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Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Tuesday 17/06/2002KPNQWest corporate anthem: Knock Knock Knocking On Heaven's DoorAn email arrives from my father, with a family attachment -- a JPEG of my mother. Unremarkable?

Tuesday 17/06/2002

KPNQWest corporate anthem: Knock Knock Knocking On Heaven's Door

An email arrives from my father, with a family attachment -- a JPEG of my mother. Unremarkable? You'd think so. The picture was taken with the L'Espion pocket digital camera I gave him for his birthday; it's fairly low resolution and takes up around 40k.

But that's the exciting thing. I couldn't make it for his birthday, so sent the camera by post. There then followed a stream of the sort of support calls that shakes any hint of complacency from the mind of people who might otherwise think computer gizmos are getting easy to use.

First, he couldn't install it. He's got his pride, so instead of calling me first of all he tried to call the helpline in the package. Only the L'Espion comes with a couple of bits of bundled software from different companies, and he tried to call the helplines for those first of all. Which didn't work, and he couldn't work out who it was who made the hardware (having looked at the packaging, I see what he means -- it's not trivial).

Then he couldn't plug in the USB port. I wasn't there for that: I know that someone came around and plugged it in properly in the end, and for the life of me I still can't see how you can fail to plug in a USB port, but you can. He did.

Finally -- finally! -- it worked. And he decided to send me pictures. Is there any reason a 60-something country vicar should know about file formats? No, of course not. Is it inevitable he'd send me enormous files (the biggest being a TIFF weighing in at over five meg), the like of which I wouldn't even know how to begin to create? It is. And he's on dial-up.

It was a very painful process, and that's with something as mainstream and user-oriented as you can get. Is there a market for Bluetooth, self-configuring systems and proper online support? Heavens, yes. And I have nothing but sympathy for the technical support people who are paid to deal with other people's problems such as these: the global network of digital photograph printers that's being set up will have many of these stories, I'm sure.

If anyone ever wants to check that their products are truly user-friendly, ask me and I'll put them onto the Reverend Goodwins North Cambridgeshire Usability Testing Laboratories. But be warned: none has yet survived.