Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 23/8/04Monday morning, and already I've had enough. It is, unless I've been woefully misled, the year 2004.

Monday 23/8/04
Monday morning, and already I've had enough. It is, unless I've been woefully misled, the year 2004. We are twelve billion years into creation, half a million years into Homo Sapiens and more than fifty years into the information revolution. We have created atoms, listened to the sounds of creation and invented the dry martini. We even have tins of stew you can open without a can opener, for heaven's sake. And still it seems that software is being designed by primordial swamp moulds from the planet Stupid.

It's not even lunchtime, and already I'm in a mood fit to scare a Sumo skinny.

I'm sending email from AOL when I get an email from another client telling me something important has arrived. I go to close down AOL. No, I can't close the program because it's telling me "Your email has been sent" -- in a window hidden by another -- and I have to click on the blasted OK button before I can do anything else. Of course my email has been sent. That's what I use the blasted service for. Why do you think I pressed the blasted SEND button, you quivering heap of incandescently imbecilic IT idiocy?

The important message says I have a software upgrade for the office phone system. This has a Windows client that takes the age-old business of making phone calls and adds many layers of indecipherable complexity to make it as easy to use as sandpaper bog-roll. I do not like it, but I have no choice. The upgrade grumpily loads and then tells me "You must restart your system now."

You must restart now. This disrespectful insult - whatever you're doing, puny human, is unimportant compared to Me - is so commonplace in the Microsoft world that most Windows users aren't even aware that the rest of the universe long ago declared it unacceptably arrogant. There's no technical reason for it, apart from Windows' internals resembling the La Brea Tar Pits, but we have to say yes sir, thank you sir and shut down our lives for five minutes.

Which means, eventually, that Windows restarts and various other programs blink groggily in the light of day. I always enjoy this - can I type in one password fast enough before another piece of software starts up, takes over the keyboard, demands its password and blats its splash screen over the top of whatever I was doing? No, I cannot.

Start-up is dangerous for other reasons these days. Some software will inevitably go and take the opportunity to check for updates themselves. Today, there's one for Office. So Office goes away and starts its own downloading process, while the phone system software gets on with continuing its new life as the most important thing in the universe. Alas! It wants to do something to Office and is now demanding that I close Office down. Office has other ideas, none of which include that. So I have to shut stuff down using the brain-surgery-with-pruning-shears option of Task Manager. Then I have to reset. Then Office says 'I was interrupted doing something important. Starting in Safe Mode', which the phone software also doesn't like. And so on, and so forth.

None of this is hard to get right. Remember usability? Simple rules. Basic rules. Stuff that's been known for more than twenty years. Do not give the user a choice without explaining it. Do not make the user take unnecessary steps. Do not assume that you are the only blasted piece of software on the system. Do not hog shared resources.

Most importantly, do not make me start my week wishing for an extinction-level event to visit the entire IT industry.

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