30 May 2009

On failing to heal myself

It is a salutary experience to find oneself in the position which irritates one in others. I suspect that as I get older the experience will get more frequent. However, the present stimulus is quite specific and probably shared by anyone who reads this.

I have bought a new machine (have you noticed that those of us in the know don't talk about "computers" any more? Just as "technology" is now synonymous with "digital technology", so "machine" [with the conspicuous exception of the washing machine, which is alien territory to any self-respecting {?} geek] is now synonymous with computer. (Real geeks took this a stage further many years ago when they started referring to computers as Unix "boxes"...)

Sorry! I almost ran out of nested parentheses there...

We know how much of a hassle it is to break in a new machine. Indeed "break in" seems ever more appropriate a phrase. In the old days, almost ten years ago, computers just out of the womb, sorry box, were passive beasts waiting to be guided. Now they are more like yapping puppies wanting to be "helpful" and to mould your practice to their demands...

There is also a rite of passage, in which one is obliged to go mouse in hand to seek guidance from a sage in India, whose eminently sensible guidance will both humiliate you and also prove to be useless. [I have to confess here,that I was, if not actually rude, a little peremptory, with the lady in the call-centre when she suggested I should contact the ISP... But she did check further and she did find the solution and she did ring back with it--and it did work! So many thanks to Dell customer service, and I did email my appreciation, too.]

All that is normal, and it is a reasonable hassle.

What I don't find as reasonable is the extent to which standard software (i.e. MS Office) has been "upgraded" while I have merely been using it. For a few months I have been wrestling with .docx documents which would not open in Word, until I found the patch. But only in the past few days have I confronted the "improved" version, with its "ribbon" etc. That is not the problem. I am sure new users will soon find it intuitive, and bemoan its passing when it is replaced. I am equally sure that the interface is the product of serious research with user labs and focus groups and tracking of the use of actual facilities...

No, the problem is that the "legacy" provision is limited to a contemptuous tolerance for files sired by previous versions. Not only can I not configure the packages to simulate the look and feel of earlier versions (whose incremental changes may have been irritating, but not disorienting) ---------but I can't even erase this version, and buy--for good money--the 2003 version. Or even Word 2 for Windows 3.1; apart from some table alignment and indexing facilities which I use twice a year for quite specific tasks, I've noticed little practical improvement since then...

Of course I do know about OpenOffice; it is fantastic and v3 is even better. I have tended to use it only on this little Linux netbook on which I am writing this, but perhaps I shall have to adopt it as the default for all my relevant work. (Yes, I do know about OpenDocument formats, but I'm not very interested...)

Which gets me to the point. It's not about the software. The day before the Dell machine arrived I foolishly allowed liveUpdate to trash this Linux netbook and experience similar feelings as I reinstalled everything and dealt with all the configuration and driver and ... issues.

It's about handling change, and loss (if only the loss of a few hours which could have been spent more productively). Actually, that is about us as users-----but hey, you designers and producers could be a little less pushy sometimes!


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