Fighting With Cruddy Software – Why Users Have Luddite Moments

My neighbor just acquired a brand new Apple Mac, and I recently spent a very pleasant afternoon looking at some of the features of this awesome machine. She mentioned that it was like “getting a Ferrari” – a little bit scary if you’re used to driving an old clunker. So for the 1st week or so, it sort of “stands on the driveway”, looking beautiful, while you summon up the courage to actually take it out for a spin.

All this led to reminiscing about my first Mac – way back in ’86, when the world was a little less crazy, the love affair with technology was still fresh,  there was hope for great things ahead, an’ I had a lot more hair.

This morning, sat down to work, ran into a glitch, and before long was using language that would make any sailor blush. If there was a button for “I Hate This $tinkin’ Piece of CR%#”, it would be worn out. Which makes you wonder – since this is the age of social media – why isn’t major software coming out with a “Vote” button so users can express their feelings. (Same applies to TV – but that’s another story.) And, forget “Like” versus “Dislike”. That’s a pathetic cop-out. If they really had guts, we’d also see a couple of extra voting options, for example:

  • Hate
  • Detest
  • Include Me In A Class Action Suite Against The Developer

Well – don’t they really want to know what their users think?

Why the antagonism? Well, I’ve been using this software for years. Umpteen upgrades, every one paid for. Its common knowledge the developers have made a whopping pile of money out of this product. But, instead of getting better – it gets worse. It tries to “guess” what I want – and guesses wrong just about every time. Even with simple stuff like “auto highlight”. It tries to force me to produce documents styled the way the developer thinks they should look. That’s invasion of my creative freedom. And, worst of all, it won’t tell me why it’s doing what it does. Sweet Mercy, at least the list numbering still works. ‘Cause, if you read the Tales of Woe on the Web, not even the developers know what ticks there. Except that it’s a time-bomb waiting to happen.

After wasting hours, I’m fuming. Have read the help files, googled, am better informed, but no nearer a solution. And here’s the rub – just remembered that I could do a similar thing on my old Mac – way back then, with eeny-teeny software – and it was just sort of intuitive. Kazaa! And it was done!  So what gives? We have software that takes up humungous space on our Terabyte hard-drives, needs Gigabytes of RAM to run, seems to have every bell and whistle in creation – BUT IT NEVER SEEMS TO BE ABLE TO JUST SIMPLY DO WHAT WE WANT.

Which makes me really look at software. The sort of Business Applications that millions of people use every day. Is it really getting easier to use? Or is it just the same old set of stubborn resistance, hiding under more flashy eye-candy.

Think about your software experience? How much time is actually spent on getting real work done – and how much is spent on fighting with the software? Searching help-files that seem to tell you everything EXCEPT what you need. Getting directions to do all sorts of complicated stuff, but you are trying to do something so simple it should be, well, “intuitive”.

As a developer, I see some of the reasons for the situation. Believe me – it is much EASIER tweaking the ‘eye-candy” stuff. And, since the “user interface” is what the long-suffering “users” get to see, this is considered “improvement”. BUT – to really write software that is truly “intuitive” – this is much more DIFFICULT.

In fact, sometimes it means scrapping virtually an entire development project, and starting again. And some little birdie tweets that this is NOT what the really big developers are going to do. You know the people we’re talking about – the folk who produce major office apps, and the like. And, nope, this is not a “Let’s Hate Microsoft” rant. There are other culprits out there with some really obtuse products. It’s like they create their own little software universe, and on the entry portal is a sign “Abandon Hope, All Ye Who Enter Here

I rate software on the “Help-File Disuse Index”. If I get my work done, and never need to use the Help-file – the application gets a perfect 10. The more times I need to use Help – the lower the rating. And if I find myself looking up “Help” for the same problem more than thrice – then the rating is pretty close to a fat Zero. Because that feature is evidently really non-intuitive, and actually so obtuse that even the “instructions” didn’t stick. (And, please Mr. Software Developer, don’t try lay the rap on the user. Your job is to enable us to do our job.)

So, what’s your take on the direction software is taking? I mean, the stuff’s been around for decades. Have the developers really learnt anything, in the sense of making software that works WITHOUT a huge fight, or do you still find you’re wasting massive amounts of time, still frustrated and dissatisfied with the results?

In conclusion, remember the Luddites? An early form of protest against the tyranny of industrialization. Maybe it’ll have to get down to that – mobs with pitchforks and burning torches, to get some real changes in the software world.

PS: Interesting . . . the same app’s spell-checker doesn’t recognize the word “Luddite”. Nebuchadnezzar, yes, but not Luddite, or Ludd. Wonder if the developers have an explanation for that little omission. Or are they all bound by “Omerta“? Your guess is as good as mine. And, in a spare moment, you might like to google the Luddites.  For a moment of kinship.

PPS: Happy computing.   Auf Wiedersehen.

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