Why won't my software do what I want it to?
I get a lot of troubleshooting emails from people asking how to do X or why Z won't work on their PCs. One of the common ones I get though is asking why you simply can't do something on your computer that you were able to a few years ago.
One of the common misconceptions with Windows is that it's flexible and highly configurable. Certainly compared to Apple's OS X this is the case but only really where the desktop and the major interface controls are concerned. Under the hood it's certainly the case that Windows is much less configurable than previous versions. It's more locked-down with security features such as User Account Control (UAC) and facilities to prevent rootkits from accessing the kernel OS.
It's the same thing with Microsoft software too, especially Microsoft Office. You can still write macros for it, if you understand the languages and coding structures involved, but some if not many of the nuance control that previous versions of the software gave us have been removed.
Some people might argue that the Ribbon UI has hidden many features and now made them harder to find. While this is true to a certain extent, many people would argue it makes previously hidden features much easier to access.Â The simple fact remains though that Office and other software have been streamlined and are less configurable than perhaps some people would like.
So why is this and is it a good thing? I've been watching this and have spotted a trend. The types of people who ask this question grew up with computers in the 80's and early 90's. This was a time when you would have to write code or enter a program before you could get a computer to do anything when you switched it on. The sky was the limit but you really had to know what you were doing.
As computers became more powerful and, more importantly, as they became more user-friendly, they had to appeal to much broader audiences; billions of people around the world were beginning to use them after all. This resulted in much of that nuance control being taken away and the computer users of the world being given software that will do so much, but only so much.
Now some of the emails I get are really probably people saying they'd like X or Y feature to be added. This would count more as product development than anything else, but some genuinely miss controls that have been removed.
So is it a good or a bad thing that we now have a situation where our control over the operating systems and software we use is being eroded? There is certainly a very strong argument from a security standpoint and Apple customers long ago stopped complaining about a lack of customisation options in OS X. For Windows though, which is renowned for being exceptionally tweakable, is the lack of control becoming a problem?
The argument then must be that in order to make software more usable for the many more people who will be using it, especially with packages such as office suites which will predominantly be used by non-technical people, they need to be simplified.Â This would inevitably result in some of the more advanced controls being either removed or very deeply buried.
Computers today aren't really anything like the computers of yesteryear, they're more just productivity tools and the lack of control and customisation reflects this. Those who really want control over their computer need to learn how to program so they can write code, macros and programs themselves.
Perhaps this is what people are missing then? As we've gotten more used to using computers for productivity, and as the operating systems and software have got more friendly, we've forgotten the subtle art of programming, a skill we honed on those early Commodore Pets, Apple IIs and IBM PCs. This all leaves me wondering if the answer is really still the same as its always been, but we're all too comfortable nowÂ to bother.Advertisement