The Top Ten Technological Things That Tick Me Off

(Note: I tried constructing a title with only words that start with 't', but seven out of nine isn't bad.) None of my complaints are new, but I thought it would be a good idea to summarize them. I often think that when we get used to working with bad technology we fail to imagine ways to improve it. Part of the reason for this is that the technology sector started out—and continues to be, in some ways—a little like the Wild, Wild West: a free-for-all land with few or no laws other than an unspoken, lightly enforced code of ethics that is constantly ignored or side-stepped.

Here then are the top ten technological things that tick me off, in no particular order.

1. Using Customers as Beta Testers

It is obvious when companies treat customers like Guinea Pigs. If a piece of software has more than a handful of bugs, then the programmers are not being careful enough. Some people want to be Beta Testers, but I don't. What if software had to pass through some sort review process? Not that this always helps—look at all the bad drugs that make it to market—but it would be a start. We waste millions of dollars and hours working with poorly designed software, and I think guidelines need to be more stringent. Just imagine if Microsoft had to submit to this. It would probably never release a new operating system!

2. Unintuitive Design

As one of my favorite talk show hosts Bill Maher says, New Rule: if my wife and dad can't figure something out without looking at a manual, then it is not designed correctly. Tech support should be obsolete and so should manuals. A good sign that a company's product is designed poorly is when its tech support forum is robust. This rule doesn't apply to software that caters to highly-specialized niche markets, like Pro Tools or Sibelius.

3. Bad Integration Between Software Applications and Devices

I have too many email accounts spread across the Internet tundra. I want my Classical Lounge email to enter my inbox, yet still be listed on that site. Also, every time I send an email from that site, I want it to automatically appear in my sent mail box in my Apple Mail program. Is that too much to ask? Software, even applications designed by different companies, should be somewhat modular. We're getting there, but it could be much better.

4. Spammers

They should be punished severely. I have an idea (insert tongue in cheek here): why don't we jail all spammers for ten years minimum with only an unprotected email account to communicate with the outside world—no spam filters? Then, we can barrage their account with their own spam and that of every other annoying spammer. Seriously, we really need to deal with this problem head-on. I should not even need a filter. If I opt-out of an email list, that should be the end of it. Anyone that abuses this rule should be jailed for life.

5. Flawed Background Syncing

Despite what companies tell you, this still isn't really happening. Synchronization is still severely flawed, not idiot-proof, not transparent enough and not close enough to be useful for the general population. Only geeks like me have enough tolerance to put up with the headaches and frustration of setting up even remotely complex syncing.

Here are a few details I should not have to think about or ever waste time reading about in a tech forum because something is not working correctly:

• If the fields in my online Apple Address Book or my laptop are not the same as what are one my computer, iSync (or whatever) should fix this automatically, or at least ask me if I want it fixed.

BlueTooth should work between ALL devices, with minimal set-up. I gave up a while ago trying to set this up with my Treo and my computer. Even if I could set it up, it will be too slow. What is the point? Bluetooth should work well, and fast.

New Rule: I should only have to input settings in plain English. Life is precious: I want the computer to figure out computer code. I should not have to think about it if I do not want to, yet I should still be able to use innovative technologies.

6. Platform Incompatibilities

Can we get over this and move on? Apple is getting closer with OS X, but I think we have a long way to go. What computer and platform you use should be a matter of taste, not of whether it runs a piece of software or not. I know: we have lived so long with this problem that we can't imagine a world without it, and yes, it is getting better, but still—it can be much better.

7. Mini Software Updates

Companies that release software versions that you have to pay for that are not major upgrades should be fined. I feel ripped off when I pay for a "major" upgrade that is really a series of bug fixes and a few unimportant add-ons. Finale by Make Music, Inc. is the perfect example: many of their upgrades have had a few new bells and whistles, but my hunch is that they schedule out their versions over many years so that they can keep offering an upgrade every year. What I would much rather do is pay twice as much for the upgrade, every other year, with free bug fixes and minor upgrades in between.

8. Link Farming

Link Farming should be banned. It wastes time, bandwidth and energy and is ultra-annoying. If a site is popular, it should be naturally popular. Otherwise, we are being lied to. People that set these up are a sad bunch, but we are even sadder for falling for it and letting it happen.

9. Incompetent Tech Support

Assuming you really need tech support (see no. 2 above), I think I have certain rights as someone who has paid for a piece of software:

New Rules • I should be able to converse with a human being within a reasonable amount of time. • I should be able to understand the person on the other end, i.e. they should speak English well. • Tech Support should have a constantly updated database in front of them that catalogs problems so that if my problem happened before (or didn't) they can log it. • Programmers should be available so that if I really need to ask an important question, one of the people who wrote the software can answer it.

10. Lack of Communication Between Similar Software Companies and/or Developers Regarding New Ideas

I am all for an open market and competition between companies. After all, this is what entices companies to upgrade and improve software. But this should not apply to a developer working with a company like Apple or Microsoft. It is all too common for these companies to be secretive, at our expense. Since new versions of software for new operating systems take a long time to develop, we often end up with a new, upgraded OS or even a new computer and older software that cannot take full advantage of it. If companies worked together more closely and release dates were more synchronized, a lot of time and money could be saved. Each extra minute I spend on the computer is one more minute I could be doing something else.

Having said that, time to get back to composing...