Sunday, June 22, 2008

Software development and the democratic mandate

Two facts of life are there that really bug me.

One is the way that over time each release of a particular type of software becomes bigger and bigger, more and more bloated. I can remember (children) when a perfectly reasonable Windows-based word processor would install off floppies - floppies! - rather than a minimum of one CD. Exactly the same Word file can weigh in at approx. 30k (if I work on it at home) or 45k (if I work on it at work), due to the different versions of Office used. And so on. Fill in your own examples.

The other is the way that the longer a government stays in power, the more it has to fiddle with what already works perfectly well. And when you have what was already a pretty fiddlesome government by nature right at the start, 11 years later its fiddling is endemic. As m'friend David recently pointed out, Labour is now driven to fiddling with its own previous fiddles, so urgent is their need to appear to be doing stuff. But they're hardly unique in this. Just cast your mind back to the last days of Thatcher.

And therein lies the problem. It's not what needs doing, it's what they think it would be nice to be doing, and what they can do, so hey, let's do it. Look busy! In the fifteen or so years that I have been a Word user, I don't think there is a single feature that I regularly use that wasn't available right from the start; whereas, I can't think of a single new feature that I use at all. No, I tell a lie. The ability to have more than one document open at once is useful. But that's all. And I cannot think of one way that New Labour has improved my life.

All this comes from having downloaded Firefox 3 yesterday. I'm sure it does everything it says on the packet - makes my computer more secure, opens web pages quicker, etc. It also has - wait for it - a "back" button that is bigger than the "forward" button! Because - wait for it - users use the "back" button more! Gee-whillickers! This is as revolutionary, and as necessary, as increasing the size of the door handles on doors that I use most often. Thanks, I really feel I can work this out. The human brain is meant to have vast areas of unused memory so I might as well apply all that processing power to something.

Click on the address bar to enter a new URL and instead of what you used to get - a list of previously entered URLs, in declining order of likelihood - you get the URLs, plus their page titles, plus some kind of star rating that I'm sure I'll work out. Thanks again. I was the one who looked at those pages, I know what they are, I don't need their titles and I certainly don't need to know what my computer thought of them.

And meanwhile, to counter all these "advantages", when Best Beloved or I try to use our work webmail accounts, the screen now displays the messages in some ghastly unicode lookalike rather than a decent typeface. I would gladly trade all the star-rated URLs for the ability to check email without my eyes watering.

Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle.


  1. This helped me use the new features effectively and I really like them now.

    Only problem is firefox now crashes at least once a day. Incredibly annoying.

  2. Okay, I take some - SOME - of it back. But I'm reinstalling Firefox 2 until they deign to release a version that does it all properly, without asking and without expecting me to reconfigure anything.

  3. I find that on the whole it's Microsoft products that become more bloated with each version (Vista anyone?). But I'm equally disapointed with Firefox 3, if only because it has no "go" button on the address bar. It's Firefox 2 for me until they fix it.

  4. ff3 has the "go" button, just it's now an arrow which only appears when you actually type something, and hides when the address bar is displaying the URL of the page you are currently on. Nicely un-cluttering I thought.

    I don't mean to sound like a ff fan boy, I'm annoyed as the next person with ff3, stupid crashes. Sounds like everyone's got some little problem with it.

  5. I still haven't got round to upgrading, but... if you and BB use Outlook Web Access like my university, it's because it doesn't specify a font so Firefox uses its default. The setting for this is (or used to be) in edit/preferences/content - Default Font. Hope that helps!


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