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Does Not Compute!

I’m sure I recall being told that computers were invented in order to make life easier. While they can probably handle more calculations in a millisecond than I could in a lifetime, there are still aspects that are incredibly frustrating, and I think I’m pretty safe in saying that’s down mostly to the people who write the software rather than the hardware itself.

Paul White.Paul White.

Take the simple task of installing a new piece of software on a current Mac — arguably the most user–friendly computer on the planet. In a perfect world you’d be able to click the install button, leave it alone for however long it needs and come back to your nice new software installed and ready to run. However, clicking install is usually followed by several other click boxes bearing the words ‘Agree’, ‘Are you sure?’, ‘Password’ and numerous other challenges before the install actually goes ahead. It wouldn’t be so bad if these pages appeared right away, but often they are separated by long periods of whirring. Would it be too much to ask that when we click to install for the first time, a window opens up straight away showing all the entry boxes for all the necessary options, agreements and passwords so that you can tick them off, then leave the computer to get on with the job, secure in the knowledge that it isn’t going to hang up a minute or two further down the line waiting for your input?

Then there’s the ‘No Going Back’ policy adopted by a certain fruit-related supplier of technology: if you update your operating system and then find it screws up all your favourite programs, you can’t simply reinstall the old OS from the company web site, as you’ll find they’ve removed it — you have to rely on your TARDIS drive, assuming you backed everything up before you updated.

Finally, there’s the demise of the paper manual, replaced by a Help file that in some cases can only be viewed if you’re online. Yes, I know that the trees will be eternally grateful, and yes, there are some great instructional videos out there, but sometimes only a proper manual will do the job. The problem is that today’s software often includes advanced features that you don’t even know exist, so without a manual to flick through, how do you even know what questions to ask? The other frustration is that the search option often doesn’t respond to the words or phrases that you choose to describe a function, as they don’t match the programmer’s terminology. Maybe one day computers really will make our lives easier, but I suspect that isn’t today.