No technological artifact – hardware or software – can be considered a convivial tool if it is opaque, ill-documented, or overly complex. For a tool to be convivial I have to be able to make it mine – which means potentially putting it to uses the designer didn’t expect or intend. (These are probably the most creative uses of the hardware, by the way.)
Convivial hardware has to be:
- simple enough to understand deeply after modest study;
- transparent – I can get to the bits, down to “bare metal”;
- well-documented – if I don’t know how it works, I can’t use it for my purposes.
The Mac is not convivial: there is too much smoke, too much (undocumented) black magic, and too many layers of software between you and the bare metal.
The PC is potentially convivial: most of the parts are documented, but it’s still way too complex for an individual to understand. And the bare metal can be buggy in painful and undocumented ways!
Microcontrollers – especially of the 8-bit variety – are convivial: they are small and simple; you program them down to the bare metal; they can be “misused” creatively.