Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Just Another Microsoft Morning

Maybe this has happened to you. You woke up inspired, with a project in mind and you turned on your computer hopefully. You did this prior to your shower, or as you prepared breakfast, because you knew that Windows Vista would take about ten minutes to start up.

But then, maybe you got preoccupied; the phone rang, there was noise outside, or something else distracted you, and you forgot to get to the log on screen in time, and there was the screensaver already running. Damn!

(This occurs despite the fact that you know that you’ve disabled the screensaver innumerable times).

Now you’ve experienced this before, so you get a sick feeling in your stomach, because you already know that if you log in now, you may lose all of your Desktop settings (logging in as a new blank user).

You know the files would still be available, but you also don’t remember quite how you restored your desktop last time; oh yeah, by running System Restore, which took about another fifteen or twenty minutes.

At this point your great idea, and your inspiration, are slowly starting to fade into the recesses of your gray matter, but you are determined to persevere… You turn off the computer, and turn it on again.

You eat your breakfast, getting excited again about your project or idea, and this time when you see the log on screen, you spring up and sign in well ahead of the screensaver. Success—Windows is loading your user information.

You return to finish breakfast because you know that there are still another ten minutes at least before the computer is remotely usable. You’ve sat through the log in and you know that several dialog boxes will open that you have dealt with many, many times: The Adobe updater, the System Configuration utility (which you’ve tweaked in a vain effort to boot up and log in faster), the Windows OneCare, nagging you about doing a backup (but you have your own backup system because you don’t trust Windows to do it), Windows Update, telling you that there are updates to download and install…

But you have a project in mind, so you decide to wait with the updates. Windows tells you that you can keep working while the updates are installed, but you’ve taken that ride before, and you don’t want or need a sudden reboot or any surprises.

What’s this, another freaking balloon pops up, telling you that there is somewhere Microsoft can take you where you can get solutions to all of your Windows problems.

“OK, what about that log on screensaver?” you shout to yourself, but you are determined to remain calm, and you ignore the pop up because you know in your heart of hearts that there are very few solutions to problems with Windows, and what solutions there are seldom if ever found through Microsoft.

You remember all too well your experience with setting up your wireless network, when Windows promised to “diagnose and repair” whatever was screwed up, only to tell you to check with your System Administrator (which of course is you), or it returned you to the same opening page of a Help File loop you’d been through several times already.

So now, Windows is finally loaded, and it seems ready for you to get into your really great project. You keep a wary eye on Windows Update and OneCare, because they could pop up at any moment, but it’s time to get to work.

So you open Microsoft Word, to a new blank document, and then you remember, damn!

It’s that same default Word template that has the screwed up right margin!

Now, how did you fix that?

You try to remember the last document you created where this happened, and you fixed it, and saved a new blank template with the correct right margin, but you open a couple of more templates and each time you get the same freaking screwed up right margin!

So you drag the margin where you know it should go and you type your first paragraph and you’re feeling good because the juices are starting to flow.

You hit Enter and are about to begin the next paragraph when – crap – it’s the same bleeping right margin staring back at you.

Then you remember something you did once that worked for the current document. You hit CTRL +A selecting the entire document and then adjust the margins again. You hit Enter a few more times and it seems to work. You think, maybe I should save this as a Style or something, but then you realize that styles are really complicated and you don’t want to go there. You’re on a roll.

So you keep typing and thinking and the project is coming along really well until you’ve gone into a zone and an hour or two later you have the document finished.

You take out your flash drive and back it up immediately because last week Windows scared the crap out of you with a bogus “hard drive might be failing – back up immediately” message that almost gave you a heart attack.

Since you have a laptop, you figure you’ll move it there to upload it to your blog and share it on your social networks with the millions of people who will probably ignore it. But, at least that way it will be in three different places and your masterpiece will finally be safe.

You know you shouldn’t but you leave your laptop leave turned on all the time, just letting it go to sleep when not in use, despite the guilt you feel about wasting power but you like to use it to “relax” while watching TV, so you rub the mouse and it comes to life.

You put in the flash drive and a pop up window comes up asking if you want to defragment the flash drive; you decide no, not yet, and move the file to your desktop and open it in Word.

Holy crap – the file is read only again! You remember that that sometimes happens and it makes it impossible to edit and save under the same name but it really doesn’t matter because the project is done – it just has to be uploaded.

But you notice a typo and you don’t want to fix it online because you might want to upload it to multiple places and you might forget so you fix it in Word and try to save it and it reminds you – it’s read only, pal, you need to rename it.

You sigh and resave and rename the file and go to your blog and sign in and put in the title, and then you copy the Word document to the clipboard and paste it into your blog (even though there is a way to do the blog in Word and upload it directly but you don’t remember the password right this minute) and--crap!

It took out all of the spaces between the paragraphs you just typed in Word. You know there’s a solution but you forgot what it was and to do it because you fixed the freaking margins and you were so inspired you actually wanted to start typing—so, sigh, you manually put in the paragraph spaces, and copy that file back to your clipboard before posting it to your blog.

You open Notepad, the generic word processor that never screws up because it’s so freaking simple and you paste the document in there and save it because you can post that version online again without going through and repairing all of the paragraph spacing…

But for a moment you feel good, you did it, you wrote the blog and it’s up there but then you realize—you’d better back up the Notepad version of the file to your flash drive and move it back to the other computer… just in case.

But that can wait, so you go on your social networks and link to the blog item, which is sort of like this article, complaining about Microsoft and Windows and Word, and pretty soon you get a bunch of messages that all say the same thing: get a Mac.

But you know what, you’ve worked on freaking Macs and you know damn well that they have their own set of problems. Besides you want a tool you can use, not a religious experience, and now you’re upset because every time you bring stuff like this up the Mac-heads come out of the woodwork and make you feel cheap and dumb for not buying something really cool.

You were determined not to buy a computer where a streamlined mouse costs $100 so you invested in a PC back at Windows 3.11 and you wonder – why does it still suck so bad?

But you find Macs overpriced and pretentious; you’ve used them and they have another way of thinking that isn’t necessarily simpler or better but just, as they say, different. A good friend has a Mac and you’ve had to get him out of pickles because he’s relatively new to computers (which is why he bought a freaking Mac) and you’ve been able to help him over the phone because, after all, you’re your own System Administrator, for Christ sake!

(But you can’t remember how to get the margins right in Word, or to log into Windows before the damn screensaver comes up).

You resist the urge to write all this in response to the Mac comments, and you wonder why no one with Windows has responded to your blog until you realize… they’re waiting for Vista to boot up before they can get online, and then they have had the same experience themselves and don’t find it all that unusual.

So you decide to run some errands and turn off your PC, because after all you do feel guilty about using up all that power, and you grab your car keys and get the hell out of the house, realizing that tomorrow morning, it will all start again.

Epilogue: You are not alone. Read this email Bill Gates wrote to his staff about his own “usability” experience back in 2003.