A power user is a user of computers, software and other electronic devices, who uses advanced features of computer hardware, operating systems, programs, or websites which are not used by the average user. A power user may not have extensive technical knowledge of the systems they use and may not be capable of computer programming or system administration, but is rather characterized by the competence or desire to make the most intensive use of computer programs or systems.
Power users also tend to favour the functionality, robustness and modularity of a device. For example: Power users favour sturdier mobile phones with larger, ideally replaceable batteries, rather than a minimal, sleek, slim and fragile device.
In enterprise software systems, "Power User" may be a formal role given to an individual who is not a programmer, but who is a specialist in business software. Often these are people who retain their normal user job role, but also function in testing, training, and first-tier support of the enterprise software.
Some software applications are often regarded as particularly suited for power users, and may even be designed as such, due to their inclusion of sophisticated function and feature sets not typically found in other comparable applications. Examples include VLC media player, a multimedia framework/player/server, which includes a complex, feature-rich, and highly customisable interface (and multiple interfaces moreover, beyond simple skinning) with numerous built-in capabilities not typically deemed useful or even understandable to users in the context of other media player suites such as Windows Media Player or iTunes, and not required by programmers, who can often write a script using a library more easily than interacting with a complex application program such as VLC.
Interface design issues
User testing for software often focuses on inexperienced or regular users. Power users can require different user interface elements compared to regular and minimal users, as they may need less help and fewer cues. A power user might use a program full-time, compared to a casual or occasional users, and thus a program which caters to power users will typically include features that make the interface easier for experts to use, even if these features might be mystifying to beginners.
A typical example is extensive keybindings, like Ctrl+F or Alt+Enter; having keyboard bindings and shortcuts for many functions is a hallmark of power-user centric software design, as it enables users who put forth more effort to learn the shortcuts to operate the program quickly without removing their hands from the keyboard. Power users typically want to operate the software with few interactions, or as fast as possible, and also be able to perform tasks in a precise, exactly-reproducible way, where casual users may be happy if the program can be intuitively made to do approximately what they wanted. To aid in the automation of repetitive tasks during heavy usage, power-user centric interfaces often provide the ability to compose macros, and program functions may be pre-conceived to with the intention that they will be used programmatically in scripting.
Power users vs. minimalists
In general, the notion is that interface design may have to make trade-offs between the acceptability of confusing beginners and minimalists versus the acceptability of annoying experts or power users. These concerns may overlap partially with the blinking twelve problem, a well-known conundrum of interface design in which engineers who design computer programs often have a poor grasp what users do and don't know about their software: because the implicit goal of bringing a software product to market is to ensure most users will always be beginners (as implied by the hope that the product's market share will continually grow), it may be extremely difficult to both appease lesser knowledgeable and naive users who want software to be intuitive-to-understand, and power users, who want software which, once well-understood, enables them to leverage the greatest use out of it.
However, there are solutions for these problems, such as:
- Product variations
- Operation modes
- More advanced features, options and settings logically separated in submenus.
Simplicity vs. efficiency
A 'simple' intuitive interface often increases the complexity of a program and impedes its efficient use, while a 'complex' interface may be more efficient if it does a better job of exposing the functionality of the program and make it quicklier accessible. For example, a program with huge numbers of keyboard shortcuts may seem to be needlessly complex, but may in fact be much easier to use for an experienced power user, since keyboards have far more buttons than mice, and a program where most of its behaviour is exposed via the keyboard will require fewer total button pushes than a program in which all functions and behaviour are only accessible via long sequences of mouse clicks to navigate menus. Providing both interfaces simultaneously is an option, but in turn this requires greatly extended development time, and so trade-offs are often made.
SAP & Oracle
SAP and Oracle are well known enterprise systems which often require a complex set of training in order to gain professional certification. Because of this, and also to encourage engagement with the systems, many companies have created a "Super User Model" (also called Power User, Champion) in order to take regular users and raise them to a level of leadership within the system. Doing this accomplishes three objectives:
- More engaged use of the system as there is a personal face assigned to champion the system and make acceptance of the technology less challenging.
- A significant time and cost reduction as companies are not seeking or hiring new or temporary resources for the purposes of developing and/or delivering documentation, training, and support.
- ROI or proof of concept of the SAP investment should be more easily achieved as users are directly involved, thereby using the system invested in, which benefits the company overall.
Extensive research has been done with the Super User Model in SAP, specifically in regard to the role they take in training and supporting end users. Currently, more than 70% of SAP companies utilize a form of the Super User Model.
In Microsoft Windows 2000, Windows XP Professional, and Windows Server 2003, there is a "Power Users" group on the system that gives more permissions than a normal restricted user, but stops short of Administrator permissions. If a user is a member of the Power Users group, he or she has greater chance of exposing the system to malware over a normal user and can promote their account to an Administrator by purposely installing malware. Thus, the Power Users group should be used with trustworthy and knowledgeable users only; it is not suitable to contain untrustworthy users. The Power Users group has been removed in Windows Vista as part of the consolidation of privilege elevation features in the introduction of User Account Control.
- "Apple's New Mac Pro Review: The Most Powerful Mac Ever".
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- "Power Users' Guide". sap.com. Retrieved 2015-01-14.
- "Windows Confidential: Power to the Power User". microsoft.com. 2012. Retrieved 2015-01-14.
- In one 1997 study involving design testing of a web application, self-identified power users refused to read any instructions, made wrong guesses, and repeatedly became so lost they could not complete the test. Bruce Tognazzini. "Maximizing Windows". - 1997 date taken from the fact that the study and design (in the link) were all completed three days before the release of Netscape 4.0, an event which occurred in June of 1997.
- "Hands-on with Vivaldi, the new Web browser for power users".
- "How to master VLC, the ultimate Windows media player for power users". PCWorld. Retrieved 2018-10-21.
- Karn, Keith S., Thomas J. Perry, Marc J. Krolczyk (October 1997). "Testing for Power Usability". SIGCHI Bulletin. SIGCHI of the Association for Computing Machinery. 29 (4). Retrieved 2015-10-29.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
- "A member of the Power Users group may be able to gain administrator rights and permissions in Windows Server 2003, Windows 2000, or Windows XP". Microsoft Knowledgebase. Microsoft Corporation. 27 February 2006. Archived from the original on 15 June 2006.
- "What happened to the Power Users group?". Windows Help and How-to. Microsoft Corporation. Archived from the original on 8 July 2007.
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