The Trouble with Technology: How Come It Doesn’t Work?
It’s been a while since I’ve updated this rambling, for which I apologize. Between the Thanksgiving holidays and the need to submit some materials before specific deadlines in November prevented me from updating this and parts of my Web site more than I would have liked.
One of the things which seems to keep me persistently busy is the need to stay on top of technology and the computer industry. I do this with free subscriptions to a number of trade publications in technology, and checking out the ever-useful technology Web sites like C-net, Scripting News, and PC Week. But nothing could prepare me for dealing with real technology and with it, its accompanying real headaches. Nothing
Turn back your clocks a whole year ago. The year, 1996. We purchased a RealAudio 2.0 server to begin development on audioPsych. Here it is a year and a half later, and they are up to version 5.0. Is 5.0 backward compatible with earlier versions of the RealAudio player? Nope. Not unless you buy one of their industrial-strength servers (starting at $5995!). Does the previous version of their server, 4.0, work out-of-the-box on synchronized multimedia files in bandwidth negotiated directories (as it should)? Nope.
After discussions with Real’s support folk, it has become clear to me that this push, this ongoing, never-ending race to keep putting newer and supposedly “better” versions of software is hurting all of us. End users have to keep upgrading, even if their existing software works fine for them for what they need. For instance, if I were silly enough to install the 5.0 version of the RealServer, I’d have to require all users of my service to also upgrade their software to 5.0 players. Should I force people to do that, when their 2.0 or 3.0 version of their RealAudio player works fine for them? Absolutely not. Despite the fact that they are all free, the effort and time it costs us to do that upgrade should be an entirely voluntary one.
I have found that as the mad rush to produce new versions of software increases, the amount and quality of documentation also declines. There rarely seems to be any information on how to actually upgrade existing files and information to the new products. Microsoft had a serious problem when it released Word ’97, because it found out that it was incompatible with Word ’95! How can a huge company like Microsoft make such an obvious error? A lack of understanding of what consumers reall want jumps immediately to mind. We want simple, incremental upgrades, ones that don’t immediately render all of our existing information and documentation defunct and needing to be “converted.”
The browser “wars” are another infamous example of technology gone awry. In the trade papers, you hear nothing but talk of XML language and dynamic HTML and Java. In the real world, most people still use (and will likely continue to use) browsers which don’t support any of this stuff. Nor do most people need it! In the company I work for, many of our employees are still using version 2.02 of Netscape Navigator. Why? Because there’s nothing wrong with it. I myself prefer version 3.04 over 4.x, because it is more stable and crashes my system less often. And who programs in XML or dynamic HTML? I sure as heck don’t! And I don’t know of too many people willing to step out on a limb and learn all of that complicated stuff when HTML works just fine. I’d hate to have to turn away readers from my Web site because they don’t have the latest and greatest browser; that’s just plain silly.
Technology needs to slow down. Most people don’t want to have to manually upgrade their software every 3 or 6 months, and I’m among them. I will continue to work to ensure that in any of the online developments I’m involved with, they don’t require you to use any technology you don’t want to.