Feb 10, 2013

Because they can...

Vincent Flanders, in his most excellent Websites That Suck, says that the worst reason to use a feature in a web design is "because you can." This is how we end up with flashing red-alternating-with-blue text, an instant headache for most of us and possibly capable of inducing a seizure in a significant minority, and a host of other sensory and cognitive insults.

Check out Flanders' withering scorn as per "Mystery Meat Navigation." You'll know you've seen it as soon as you read the description. Oh, all right, it's the mysterious navigational buttons disguised as teddy bears, or toy locomotives, or jagged edges, or anything except what custom tells us a button should look like. A lot like the "mystery meat" we used to get at school lunch counters, right?

It seems to me that Microsoft is horribly guilty of "because we can" when it comes to new versions of Windows, and Office, and God knows what else. I thought Win 95 replacing v. 3.1 was a really good idea, and I still do. Win 98 required a bit of a learning curve but was surely needed. Millennium? Widely regarded as a dud, a true step backward. Fortunately it was gone too quickly for me to encounter it much directly. Win XP, especially XP Pro, was one I really liked and still like. A lot. And its successor, Vista, was another one widely dismissed. I didn't care why but I was glad to stick with XP Pro as long as I could.

Next came Windows 7. Let's pause and talk about the successive learning curves. Why did Redmond (insider-ish slang for Microsquish, after the Washington city where it is headquartered - Wikipedia calls it a metonym - I  just learned something) find it necessary to abandon the start button and resulting menus, after the angst we invested in learning it in the first place? Come to think of it, why did Win XP force a choice between two versions of the dang Start button menu? Every time a willing-to-help co-worker landed at another desk and found a different Start menu than the one they expected, it was like a Redmond Raspberry, a thumb to the nose for daring to invade the sacred domain of techies. Sheesh...

There are a bunch of other changes and we could ask, why? Because they could, is the best I can come up with.

A tech-savvy friend says a pattern is well-known that every other Windows release was good and every other one bad. This forced us faith-in-the-latest types to keep moving forward until at some point we became no-faith-in-pointless-changes acolytes, and clung to older versions.

The same is true of Office. How many people change their default Style in Word 2007 to the 2003 Style, raise your hands? That's what I thought. When you finally found out how to fix the supremely irritating 2007 default of Enter producing a double-space rather than a single line break, you finally found out how to fix it, probably by Google search rather than the opaque resident Help file, and gained brownie points by gleefully sharing the method with friends and co-workers.

I finally bit the bullet and replaced my trusty, but five-year-old, Win XP Pro machine. I beat the introduction of Windows 8 by a couple of weeks so I got Windows 7, which at least was a devil I knew. My wife's PC, bought at the same time as my old one, wasn't so lucky. The hard drive failed the very day before Wind 8 was to come out. I knew this and rushed to the store where I got an "open box" deal on a Win 7 machine, and felt awfully lucky. Best Buy and Office Depot were to have no Win 7 PC's for sale the following day.

Win 8, by the way, is apparently as rough on the uninitiated as reported when it came out. I deduce this by the slew of machines now being offered online with Win 7 instead of 8. Shopping today for an HP, I even found a new machine capable of booting to Win 7 or XP.

It came with pre-installed Office 2010 but I didn't go for it. I had my full retail disc for Office 2007 and installed it instead.

Today while shopping (for a friend) I was at my favorite software site and found something interesting One reason I love this site is they sell "legacy" versions as well as the latest and supposedly greatest. Turns out Office 2007 is about $100 more than Office 2010. Maybe it's that American tradition, supply and demand, at work.

I could talk about the way Adobe poop-canned Cool Edit Pro after they bought it from Syntrillium, replacing it with Adobe Audition at $100 more, and an even pricier audio editor as part of a big old suite. Worst part was the Audition normalizer was inferior to the one in Cool Edit. I had lost my installer for Cool Edit with the old PC so I sprang for Audition, but eventually abandoned it for a copy of Cool Edit I found online for $15. I won't go into the way software companies (MS and Adobe are not the only ones, of course) gobble up competition, shut them down, and replace them with more expensive but less functional, albeit shinier, versions. Nope. Not me. Won't go there.

Because they can. But they shouldn't. And we shouldn't go along. Doncha think?