Why Computers Don’t Work the Way You Want To?

I actually do a bit of PC troubleshooting at work, and personal life. Just through of sharing few of insights, just so I can help people out.

1. [Software vendor] changed it that I can’t find how to do [something I want to do]

I often get this questions (complaints?) that software vendors change the user interface of the software to the extent that you can’t find it. I believe there are two points to it. One argument is that they are doing it so vendors can sell new stuff, and another one is to improve usability. Software vendors are in constant dilemma, where they need to include more features into their softwares but they still have need to be accessible.

Observing how people are working on computer, it often look like they haven’t established enough design patterns within their head how to work with the system itself. What I recommend is to read documentation available, and do not hesitate to try something new — a lot of what you do on your computer is reversible. So unless you are working on military gear or some other critical infrastructure system, try experimenting with different option. There’s undo button (Ctrl-Z on Windows / Command-Z on Mac) if you screw up. (And if your software doesn’t allow this, start finding some alternative, because that software is stupid.)

Also, to cut effect of interface changes, learning keyboard shortcuts for some commonly used task, such as Ctrl-B for bold. These often have longer lifetime between versions, so taking few hours of getting used to them will help you in long run.

Also having problem in softwares usually roots to not having learn how to use operating system — this is why I feel stupid when people buying “learn MS Office in xxx days” while they have no idea how to use Windows.

These foundations are very critical, in fact I often don’t have no idea about softwares I am helping out. These foundations help you get to where you need no matter what software you are using. (except for some odd balls out there…)

You may feel and complain, that changes and improvement in this area is unnecessary that only there to make you confused. Some changes are drastic enough to confuse you, and not every vendors get it right, but would you rather be stuck in old DOS interface where you’d have to remember all the command merely to copy your files?

2. [Software] doesn’t do things the way I think it should

Now when you find the feature you need, you actually try to use it, but you find that it’s not doing what you think it should be doing. This comes from poor implementation of the software as well as wrong method to get it accomplished.

This often comes from the fact that users are putting data in the way software won’t interpret. For example, say you want to create a document and want to make a heading, I’ve observed so many people using font size change to do this, and later finding automatic table of content generation is not working.

Why you shouldn’t do this? It is because by doing this, you are telling your software nothing more than “change the size of the font” and nothing about structure of the document. Correct way to do is to assign heading type. You may want adjust look of the resulting text, but telling software that it is heading is important part.

The problem of this is that a lot of software implementations, for the sake of user friendliness, try to let you do things in wrong way, and software won’t tell you that you are wrong. (and often it can’t — with previous example, what it is all you want is to make these fonts bigger without heading specified?)

3. [Someone’s data] is not in the way formatted I want 

Now, when you are collaborating with someone else, you may come across files that are not formatted in the way you want. This could be as complex as complete corruption on your screen, or something trivial as difference in font size. Why this happens? Because the ecosystem in computing is not often uniform. People use different platforms, and different softwares. Platform wise, most common difference is Windows and Mac. Most of time, data between them are fairly portable. But various factors including difference in fonts, screen capabilities can cause difference in its output. One technical way to solve this issue is to use portable format where you can. Instead of sending that document in MS Word document, you can use PDF — especially the case one person merely need to review the document. (and now newer Adobe Readers capable of PDF annotation, you can ask the other person to annotate PDF document as opposed to exchanging Document back and forth.)

Other problems include browsers (e.g. website that doesn’t display nothing but IE), E-mail programs (rich text formatting, text formatting, and could be even way the person choose to format E-mail) Unfortunately, this is life in computing and not much you can do about. Diversity is something you just need to get used to. Aside from written standard (such as HTML specifications) there aren’t clear line of “right” and “wrong” way to do things.

Lastly…

In the end, it often comes to, learn to accept changes and embrace. Unfortunately, we are not in the static world where you’re going around in circle. (if that what you want, you may want find profession that doesn’t involve computers.) But if you choose to use computers, especially extensively at your profession, doesn’t it deserve some space in your brain to learning about?