For a piece of technology to be worthwhile it should enable you to do something you couldn't do before, or, where something was already possible, help you do it better. Surely this is fundamental. For this reason, much of today's function-rich software leaves me cold and upgrades are simply a nuisance. The original programs may have represented huge steps forward in productivity, but all enhancements thereafter have been of strictly marginal value. Additional costs of migration, administration and retraining have to be offset against any advantage they offer. It is by no means clear to me for whose benefit the upgrade cycle operates. The truth is, no doubt, that I lack imagination. Many is the software product of which an over-excited marketing executive has said: "Its potential is limited only by the user's imagination." By this definition, a failure to exploit software fully reflects badly on the user rather than on the software. I confess to failings of that order. The most imaginative aspect of using many of the new programs I am occasionally faced with is in working out why they don't work. This is usually something you have to do for yourself. The lack of documentation is often total. Compensation supposedly lies in the richness of on-line and/or context-sensitive "help", but this is of little assistance when the program has crashed. "Help" may guide you through those parts of an application you never need to use, but it won't cut the rope when the machine is hanging. Twice recently I have struggled with exciting applications that were accompanied by no more documentation than the instructions on installation procedures. These amounted to: "Insert diskette and click on Install icon". In one case, voluminous Help files declined to open on the grounds that "the help files may be missing". They obviously were not missing. But had they been, only the installation program could have been to blame. In the other instance - a package for toying with digital photographs - the application would not download the pictures from the camera because, it claimed falsely, the system and the camera were not connected. The documentation had nothing to say about this . Both examples involve shortcomings within the system. Such problems have always been mysterious in origin and, frequently, reluctant to explain themselves clearly. By contrast, applications are expert at rolling with punches delivered by users. Programmers have always done their work in the certain knowledge that a user will somehow find a way to hit the wrong key at the wrong time. They build routines into software to trap such errors and offer a way of recovering from them. No such tolerance appears to be available for flaws within the systems software and at its interface to the applications. Explanations for such problems and a means of overcoming them are conspicuous by their absence. Why this should be, I'm not sure. Perhaps software is just too complicated and its relationship to other software too intricate for even the programmers to understand. But they will continue to get away with it. Features, apparently, are what sell applications, not comprehensive error-trapping. And as the PC becomes an accepted commodity item even psychology will come into play on their side - because no-one is particularly surprised when a commodity doesn't work.
J1043+2408 was observed for more than 10 years, and its radio light curve exhibited a periodic signal repeating in about 563 days
Success of Unity's test flight means Virgin Galactic is now close to taking its first paying tourist into space
V3 puts the pro-level football GPS tracker through its paces, and asks if it's more than a gimmick
Finding refutes many earlier studies that suggest that galaxies don't have much dark matter at the time of their birth