Friday, March 20, 2009

Why Is Software Getting Worse?

Just as there seems to be a class struggle in the political world between “Main Street” and Wall Street, so too is there an emerging conflict between end users and software publishers.

As usual, the main target is probably Microsoft; I’ve mentioned several issues in these blog posts relating to Vista and Office 2007, the gist of which is that once users are “programmed” to work efficiently on a given platform or suite of applications, pulling the rug out from under them with a new interface and removing features they’re used to is not cool.

Two quick frustrating Vista examples come to mind. During log in, even if you have de-activated your screensaver, you must log in promptly or the screensaver loads anyway. Then, when you do decide to log in, your Desktop configurations along with many of your user settings may be simply wiped out (you can retrieve them by running System Restore, if you’re lucky). More frustrating are the inconsistent View options in Windows Explorer; You can set the Date Modified option as many times and even in some default option screens as you want, but the view seldom comes up as the default, and it’s a crapshoot whether Date Modified will appear in any given window—you need to right click on the categories and add it manually in order to find files in a window by this very important parameter.

For both of these issues there is probably a very dangerous Registry fix or all-day workaround that might address the issue--for a couple of days--until Vista (or Office) revert to some default because they've been "updated."

Oh well.

But it’s not just Microsoft. Today there was a headline: 94% of Facebook users hate new design.
Combine that with the uproar over the Terms of Service recently, and users are not that happy with the world’s major social network.

For me, another painful example is Yahoo Maps. I loved the old maps and was able to go back to the “dial-up” version when the “new and improved” Maps were introduced. I preferred the ease of finding hotels and restaurants, and the new Maps really suck—the location is off in a corner if it is even found at all (it misses a lot) and zooming in and locating points of interest is an exercise in frustration. Finally Yahoo completely discontinued the old maps, and I found a lot of dissatisfied folks online. A Yahoo Customer “Care” rep told me the new maps were now the only maps.

Fortunately one dissatisfied user let out the knowledge that the UK/Ireland “beta” maps are still the original, and putting U.S. Addresses into them works just fine (but for how long)?

It goes all the way down to my Wells Fargo ATM. Out of the blue, without warning, a new “system” for scanning in checks was implemented, causing lots of delay at the ATMs and promising to “save thousands of trees” because deposit envelopes were eliminated. Given that the truth-telling record of banks is a bit suspect these days, I suspect the real reason was… money.

And that goes right back to the software publishers—if they don’t “upgrade”, what are they going to sell, particularly the shrink-wrapped dinosaurs like Microsoft? Marketing clamors for new features, even if they are irrelevant and destroy the sanity and productivity of end users.

Programmers need to come up with something different to justify their existence; product managers need an excuse to say the word “really” over and over again, as in “the new version is really, really scalable.”

The mission statement on the wall talks all about customer satisfaction, and focus groups and beta testing is supposed to address the end users’ concerns, but with the crap that is being foisted on us lately, one has to wonder whether anyone in the main office is really using these products?

(Don’t they notice that they can’t find files by the last dates on which they were modified? Do they really think that a slick “Aero” interface where you can see the open windows sideways is cool and more useful than finding the last saved version of a real file?)

Now again there is lots of talk about Windows 7 and Internet Explorer 8, with Office 14 due out a bit later next year (if they manage to make it work “in the Cloud”), but the only ones really excited about these prospects, I dare say, are the tech journalists who make money reviewing the new versions and figuring out their features and explaining them to frustrated end users.

The end result of all of this is alienation, discontent and inevitable rebellion on the part of end users. There may not be a guillotine in store for software publishers, but there are a lot of people running clandestine installations of Windows XP, and web-based versions of Office like Open Office and Zoho are definitely gaining market share.

I know you Mac-heads are claiming a religious experience that insulates you from this trend, but I know people frustrated with Macs just like others are with Windows and Linux.

It’s the nature of the beast, upgrade, change or die.

And you can make the point that change is not welcomed in our society, particularly by old fogies like me. But change for the sake of change is a recipe for frustration and disenchantment.

I particularly dread my next cell phone, which will come with a manual of 12 pages printed in tiny fonts with the 12 pages divided into four languages, and I will have to figure out a new software platform when all I want is a consistent dial tone.

This is the real Terminator and Matrix—machines taking over and driving their creators (us) literally insane.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

6th July 2013 and it's still getting worse! I use computer software and cloud services less and less as time goes by, though I do program my PC more and more. I have given up with Youtube, Flickr and trying to get my audio to work and i never could bother much with social networking. The IT industry sucks.