“Continuous Improvement” Is a subject I’ve been intending to post about since before Christmas, but just never got round to it. It’s primarily about computers and software, but extends to pretty much all walks of life these days. I’m sure you all know that I am a bit of a “stick in the mud”, and not the sort to rush out and spend money on the latest gadget. I learnt that lesson back in the days of CB radio, when I paid £80 for a new “UK” spec rig, only to see them drop to a third of that within a short time.
I’m typing this on a six year old laptop running Windows XP.
It does all I need, if rather slowly at times. It has the old style 4×3 aspect ratio screen, which is far superior for web browsing than the current 16×9 widescreen examples. Therein lies a problem – you can’t buy anything like it now, manufacturers obviously assume that every customer spends all day watching films, and needs high resolution displays to suit. Did anyone ask me – did they hell. In fact has ANYONE ever been canvassed by a manufacturer to see what they actually want? No, they seem to rely on focus groups and their development gurus, who, not surprisingly, have a vested interest in keeping their jobs.
It’s not only the hardware aspect which royally pisses me off – software is even worse. As I was saying, this all came about last year, when a friend asked me to give his PC the once over – the usual complaint about poor performance. I first checked how much RAM it had, since it’s normal for companies to skimp on this aspect in the expectation of selling upgrades later. Rather surprisingly this one was adequately specified, so the next step was to use Revo Uninstaller to remove a dozen or more programmes that he didn’t use (many installed automatically by other programmes). I then installed my two favourite “tools” – CCleaner and Defraggler – both from Piriform software. The first took over 3 hours to clear out nearly a Gigabyte of crap, which is one of the pitfalls of MS installations. Having done that, and then de-fragged the hard drive, the difference was amazing.
So far so good, but then I wanted to move his Documents folder to the second partition (which was a surprise to find). Being used to XP I was in for shock since this machine was running Windows 7. I knew that the general principles were the same, and some Google searching explained the steps needed. But what quickly had me screaming with rage was the “improved” file system. In reality it is a major retrograde step, compared to the old Windows Explorer I am familiar with. Simple tasks such as copying/moving files & folders are no longer accomplished with a couple of clicks on handy menus, but require much more effort. I had to do more searching to find this out – it was far from “intuitive”… In doing my research I quickly found that I wasn’t the only one – there are thousands of complaints asking WTF Microsoft? I eventually achieved what I wanted, and returned the machine to a grateful owner.
The following day, with blood pressure returning to normal (merely dangerous) levels, I thought of the implications should (when?) I have to change to a new Operating System. But I had also seen many forum posts mentioning 3rd party applications to give a better file system interface. This is where I have to simultaneously damn the wankers who ruin a perfectly good feature, and then praise the army of private developers who spend long hours coming up with alternatives. I tried a few and settled on “Q-Dir” which not only replicates the old layout, but improves it. And furthermore it comes in a “Portable” version which you can run from a memory stick without having to install. I like it so much I’m using it on my existing laptop, so if I make the move to Win 7 I should be able to carry on as I am now.
That doesn’t alter the fact that I will sooner or later have to ditch XP – I know it’s being supported for another year. The main reason for running the latest O/S is to try and stay ahead of the bastards who delight in hacking into other people’s computers and attempting to extract money by menaces. This is also related to the number of users of a particular system. It’s no secret that Microsnot is the major player, and consequently the biggest target. From what I read at the technical sites, as XP usage slowly declines, the hackers are putting more effort into the newer O/S’s, so there is always the chance that in another year not much new malware will be written for XP, and it might be worth the risk to carry on…
By now I’m sure there are readers itching to say “Get a Mac”. Yeah, I know, I’ve heard it all before.
My answer is simple – I am not prepared to spend a fortune on products from the Chocolate Factory. We also regularly hear the saying “Mac’s just WORK”. Well maybe they do for many people, but I also know that anyone with a “premium” product is not too happy at admitting when things don’t go to plan. I remember a few years back quietly (and smugly) observing my sister and another family member having all sorts of difficulties trying to transfer some files between their Macs. Something to do with different versions of their Operating Systems… Then more recently the well publicised iOS6 upgrade that didn’t go according to plan. The “improved” system which meant thousands of users couldn’t access the internet, and discovered their battery life dramatically shortened. And the default mapping that Apple changed to their own version, which was inferior to the previous one. Subrosa found her trusty Macbook suddenly ran at clockwork speed, and was advised that it needed a RAM upgrade! This would have been bad enough, but she was quoted a ludicrous price by Apple themselves. Joe Public advised her NEVER to buy memory from them, and linked to Crucial who could supply a suitable alternative for a third the price! More recently Anna Racoon has posted of difficulties with printers not being recognised by the latest OS, so don’t tell me they are perfect….
I think Rosie subsequently discovered that it was the processor which wasn’t up to the job, which leads me to another bitch. There is an old engineering motto:
“Add lightness and simplicate”
A few companies still understand this excellent advice, but generally these days every new version of a product is bigger/heavier/longer/wider/more complicated than the previous one. Yes, laptops are getting smaller and lighter, but at what cost? I don’t think any now include a dial up modem, yet these can be a life saver for anyone caught with no broadband or at the mercy of restrictive regimes. A CD/DVD drive is no longer standard on many, so reloading the O/S is difficult, if not impossible, and how does one play a DVD on that shiny HD screen? Repairing them becomes more difficult and expensive – indeed the latest Macbook is almost a throw away item! Why should Rosie’s perfectly adequate machine suddenly need more processing power and memory? Does the new version offer lots more facilities than before? Does anybody actually NEED them? I haven’t used a fraction of the built in software that XP offers – a basic install of which takes up less that 4GB on the drive. Yet Win 7 needs nearly 3 times this, with faster CPU’s and more memory, and as I’ve already said is actually inferior in some respects! If a real programming expert can tell me why this is so, I would love to hear it.
Which leads me to Linux. I have read hundreds of posts saying that such and such a distribution runs SO much faster on basic laptops like mine. This, at least, infers that they don’t have the bloat which the major manufacturers are guilty of. BUT which one to choose? I tried a Linux “Live” Ubuntu disc a couple of years ago, but it refused to “see” my wireless card, and so wasn’t much use. I discovered that wireless drivers are a particular problem with many Linux distro’s which, consequently, involves more buggering about. I also remember the screen not displaying properly, which made it difficult to reach many essential icons. Linux is billed as a “mature” technology now, but for every favourable report I see, there will be another listing a catalogue of problems. I mentioned earlier the good guys who offer alternatives – a search for “Make Win 7 look like XP” or “Make Ubuntu look like XP” shows that I’m not the only dinosaur who is sick of being fucked about by people who think they know best, so why don’t developers and manufacturers listen?
While I’m having a moan, even the open source community need to stop being so arrogant. I have used Firefox for most of the six years I’ve been browsing the web.
I like the huge range of Addons, and the way they allow it to be customised to my satisfaction. Also the wonderful Adblock Plus – I didn’t realise how much crap this cuts out until I used Safari on an iPad which a family member gave us on long term loan. BUT the Mozilla forums are full of disagreement at the way the project is heading. In particular how they seem to be turning it into a clone of Google Chrome. Yes, it must be hard watching your market share move to another browser, but is that a green light to just try and imitate? I suggest not, and so do many others. If I want a stripped down browser with a limited amount of configurations I would choose Chrome. But I DON’T!!! So why the attempts to force “Tabs on top” which is a major bone of contention? It’s still possible to put them below the Toolbars, which is the obvious place, but it transpires that future versions will probably remove this option. And why keep changing the appearance? If someone wants a custom theme there are plenty to choose from, so leave the basic one alone. In short STOP FUCKING ABOUT WITH THINGS!!!.
I spent over 20 years as a customer facing engineer for a major company, and still remember the sheer terror on the faces of many older customers when I had to offer them a new piece of equipment, because the old one had been discontinued. I know that it isn’t practical to keep supporting old tech indefinitely, but is it really too much to ask that some thought is given to making the replacement work as close as possible to the old one? I fully appreciate that “under the hood” work is an ongoing necessity, in the efforts to try and stay ahead of the security game. But isn’t there some way to keep the visible part the same, even if there are unavoidable changes to the way it works? I know I am not alone in despairing at the way things are heading.
Apple have shown that they can sell to a niche market (and get filthy rich in the process!). I would be happy to pay over the odds if I could get a well built new laptop with a 4×3 screen (or one which rotates 90 degrees from landscape to portrait) so that I can have the maximum useful space for reading web pages. The developers who can offer an O/S which does the basics (which is all many folks need), and runs quickly and efficiently without needing lots of CPU cycles, RAM & power, AND installs reliably without requiring all sorts of tinkering, will get my vote – if I haven’t jumped off a tall building first…
P.S. Bucko has just asked me to say
Please don’t forget to give Microsoft Office 2010 a real good kicking. It’s fucking pants compared to 2000 and 2003, all the toolbar stuff is all over the bloody place. And it’s harder to customise.