'Stupidware' nominations gratefully accepted here

by Alan Zisman (c) 1999. First published in Vancouver Computes, May 1999

First, there was just-plain software. Later, shareware and freeware developed. In the 1990s, users started complaining about ?bloatware??programs that took up tens or hundreds of megabytes of drive space while replacing older versions that could fit on a humble floppy disk.

And the ?90s also brought us just plain ?Warez?for commercial software pirated over the Internet.

I?d like to add one more X-ware to the list. My humble contribution is ?Stupidware?.

You?ve all seen it. Programs, often expensive software from big-name companies that insists on doing things its way, regardless of how you want to work with your computer.

Some things I?d like to gripe about include:

  • All those programs that will only install onto your C: drive, even if you have other drives available. Or won?t let you choose a folder name or location. Even worse are programs that allow you to install them into an alternate location, but then won?t run properly (ATI?s Video Player is one of those. Shame!)
  • Programs that insist on cluttering your Windows Start Menu with yet another sub-menu dedicated to just their program (and perhaps its silly Readme file and Help file. Does anyone actually access a program?s Help file from the Start Menu)? Better-designed software, like Electronic Arts? games show you a list of your current submenus, and let you choose to put your icons there. In some cases, you can force icons into a submenu?type the menu?s name followed by a backslash?replace ?Jedi Knight? with ?Games\Jedi Knight? to put the icons into a Jedi Knight folder inside your existing Games folder.
  • Programs that don?t let you choose between different setup alternatives like Minimum, Typical, or Custom installations. Or don?t give you enough information to choose between the options, or make the choices actually meaningful. Netscape Navigator, for instance, gives several options, but none of them let you choose not to install the AOL Chat program or Netscape?s e-mail program?even if you?re using alternatives ICQ or a different mail program.
  • Speaking of AOL Chat, it not only gets dumped onto your hard drive, but it insists on starting up automatically, using up system resources and space on your Taskbar tray. And it?s not loaded with an easily-removed Startup icon?it takes messing with the dread Windows Registry to make it go away for good.
  • And that leads to all those other programs that lurk in the background. Maybe you even want them there? but in too many cases, they insist on leaving their little icon in the tray. Do you really need a visual reminder that they?re running, taking up space? I like the little speaker icon there?so I can easily adjust volume levels. And a few others are useful for when I want to change the program setup. Kudos to programs like McAfee Viruscan, for including the ability to turn off the tray icon, if you don?t want it. And all the rest of those unwanted little icons deserve the name ?stupidware?.

(If you?ve got unremovable tray icon clutter, you may want to get the free TrayManager from: zdnet.com/swlib/pcmutil.html. It?s a tray icon that can store other tray icons, reducing clutter considerably).

  • Then there are all those programs that dump a bunch of files into your main Windows and Windows\System folders, often replacing newer, more capable versions of those files along the way. This is a major reason why programs suddenly stop working. Kudos to programs like Jasc PaintShop Pro where the Setup program offers to backup any files it over-writes. And shame on Microsoft for allowing this ridiculous situation to arise in the first place. (Though Windows 98 does a much better job of checking the version of common shared files when it starts up). The Mac equivalent, by the way, is stupid extensions, which can interfere with one another.
  • Then there are the programs that ignore common conventions of how the Windows or Mac user interface works. For years, for example, Windows users could count on the keyboard shortcut Alt+F/X to exit a program. With Windows 95, Microsoft changed that to use Close instead of Exit to shut down its system windows. Sometimes. Even within Windows 95/98, some shut down with a Close command, while others use Exit. Come on, Microsoft!

An interesting collection of poor user interface designs is on display on the Web in the Interface Hall of Shame: www.iarchitect.com/mshame.htm. Not surprisingly, Microsoft seems to have garnered the most ?awards? in this category.

If you have nominations for  the ?stupidware? designation, please let me know? maybe we can have our own awards celebration.

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Alan Zisman is a Vancouver educator, writer, and computer specialist. He can be reached at E-mail Alan