Computers: Why Windows is a feminist issue: Icons and folders are go-faster toys by boys for boys, argues Mary Dejevsky, ready to scream at the sight of a mouse

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The Independent Online
FOR WHAT seems like years, I have resisted buying any computer with Windows or a windows-type system that uses a mouse to point at instructions on the screen. I prefer to stick with the key-based Dos, the PC-compatible computer's basic operating system, and the word-processing programmes that go with it.

Why? I use a computer to write and edit; not to design things, not to whizz graphics around, not for play - games would be fun, but they are not enough reason to buy a computer.

Why else? Well, I actually like using a keyboard - otherwise known as typing - and can do it fast. Using a mouse is all very charming, but if you touch-type it takes your right hand off the keyboard and slows you up. Windows also consumes an extortionate amount of hard disk space, which can slow other processes.

I also resent the hard sell. You try buying a desktop computer or laptop these days without Windows included. Impossible. Ergo, I have not bought a new computer since Windows became compulsory.

Now, like most others at the Independent, I am being trained to use a new computer - an Apple Macintosh - which works on the same principle as the ubiquitous Windows on the PC. Now I too must get to grips with what seem like layers and layers of 'folders' and lines and lines of little pictures or icons. I must also tame my mouse.

Halfway through the first day, in the midst of struggling to move the mouse, recall how many files were open and search for an apparently lost piece of copy all at once, I realised with a flash of recognition what was wrong: this was a man's computer world.

It was not just that all the people training us were men, or that the inventors of Apple Macs and windows systems were men; it was rather that the aptitudes required to make these systems easy and enjoyable are all those associated with maleness.

There is the spatial aspect - not being confined to the keyboard; there is the directional aspect - moving the mouse across its pad to guide the cursor on the screen. There is the complex visual layering, like an engineering diagram, and the tactile way in which the files and pictures appear and are moved. Images of the real thing are used - locked suitcases indicate files closed to your perusal; you literally drag your unwanted story into the little black rubbish bin.

Women, by and large, many of whom have trained to touch-type, do not need these visual images and tactile sensations. We are quite at ease in a world where keys and letters stand for functions. The aptitudes associated with femaleness are those of verbal and manual dexterity, attention to detail, routine, staying power etc. We make rather good typists, once we learn how, and rather good keyboarders. We can even think as we type.

Men, by contrast, tend to find the keyboard a problem. You still see plenty of men, even professional writers and reporters, jabbing at the keyboard with two fingers from afar, arhythmically. Unless they absolutely have to use a keyboard, they often prefer to dictate from notes or memory.

You can see why men might dislike a keyboard system - finding it unresponsive, unrepresentative and slow. Might, indeed, have disliked it enough to devise something more suited to their strengths. It may also have seemed a bit joyless - too much like real work. But you can also see why a woman, who is often a competent typist, might find the graphic- based system both uncongenial and unnecessarily complicated.

The closest analogy might be the male/female attitude to cars and driving. Using Windows and similar systems is like driving - and men take more easily to it. There is a similar sense of space and direction. You can 'drive' your mouse. Men treat their cars and their computers like expensive toys. They appreciate speed - one new advert for a computer shows a mouse on wheels and boasts that its systems 'go so fast' - and status and they want as many 'extras' as possible - including unnecessary ones.

Women, it is said, choose their cars according to different criteria. They want a car to get them from A to B safely and without hassle. They want the gearshift to be smooth and the switches convenient. Above all, they want the driving process to be simple and utterly reliable. They do not want a toy - this is work, not play. If the car is a smart colour with elegant lines, that's a plus.

But where are the Minis, the Micras and the Renault 5s of the computer world? The smart, space-saving computers at a sensible price with keyboard-based software? We don't want any bells and whistles and certainly no go-faster mice. (Photograph omitted)

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