VSJ – February 2004

Visual Systems Journal

Visual Systems Journal



Member News

Nominations for the Council of the IAP

The Institution is a democratic body governed by a Council elected by and from its members. Five members of the 15-strong Council retire in rotation each year. Nominations for the 2004 election, accompanied by the nominee’s manifesto (in electronic form and not exceeding 150 words, please) must be received at the Institution Office by 21 February. Contact the Office (020 8 5672118) for further details or an informal discussion if you are interested in playing your part in the governance of the Institution.

[Do not forget to email Robin Jones with items of news about you or your company.]

Notice Board

The IAP Annual Symposium

is at Trinity House, Tower Hill, London on 18 March. Tickets are £70 per delegate (members) and £100 (non-members). Contact the Office on 020 8 5672118 for reservations.

Legal IT London

is at the Business Design Centre, Islington between 11 and 12 February. Contact Cordial Events Ltd on 01491 575522 or fax 01491 575544 for details.

[Got an activity or event coming up? Email Robin Jones with the details.]

Sounding Board

Robin Jones has some thoughts on usability he would like to share.

The Dell sales rep asked, “Do you want a modem installed in your notebook?” “No”, I said, listening to the siren voices in my head murmuring, “You don’t really need it and you can save some money.”

That was four years ago. Now, of course, I do need one. Not a problem, I thought. I’ll get a USB modem and then it’s available as a lash-up when necessary (an event that occurs at two-day intervals on current experience).

I read the ‘manual’, a poorly printed A3 sheet of paper with instructions in seven languages, none of them English. Unless you count “Don’t reboot the computer system when the USB modem is correctly by plug into your USB Port of Computer.” as English, that is.

Not that I was particularly concerned about that; I was simply looking for the folder at which to point the ‘Add New Hardware’ wizard for the driver files. I found it, gave the wizard the information and went away to do other chores. When I returned 20 minutes later, Windows was aimlessly thrashing around the CDROM. So I ferreted about looking for likely candidates. After a couple of abortive attempts, I found the right directory and the modem installed itself without further hassle.

Two days later, I added a USB hub. Windows noticed and dealt with it fine. Then it denied all knowledge of the modem and insisted I re-install it. No problem this time, of course. Except that the modem is suddenly much less stable and disconnects itself randomly. Removing the hub makes no difference.

When I have time, I’ll uninstall everything and start from scratch. But I shouldn’t have to. I’ve spent – wasted – several hours installing a piece of hardware whose selling point is that it’s Plug-and-Play. That’s at least £100 worth of anybody’s time – three times the cost of the modem! For the non-technical user (at whom, if memory serves, USB was primarily aimed) such experiences just confirm that IT is a black art and that computers and all their works are simply not fit for purpose. If this sort of thing happened when Joe Public bought a new pair of headphones for his Walkman he would simply return them and say he wanted a pair that worked. Now that is Plug-and-Play.

Like it or not, computers are now consumer items. And Microsoft, at least, apparently likes it or it wouldn’t have developed Windows XP Media Centre Edition. So it is time manufacturers and retailers took the same responsibilities they would accept without question for televisions, refrigerators, phones and all the other goods that are displayed not ten yards from the latest computing kit. And if that means higher prices because staff would need more and better training, well, I could live with that. Could you?

[Something to get off your chest? Email Robin Jones with the details.]

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