The Beauty of the Default

When those of us who live on our computers setup a new one – there is usually process of redecoration and customization. This process usually takes a few days, with a few little issues hanging around for a week or two. We install of our applications, we customize window and color settings, we set our desktop background color or image.

While I do all of these things, to varying degrees, I have a love for the default settings and strive to use them, and improve them, whenever possible. There is something to be said for keeping things are they are by default, regardless of the customization options.

First of all, it is easier – if you use the default settings, things are already setup for you! It also makes working between various computers easier.

Default settings are more important than any customization options that may live behind them. For example, the Mozilla web browser had tab-browsing functionality for years and I never touched it – when I did, I always changed the settings to open tabs in the background, and to open tabs with Ctrl+click. However, I could never remember if I had set these options since I had last installed or upgraded (something that happened quite frequently, since I was following the development of Mozilla).

Then, when the Firebird web browser came along, tab-browsing had both of these options enabled by default. All of the sudden I can’t live without tab-browsing. There were no new settings – only a seemingly subtle change in which settings were chosen by default.

I’ve been encouraged to see that open-source software developers seem to be gaining an appreciation for the importance of good defaults. While open-source developement has often been criticized for bogging applications down with too many options (and this has certainly been a problem), I’ve seen a great respect to simplicity in configuration options, and the importance of good default settings by the managers of the Gnome project, Nautilus, Gaim, and Mozilla Firebird.

Long live good defaults!


5 thoughts on “The Beauty of the Default

  1. You know Steve, before I ever met you in person I used to read your ideas on this weblog – ideas that made me think:

    “This guy has a brilliant understanding of practical simplicity and how people use the technology.”

    This is one of those posts. Long live good defaults and the musings of S. Garrity, indeed.

  2. Is that creature the new generation of spam? Spamming blog comments? I’ve never seen such a beast…

  3. Ok, the spam comment has been erased. For the record there was a comment after Will’s. I’m not teasing Will. 🙂

  4. I agree to a certain point. The defaults are useful to the standard user; however, power users (as I like to think of myself) require customization and tweaking of any application. Actually, that’s my opinion.

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