Uncanny [Interface] Valley?

As I type this, I am deleting Microsoft Office from my computer. I had downloaded the free trial, in order to catch myself up a bit on the programs, for all the job listings that “require” “familiarity with Microsoft Office”, or words to that effect.[0] In some ways, they’ve vastly improved over the last version I used. On the other hand, I’d still take MSWord 5.1 (that’s vintage ’93, for those of you too young to remember) over any version I’ve seen since, if I had the choice. In fact, IMHO, the only application in the bunch that has actually improved in the last few versions is Excel—which is also the only one that is probably superior to its competitors. (I say “probably” because I’m less confident that I’m familiar with all of the options where spreadsheets are concerned.) It looks like the latest versions have stopped moving menu items around, at least—none of that “adapting” to how you work, which completely undermines the muscle memory of where commands are. And, I have to admit, the interfaces really have gotten better.

And yet…

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Working with me, not despite me

Why is it that Microsoft products always seem to be a little rough around the edges? Or even a lot rough. Take a really simple and obvious operation like automatic updates. I’m glad that it has automated updates, rather than relying on users to find out about, and then seek out, download, and apply them. But MSWindows Vista is all intrusive in ways it shouldn’t be, and all hidden and stealthy in ways it shouldn’t be. This morning, I was once again surprised by my computer at work restarting, without any warning, due to having installed some sort of update. There was probably a notification in the start bar that I missed–but that’s exactly my point: it’s too easy to miss. And I could’ve been watching Hulu fullscreen (I had been earlier), or had the start bar set to auto-hide–then what?

That’s just not enough notification. Especially given the next step, where it restarts without any warning. What if I’d been working on something important, and it wasn’t saved [recently]?
Now, true, I’m sure some of this has to do with it being set up that way by IT–that is, if I had control, I could probably set it differently, rather than forcing the update at 3am every week. But, even given that I don’t have the power to stop it, it could allow me to pause the restart long enough to finish what I’m doing, or at least give me some in-your-face warning that I couldn’t possibly miss, so that I could manually clean up after myself (such as saving my work).

Instead, it just unceremoniously forces everything to quit and restarts. In particular, it didn’t trigger proper exit routines for apps (such as saving). And, as an added insult, in addition to forgetting everything i was working on (not only didn’t save, but it didn’t, say, remember my webbrowser windows and reopen them afterwards), it didn’t forget the one thing it was supposed to forget: my “one-time” login on a website. [Though, in fairness, this last part might be either Mozilla’s or Microsoft’s fault.]

In contrast, my Mac gives me a nice, obvious notice of available updates, and let’s me decide when I want to apply them. More importantly, even the automated process keeps the user’s needs in mind. It tells open apps to save documents, and remember their state, to the degree they do so–just like a normal quit. And if an app can’t quit cleanly (such as due to an unsaved, unnamed new document), it won’t quit at all–the restart is aborted for the time being.

p.s.: My apologies in advance for any formatting errors or other bizarreness–I’m trying out posting from my iPod touch with the WordPress app.

Is This Why Google is On Top?

Ars Technica summarizes a report on search engine usage online, which finds that Google users are more loyal—they are less likely to use competitive search engines.

I think the more interesting number is the number of searches per month of the various users. Or, more specifically, the combination of these two numbers. Google searchers perform, on average, about twice as many searches as the users of their competitors. I find it hard to believe there isn’t a correlation between this, and their loyalty. The only question in my mind is the nature of the connection. Is it purely correlation (those who are more likely to use Google are also more likely to do many searches, for some 3rd reason)? Or is there a causal link?

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Vista Doesn’t Like My Keyboard

At work, we’re in the process of switching over to a computerized dispatch system. So I have to get used to MSWindows Vista. Mostly, it’s just an OS—it doesn’t work the way I’d expect, but mostly just in little ways. And Firefox doesn’t seem to know about the Flash plugin that IE8 is obviously using just fine, so i can’t watch Hulu with Firefox. If i want to watch some TV[1], I have to use IE8, which sometimes makes it through an entire episode of a TV show without locking up. But only sometimes. And, in fairness, I might have this problem on a Mac, too, if i didn’t have admin access. Though I know there’s an Internet Plug-Ins folder in my user folder, so i should be able to put something there, just fine, without admin access. Maybe there’s an equivalent in Vista that I just don’t know about?

But here’s what is driving me absolutely batty: MSWindows Vista apparently switches between available keyboard settings willy-nilly. Or, at least, I can’t quite find a pattern. Continue reading

If This is “Cooperating”…

Those who know me know that my attitude towards Microsoft is somewhere in the range between hatred and total lack of respect. They have so many presumably-talented folks working there, that it’s hard to reconcile their results with their capabilities, in many cases. I find myself forced to presume either a bureaucracy that gets in the way of the actual creators there, or nefarious motives (such as deliberately breaking things either to drive sales of the next version, or to hinder competitors). For a perfect example of this, nicely succinct and specific, check out Microsoft’s “implementation” of ODF. Either they really don’t have the basic competence to read a spec, or they’re deliberately doing it wrong, to stymie the growth of anything that might reduce dependence on their products. Either way, it doesn’t make me want to buy their products.

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