“Improvements?”

Earlier this week when I sent the manuscript of Isolate to my editor, we encountered a number of technical glitches because various “improvements” in Word created difficulties we’ve never encountered before.

This isn’t a new problem for me; it’s a recurring one. Even though I’m using Word 2010 on my writing computer because it had features that don’t work on later versions, the “updates” often limit or cripple those functions. For example, in Word 2010, I used to be able to do a global word search for a particular word in all the files in a given directory. Now, that’s become spotty and unreliable, and it’s impossible [at least I haven’t found any way to do that] on later versions of Word. This is particularly useful function for me, and losing it for all the “improvements” that I don’t use is irritating. Likewise, the three-keystroke speed keys that shift me out of what I’m working on because I made a typo [and sometimes lose some of what I’ve just written] are also annoying. And my editor has other problems that she never has had before in terms of compiling what authors send her.

This so-called improvement isn’t limited to Word or Microsoft; it seems to be everywhere. I don’t do MP3 music downloads, but I discovered that, in the interests of getting a lot of music into MP3 format, something like 90% of the actual music/”tone” is eliminated in order to obtain the necessary file compression…and the majority of listeners apparently don’t notice or don’t care.

My wife the music professor has discovered that, with every new version of certain technical vocal pedagogy software programs, the newer versions are both simplified [leaving out important technical details] AND also more expensive… and that the older and better software doesn’t work on newer operating systems.

How many of these “improvements” are just so the manufacturers can force upgrades to yet more glitch-ridden software and systems that provide “features” that only a minuscule number of users will ever utilize while compromising and eliminating more utilitarian features employed by a far wider range of users?

8 thoughts on ““Improvements?””

  1. dave says:

    Thank you for the books you’ve written and continue to write (Adiamante and Octagonal Raven are my favorites). May I suggest Ubuntu Linux and something like LibreOffice Writer? Then you may use “grep -r ” to find usage. Linux itself is quite good at maintaining backward compatibility as an Operating System.

    Happy Holidays

  2. Wine Guy says:

    It seems that those of us who are end users of various programs/software packages are also the ‘final beta testers.’

    At least the MS, Adobe, and various commercial products are marginally responsive to their customers’ needs. IF you are talking about Electronic Health Records – the savior devices of modern medicine as non-clinical people would have one believe – not only do the glitches not get fixed, there are often not things such as ‘routine updates.’ Many EHR firms have been bought by Venture Capital groups and their only interest is wringing money out of the situation rather than creating/maintaining a viable product.

    Very frustrating.

  3. William says:

    This has been going on since the beginning of PCs. Often the OS upgrade will break existing features of the software. Sometimes there are changes for “security” reasons. Othertimes it is based on the insular focus of software designers and developers. The think that all users are just like them – very computer savy but not real users of their product. The latest agile trends only make this worse by rewarding quick small changes without thorough testing. Another maddening development is adding A/B testing to software functionality. In the same way trades are de-valued, software that supports getting a job done is de-valued compared to software that uses the latest software trends. On top of this we have gotten trapped by the owners of the standards and the usefulness of common formats. It seems like there is a good book in making this point somewhere.

  4. Lourain says:

    If they are not “improving” things all the time, how can they justify their jobs?

    1. Tom says:

      “They” could start by ensuring that “The Technology” continuous to apply to prior systems.

      Only if the technological “improvement” is a quantum jump (which suggests a separate package) can the improvement not ensure prior usage – it is then a ‘new’ technology.

  5. R. Hamilton says:

    On Macs, the search capability of some individual apps (although perhaps not the search capability of an editor on a file it currently has open, since the state of work-in-progress can be different from that of the last save to the file) is dependent on a systemwide indexing and search facility (called “Spotlight” on Macs). Windows has a somewhat similar facility (“Windows Search”). In particular, a Mac’s Mail app, which maintains a local cache of messages retrieved from mail servers, won’t find messages without Spotlight working properly.

    On Macs, the search can be impaired if the indexes are damaged or if enough somehow slipped by their auto-updating; but there are commands to rebuild the indexes (can take a few hours!).

    I wonder how much of that situation also applies, if with different details, to Windows.

    As for the cultural aspects of improvements that aren’t, a developer’s opportunities are limited unless their boss thinks that they have a sexy product. And long-term maintenance isn’t sexy by any stretch of the imagination. It would be quite alarming if it were widely known what critical functionality still runs on obsolete hardware and software, with negligible resources (beyond a portion of a couple people’s duties) assigned to its upkeep. At least, that was the situation a few years ago; and even if the particular example I have in mind was fixed, the mindset most certainly has not changed, since that’s institutional – managers also have more opportunities with something new, or with reorganizations, than with seeing something through to sustainable functionality.

  6. Chris says:

    Both Microsoft and Apple collect “telemetry” for their operating systems and applications, if the customer doesn’t disable it that is. Both then use this to determine which features are used frequently and which are only used by a select few people, and then use that to help decide which features they should continue to support and which they can “safely” kill off.

    My guess is that a VERY small percentage of users actually used the ability to search all files in a directory. Teams from large companies (the largest revenue source for Office) likely don’t use it much (if ever) because they don’t store the majority of their documents locally and instead leave them on a server somewhere, which implements it’s own search function.

    So while I don’t like a lot of the changes I see in software like this, I realize I’m not their primary target user. Yes, I am A target user, but not their primary market. The loss of features that we like isn’t enough to make a noticeable different in their revenue, so they decide to drop support for things over time.

  7. John Prigent says:

    Software developers sometimes ignore clear instructions about requirements. I had to work with one once who was supposed to produce a dedicated input screen for an official record that I maintained. I instructed him that all input boxes had to allow for yes/no/unknown inputs. But he left out the ‘unknown’ options for all of them and only gave me one-character boxes that would only accept Y and N. It took him a week to go back and do his job properly

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