Sunday, 18 January 2009

Software that only just works

Added by Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago.

To put it bluntly, this blog entry is all about software that doesn't work properly.

Here are a few examples ...

1. As mentioned in a comment elsewhere in this site, my last but one mobile 'phone/push email device had a lovely habit. I would sit in the train typing an email, we'd travel out of a built-up area, and the signal would drop. The 'phone would then sit there saying 'Connecting' until it was switched off and on again - the return of the signal made no difference. Completely repeatable problem. So, let's get this right, this is a mobile device being asked to do a core thing in a normal situation, and it doesn't work. Did anyone, er, test what would happen in this situation?

2. A while ago I had big problems with spyware on our home PC. This is now a thing of the past (thanks to AVG Anti-Spyware, which is much recommended) but the PC was left in a strange state where anything with a name ending in com.dll did not work properly. I spent hours and hours googling, asking questions on forums, etc. (and even contacted Microsoft Support) - no-one (however loaded with posh Microsoft certifications) was able to tell me what was going on - all they said was 're-install the operating system'. Other people had posted the same question - no-one had had any joy. Am I the only person who thinks 're-install the OS' a pretty feeble answer?

3. Just one example of the thing I hate the most - software that doesn't do what it is supposed to (acceptable, if there's a good reason for it), while not giving you any clue as to why (completely unacceptable). I have a little box which allows the inhabitants of my house to share a USB hard disk and a printer without having to waste space, power, and dusting opportunities on a server. The box works beautifully most of the time, but its control software, loaded on my PC, has an occasional and unpredictable habit of suddenly refusing to talk to the unit. No diagnostic messages or logging are available, and I have had no reply to my request for support.

I'm not the only one, either - while I was typing this, my RSS reader flagged up, complete with rant about the usability of the iPod touch. (Darren's blog is much recommended, and not just because he once mentioned that excellent long lost sitcom 'Chelmsford 123'.)

I do know packaged software development is extraordinarily difficult, and that there's always another combination of circumstances you haven't tested - I have been involved in this sort of thing myself.

But the common factor in all of these situations is a lot of time being wasted. By me.

So, am I expecting too much? Or is there a culture of general acceptance of software that only just works? Perhaps we just aren't prepared to pay what software would cost if it were written properly.

Anyway I'd be really interested in other people's comments on this matter.

Mandy Shaw, 7 months ago ... Says it all, really.

Mandy Shaw, 8 months ago
Update - the print server box is finally working, at least for the time being, though the suppliers provided no help at all - I think my various vpn clients were getting in the way. But if they had spent 1 minute just explaining to me how the box worked/what it wanted to see in practice, I could have saved 2 days' worth of effort. However, all the above now pales into insignificance - suffice it to say that ActiveSync over Bluetooth is a bigger can of worms ... after about 3 days' worth of effort, off and on, it's working /some/ of the time now. The PC client doesn't give you a clue what it wants or what it's doing, and the smartphone's idea of diagnostics is to tell you that the PC has suddenly and mysteriously stopped supporting ActiveSync 4.5. There's clearly some sort of conflict going on somewhere, but do you get even the smallest amount of help in diagnosing it? Of course not.

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