Just had lunch with my old friend William, an upright member of the financial community and a scholar. Half an hour of his computer woes and you wonder three things:
- how the PC ever made it out of the nerd’s den
- how overwhelmingly inadequate software, interfaces and help files are
- whether we shouldn’t just ditch what we’ve done so far with personal computers and start again.
His problems aren’t dramatic, and none is necessarily a show stopper. But put together I can’t help feeling that my advice to ordinary users should be: avoid, as much as possible, adding anything onto your computer, whether it’s software or hardware. And, whatever you do, don’t alter any settings.
Here’s what he grumbled to me about, in his self-effacing English way (we went to the same school, as you might have guessed):
- bought a headset (not the USB type, just an ordinary audio one) to use with Skype, but some firewall function, it seems, is blocking all voice. Some guy in the shop changed it but that just means he has no firewall, and we know what Windows XP will do if that happens: dire warnings of imminent chaos every five minutes. So William turned the firewall back on. And can’t hear anything on Skype.
- Every time he signs out of Yahoo! mail, the sign-in field is always filled with the same email address, however many times he deletes it. It’s not the email address he normally uses, yet he (and I) have no idea how to alter that;
- He and his wife have different cameras, from different manufacturers, with different download and editing software. Consequently he has no idea where his photos are stored on their shared computer, and no idea of how to back them up;
- Don’t get him started on his BlackBerry (I did, and it took up half the meal). He has three accounts in Outlook, and a year’s supply of phone calls to support trying to sort out configuration and synchronisation issues. One account can send mail, one can receive, and one synchronizes effortlessly with his BlackBerry but doesn’t send or receive, unless it’s from the BlackBerry.
- He recently bought a USB keydrive to keep his data safe, but, has no idea of how to set it up, let alone find the files he wants to back up. I suggested taking it into the shop for them to have a look at it. His reply: “I’m afraid of moving it in case something changes again.”
There’s a lesson in there somewhere.