The author interviewed 12 people: the interviews focused on the strategies people
use in customizing their personal computer resources.
Operating systems provide users with basic facilities for building their
interactive environments, they provide the necessary building blocks and let the
users do the rest.
The objective of the study was to see if there are typical problems people
have in creating and using their virtual workspace.
The specific issues were identified by applying basic concepts and principles
of activity theory. According to Action Theory the most important aspects of the use of an artifact are:
the system of goals
the whole set of tools available to the individual
the social context of activity
types of work activities
Social interaction at work
types of computer use
coordination of computer-based and non computer activities
use of the desktop
the top level of the file system
general structure of the file system
work in progress and finished projects
private and public files
electronic documents and paper documents
planning and self-management
arranging project-related resources
communication/cooperation via the computer
Deliberate design vs. spontaneous adjustment of virtual workspaces
The structure of virtual workspace is only partly determined by deliberate
On some occasion design which initially looked unmotivated and inefficient
turned out to be optimal for the task at hand.
The shift focus of activities to the computer
Over the several years most participant shifted from paper work to computer
work and by now the computer was the central part of their activity.
Accessing files: the desktop vs. hard disk window
Each participant created his own view of the file system: desktop, folders on
desktop, the hard disk folder and a folder on the hard disk window.
There are several reasons why people don't want items on the desktop. Some
practical, such as it is obscured by windows, some psychological, such as a
clean desktop means less urgent things to do.
Others prefer to use desktop for reasons such as a more direct access to needed
Ongoing and finished projects: single work area vs. multiple work areas Few users had a single folder for all projects together while others had a
folder for each different project. In this last case it worked both as a working
area and storage.
Ongoing and finished projects: single work area vs. multiple work areas. The desktop can keep only a single project, while several people work on
multiple projects: so it is difficult to switch among them.
Use of aliases is limited.
The LABEL menu that allows the use of color on folder was rarely used.
People working on only one project did not report problems with the system.
People working on several projects instead reported problems, lack of support in
-restoring an environment after a shutdown
-Cleaning up at the end of a project: creating a new folder (for users using
multiple folders). or cleaning up the area for single folder users.
Cleaning up is not easy for certain files whose use or final destination is
uncertain: those files end up lingering around and the user develops a kind of
The personal/public dimension Working area: private
Finished project: public
Electronic documents and physical documents Users work both with electronic and paper documents: physical files were
organized along the same lines as computer files.
Planning and self management Really few users used the computer to help them manage their activities.
DISCUSSION The study revealed several problems:
arranging resources: the system doesn't not provide enough resources.
updating the workspace is a common problem. The Mac system has two major
limitations: it does not give a global overview of the file system in opaque
folders and info about specific files is often not enough for the user.
lack of support for the user in tracking down his own activities
The author suggest possible solutions:
to learn from other people's experience in dealing with interactive
to provide appropriate support
advance meanings to organize resources
use a project oriented instead of an application oriented approach
use the history of user's activity to help him manage
During this interesting study the main focus of the
author was to analyze how the users were organizing their information in the
workspace, considering the location of the documents, the relationship between
documents and activities, and evidence of activities flow.