Hobby, Tool, or Hindrance: Three Views of Computers

Hobby, Tool, or Hindrance: Three Views of Computers

There are three ways of viewing computers:

  • Hobby: A computer is an end in itself
  • Tool: A computer is an aid to an end
  • Hindrance: A computer is a mandatory impediment to an end

Users, developers, software companies, operating systems, and hardware makers each have at least one of these views. Knowing their views can decrease frustration and help achieve your or your business’ goals.


“Computer” refers to both the computer and the operating system. When used without further detail, it can mean either one.

My use of “hobby” and “hobbyist” is not meant as an insult. The terms represent those who take interest in the computer itself. Someone who uses a computer as a tool may also be a hobbyist, but it isn’t required.


The hobby view considers the computer an end in itself. Overclockers, some gamers, some programmers, and some general computer users may enjoy playing with the computer’s hardware and operating system. Their changes may or may not objectively improve their computer experience, but these users enjoy the time they spend changing things. A tool view user may also have the hobby view.

This is a positive view of computers, but not a utilitarian one. Hobbyists’ computers are often overpowered for what they are used for and less stable than a tool user’s computer.

Hobby users generally:

  • Want:
    • The fastest hardware they can afford
    • Operating systems that:
      • Provide a challenge or
      • Run the software they are most interested in
  • Know:
    • How to use their computer’s operating system at a deep level
    • How to change hardware and software settings
  • Upgrade:
    • Components when newer, measurably better ones are available
    • Computers when their old computer:
      • Is significantly slower than newer machines or
      • Can no longer host more modern components
  • Switch operating systems:
    • Frequently: May run multiple operating systems on a regular basis
    • Rarely: May be devoted to a single operating system
  • Handles problems:
    • Well. Enjoys challenges or views them as part of being a hobbyist.


The tool view considers the computer an aid to an end. Writers, artists, educators, engineers, scientists, and consumers may view computers as tools. Each finds themselves more productive, more creative, and/or able to do more complex things than they would without a computer.

This is a positive view of computers. It’s also a utilitarian one. This user selects a computer based on how well it advances the user’s goals considering the user’s current and expected future situations. Many programmers and gamers have the tool view of computers.

Tool users generally:

  • Want:
    • Reliable computer hardware
    • Reliable, non-cryptic computer operating systems
  • Know:
    • How to use their computer’s operating system as it impacts their goals
    • How to use their preferred applications
  • Upgrade:
    • Components when small needs aren’t being met
    • Computers when large needs aren’t being met
  • Switch operating systems:
    • Rarely. Training costs usually outweigh any other perceived gain
  • Handles problems:
    • Well. Finds the solution, learns it, and uses it.
    • Remembers the problems when making future purchases.


The hindrance view considers computers or operating systems an impediment but is required to use them. An educator who prefers overhead projectors but must use the digital equivalent may consider computers in general an impediment. An accountant may love spreadsheets but find the operating system an impediment.

Hindrance users generally:

  • Want:
    • The computer to stay out of their way
    • Hardware that never fails in any way
    • Operating systems that never change
  • Know:
    • How to use a few specific applications
      • This may be at a superficial or deep level
      • The educator may know nothing about the digital overhead projector
      • The accountant may know everything about Excel
    • Very little about the hardware or operating system
  • Upgrade:
    • When forced
      • The computer no longer functions
      • Their employer replaces the machine
  • Switch operating systems:
    • Never
  • Handles problems:
    • Poorly. Has not learned to use the machine at a base level, so normal operation is a “problem”


Knowing your view and software and hardware makers’ views is critical for both personal and business computing. A hindrance user shouldn’t buy a computer designed for a hobbyist. A tool-focused business should not use software from hobbyist-oriented projects/companies.

Future articles will go into determining where you are and where others are in more detail.

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