The "Top Ten" most inexcusable failures of technology?

The "Top Ten" most inexcusable failures of technology?

Summary: Just about everywhere you look on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, and even on TV, you'll see new and innovative products being showered with accolades and awards. As a former lab director at Ziff Davis, I was a part of the testing and reviews engine that hoisted great products onto the pedestal while raking the poorly done ones through the coals.

Just about everywhere you look on the Internet, in newspapers and magazines, and even on TV, you'll see new and innovative products being showered with accolades and awards. As a former lab director at Ziff Davis, I was a part of the testing and reviews engine that hoisted great products onto the pedestal while raking the poorly done ones through the coals. But through it all, it was easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and where, overall, technology was not only failing us but doing so inexcusably.

How do I define "inexcusable?" Inexcusable failures are the ones where we continue to pay a severe penalty in productivity for everyday tasks while the end game (how it should work) is obvious but the path to it is obstructed for reasons that have nothing to do with science. In other words, when you look at all the problems that have so far been solved by technology, it's appalling that some of these simpler issues have yet to be ridden from our lives. I say this knowing that somewhere, these problems are being solved by some solutions provider. Invariably, in response to complaints about one problem or another, I'll get e-mails from vendors who say "We solve that problem" or from the Apple faithful who scream "Get a Mac!" But for one or two companies to have solved the problem isn't good enough. These problems are so blatantly killing the productivity of thousands of people that there's no excuse for them to not have been universally addressed.

When you see my list (which isn't yet up to

Topic: Apple

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  • Composition 101

    We could debate whether this point is a technology failure or a failure of the chair to keyboard interface, but I grow weary of reading articles (like this one) in which I must repeatedly stop, go back and try to decide what the author might have intended to say.
    There is a definite difference between a site and a sight. Even though they sound alike, the meanings and usages are different. Rewriting a sentence to more accurately express yourself is fine, but don't leave both the preferred phrase and the one that you rejected, so the reader has to try to divine what you intended to say.
    Overlooked/missing prepositions and other words make the process of reading more painful than it should have to be in a professional context.
    • That's fair.

      Sometimes, with the phone ringing, the coffee machine empty, IMs popping up wanting something now, you can't focus on proofreading. Mea Culpa. Guilty as charged (I tried to clean it up some).
  • Thanks for the chance to mention these.

    Electronic can openers are still at the most primitive stage of development. With the exception of a handheld, try to open a can of coffee, particularly the huge size. Then do what you can with what's left of your day.

    All those battery operated items with no warning when the battery is running out. Ever been through a day with a dead watch? Been unable to get your car into the garage? Had your alarm fail overnight?

    Thanks again. I feel much better.
    Anton Philidor
    • You have forgotten the worst of all

      The much dreaded dead TV remote
  • "Smart" Software Would Be Nice

    David - I agree with your gripes, and here's my one big one. Why can't software learn? Just your simple office productivity programs (PDAs, notebooks, and cell phones would be nice too, but I don't want to ask too much). If I use the same feature every day, in the same way every time, why doesn't the software learn this?

    Yes, some of MS's 2002/2003 programs have it (mainly in the annoying menu/chevron dealie). But whenever I want to import/export in Outlook, it never remembers what I did last, that my file type is always pst, etc. It always defaults to the same useless parameters (Import from another program | ACT!2.0, etc.). Or, in Word, the "envelopes and labels" feature always defaults to label. I almost never use labels. It's this little stuff that's maddening to me. It should just happen without needing to hack the registry. (Not to pick on MS. It's the stuff I know and for the most part like.)

    Also, being able to run a portion of the program from the CD would be nice. MS products offer that as an option during setup, but it has never worked for me - always end up having to install it on the hard drive.

    • I'm not saying "Smart Software" cannot be written but ...

      It's tough enough writing good software, but it adding in user preferences on top of software is a very challenging activity because it adds to the cost of development and maintenance of the result.

      No business will justify the "extra" expense just to make your life better unless you can show that such an expense would be cost effective and have a short payback timeframe.
      George Jay
      • Adding in user preferences...

        Let me get this straight, adding user preferences to a software is an after thought?!?!

        Surely this is the first priority rather than a cumbersome aspect of writing software apps.
    • The software that drives me batty!

      Microsoft's software - all of it!
      patch after patch - fix after fix
      Can't they get it right the first time?
      Don't they have an SQA department??????
      I thought Bill Gates was a genius?
      Unbelievable what the average citizen will put
      up with. I am phasing out computers from my home
      and going back to the old-fashioned way of doing things - BY HAND! It worked well then, guess it
      will now. Security on the Net is bad - your privacy is invaded - can't trust anyone.
      I HAVE HAD IT! The average person spends hours and hours trying to keep up with the latest JUST SO THEY CAN BE SAFE ON THE INTERNET. I ask you, is it really worth it??????

      I SAY NO!

      • I don't mean to make it worse for you, but,..

        "Don't they have an SQA department??????
        I thought Bill Gates was a genius?"

        Answer to the first: Yes... you... and me, and the rest of the world... well, at least the MS-techsupport-paying part. Not only does M$ save M$ (Megabuck$) on having their developers or testing dept--if one even exists there--play with things for hours trying to find bugs, they get paid for us doing it for them with support contracts. Which leads to the second part, Gates being a "genius": well, in the sense that he has managed to rake in the money while selling products that are not only incomplete but often fouled at their creation.

        And I fully agree with you in the time spent updating and securing!!!

        And now MY gripe: The lying!!! Comnputer: "You may continue to work while the updates are being installed." User (in this case, ME)"Oh, really? COOL!" (imagine a big red X in the middle of the screen and a buzzer going off here) WRONG!!! Not only does the hard drive activity take control of the machine so I cannot open or save anything else, the processor at 100% allows me to very slowly move from one thing to the next, even if it a screen down!!! But that is not all folks... wait there is more!... here it comes... You must reboot the computer!!! which of course forces me to, what?, yes, STOP working!!! This is a small example of all the things which are, er, um, inaccurate at their presentation. (Boy my tongue hurts from biting it!!!)
        No name specified
      • Not only Microsoft...

        IMO, there should be *no* hidden setting whatsoever in any commercial software, whether Windows or any other MS product. I pay for that software, I should have the right and ability to choose how it behaves (within its funtionalities, of course). If I make the system inoperable with my choices, I want it to be *my* fault, but there must also be a "reset to default settings" option available at startup time.

        I do not want to be stuck with the preferences of the programmer or designer of the product, and I want the software to remember *my* choices.

        Last, when I uninstall software, I want to have the possibility of telling it to remove *all* traces of itself from the system if I don't intend to re-install it later on. It is not normal to need a registry cleaner, and with the now "in" choice of XML files for configuration, we're going to be plagued with the same "INI file Hell" that caused the Win32 registry to be designed in the first place.
  • Automatic Update

    I recently started using Gentoo Linux, and I think the greatest thing about it, despite other difficulties, is how easily I can update all of the software in my computer.

    Windows makes strides with Windows Update, but if I want to update all of my third party software, I have to scour the internet to see if updates are available and often install them myself. There should be a better way.

      There's a nifty web site out there that you can use to track updates to all your applications. With a paid subscription, you can use a client application to scan your computer for apps and automatically notify you when updates happen. You can still use it for free by selecting apps manually. There is a client for both Windows and Mac.
      • CNET Catchup

        Cnet used to have this nifty little app called Catchup, it used to be available in, it would scan your computer, get the versions of all the upgradeable .exe and .dll files in your computer, compare them to a list on Cnet and tell you which updates were available. I was a huge fan of that program, until they pulled the plug on it (maybe it didn't generate enough revenue to keep it)
        It was not a definitive solution, since it wouldn't auto-update your software, but it sometimes was the only way to upgrade some drivers or software.
        • Agreed. I really miss Catchup

          That was a great tool. I never understood why it died.
          • Hind-sight Catchup was the best

            A great condiment to the problem of keeping the software salad fresh. Would CNet please bring back this zippy feature?
  • Message has been deleted.

  • The Humane Interface

    by Jef Raskin provides most, if not all, of the answers to the issues that you brought up. For those who don't know, Jef Raskin did the original design for the Mac. In his book, he 'beats-up' on the Mac just as much as any other system, but most inportantly, provides answers.

    george :-)
  • Exchange & MAC OS-X

    Why, oh why has Microsoft supplied such a worthless, brain-dead e-mail client for the Mac? We support several hundred Mac users in a Windows/Exchange shop. All of the Mac users have Office X installed but it's nearly impossible to get Entourage to work properly with Exchange. We finally rolled out a terminal server for them to use Outlook but there's no acceptable reason that Microsoft couldn't build in native Exchange support into Entourage.
  • Hidden e-mail addresses

    My pet peeve is how difficult it is to find out the real, honest-to-god e-mail address of someone. There should be an option in all e-mail clients to always display "name@domain" rather than "John Doe".
    • Agree with this (an Outlook user)

      A major problem for managing email and identifying spam. Outlook's rules tool will automatically fill in "from" with the displayed name to identify a message for further processing (delete, file, alert, etc.), and then doesn't recognize messages from the same source (even the one just used) because it isn't the real email address. DUMB!