus much of the ill-conceived notions of the computer industry as well as it's failings. For anyone who reads "trade rags" and wonders if it is at all realistic, one MUST read this book.
It's filled with real-world examples, and true scientific research that brings home the points made in the book.
To avoid the same pitfalls in your projects you should see what everyone else had done wrong
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7 of 15 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars an anecdotal collection, no "true scientific research" here, August 6, 1999
By 
Glenn Ralston (Bloomington, IN) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
One of the first clarions of the so-called computer "Productivity Paradox", this report is often cited by other unsubstantiated, anecdotal "studies". But there is no "true scientific research" here. Written in 1994 (or '93), published in 1995 (with the fourth printing in "97), it must necessarily ignore the enormous impact of the Web. And like similar tales of "Productivity Paradox" it fundamentally ignores that their incorrect conclusions are based on more than twenty five years of data "category error" (insufficient definitions). Hence the recent NAICS data corrections reflect the enormous economic impact that previously was denied.
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3 of 10 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Argument in peril, October 12, 2005
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
This book takes the position that increasing technological infrastructure and investing in higher information technology does not increase productivity. The argument is complete hokum from beginning to end; however, it is very convincing due to the large amount of evidence presented and the prestige of the pseudoscientist promulgating it.

Most of the evidence presented exemplifies the post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacy, which should be obvious to any logician or scientist reading it. However, several more subtle fallacies are also present. The subtlety comes in by virtue of the author failing to define `productivity.'

First, the author measures productivity using GDP. This is analogous to using the physics definition of work when you ask a man who's spent all day trying to tip over a mountain, "Why are you so tired? The mountain hasn't moved, therefore you haven't done any work!" GDP is a measure of output in terms of dollars. It does not measure work done, just how much was sold.

Second, the author uses return on assets to analyze investments in new equipment. Now, I'm no expert in finance, but since assets is in the denominator, using ROA in the way this author does (the ROA of the firm, not the investment decision) would systematically understate the positive effects of these investments. Net Present Value or Internal Rate of Return would both be much better measures.

Third, and this is related to the second point, the author compares firms to what they were in the past (before investing in technology) or to other, dissimilar firms. The relevant comparison is between a firm's current profitability and what the current profitability would have been if not for the investment. The common form of this reasoning is: XYZ Corp. made a huge technological investment in 1986, and experienced no rise in productivity (as measured by ROA). This ignores the possibility that the whole industry became more competitive, and failing to invest in the technology could have led to bankruptcy.

In a related issue, he completely ignores rising standards. His argument is equivalent to, Finding Nemo did not make significantly more money than The Lion King. Therefore, enhanced technology did not increase productivity. This is incorrect because productivity is a measure of work done over time, not money made. If animators tried to make a film with the graphics quality of Finding Nemo by hand, it would have taken several orders of magnitude longer, if it was even possible! The fact is, the animators, like so many workers in society, get far more done today than they used to, they just don't get paid anymore to do it, which is actually an argument for the value of technology.

I gave up on it shortly thereafter.
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1 of 8 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Thesis about computers and productivity quickly became false, April 14, 1999
By A Customer
This review is from: The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity (Paperback)
This book makes good points about how computer usability problems impact productivity. The author argues that computers had a negative impact on productivity in the years 1973-1993, but misses the idea that these were years of learning to incorporate computer technology deeply into business processes. Four year later, his argument that computers do not have a dramatic and positive impact on economic productivity seems quaint.
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The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity
The Trouble with Computers: Usefulness, Usability, and Productivity by Thomas K. Landauer (Paperback - June 6, 1996)
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