Paradox: Computer users struggle on with what they know works, rather than spending time to figure out how software can help them. Photo: Karl Hilzinger
After decades observing the computer industry and its victims, we have concluded that most users are too busy to save time. They are completely occupied with extracting productivity from hardware and software that seems to have been engineered, like the iceberg, to make many potentially useful features opaque.
People could be so much more efficient if they studied user manuals or, even better, trawled online forums for information on how other users – those comparative few who delve more deeply into IT tools – put them to use.
Instead, they struggle on with the status quo – generally a state of minimal effectiveness – applying whatever they have found that works and denying themselves what might be vast improvements and efficiencies.
We call this phenomenon the ‘‘Paradox of the Diligent User’’.
We’re sure software engineers have the best of intentions, although they seem to unconsciously patronise their customers. Our observations suggest the prevailing assumption is that the average user is a blockhead, who must be protected from himself, whatever the cost.
Microsoft, for instance, employs 850 PhDs in 13 research laboratories around the world, many of them focused on the user experience.
How many of them, we wonder, came up with the idea of Internet Explorer’s add-on Performance Advisor? Introduced to the browser in version 9, it is still irritating the hell out of people, two versions later.
The intention of this ‘‘feature’’ is to allow users to identify browser add-ons that could slow down Internet Explorer. It pops up when the browser starts, inviting users to disable things such as toolbars.
Only last week we watched someone fire up Internet Explorer, groan at being asked yet again to ‘‘speed up browsing by disabling add-ons’’, before clicking forlornly on the ‘‘Ask me later’’ box to have it go away for another day.
Perhaps, in the distant past, this user had clicked on the ‘‘Choose add-ons’’ box, been horrified by the selection of toolbars and assorted ‘‘enhancements’’ of Internet Explorer, along with the time taken to load them, and been completely discouraged, by having to make decisions as to whether to retain or delete them.
Perhaps she had even clicked on one or all of them, and discovered that something useful – the Google toolbar, for instance – had disappeared.
It seems Microsoft itself is responsible for the speed of its browser and should not be passing the buck to users. Competitors such as Firefox, Chrome, Opera and Safari routinely out-perform Internet Explorer without hectoring the user. One pop-up suggestion ought to be enough.
There are some useful instructions for removing the adviser at bit.ly/1imAWu4.
If only it were that simple to solve the persistent crashes of Adobe Flash Player that have been plaguing fans of the otherwise brilliant browser, Mozilla Firefox.
Last week’s release of version 184.108.40.206 of Flash addressed several critical security bugs and should be applied immediately (you can check which version you’re running at adobe.ly/1khBGDF), but it did not solve an irritation which is forcing diligent Firefox users to move to other browsers.
We’ve tried a range of solutions, including disabling add-ons (mzl.la/1s6Fs9w) and disabling hardware acceleration etc. If possible, we wanted to avoid having to revert to earlier versions of Firefox and Flash, or installing a NoScript add-on, which some desperate users have tried.
Fortunately, one suggestion in the Mozilla.org support forum seems to have cured the illness, at least in 64-bit Windows 8.1. We’d be interested in hearing from readers if it also works on other versions of Windows.
The fix is based on a ‘‘temporary workaround’’ in the Adobe support forum at adobe.ly/UuukVu, which is further detailed by a post from jscher2000, who in real life is intellectual property lawyer Jefferson Scher, in a forum thread at mzl.la/1q5koye.
It involves adding a line to a configuration file to disable Flash’s protected mode. Scher addresses the niceties of getting around Windows’ administrator privileges for both 32-bit and 64-bit systems.
Having dealt with this, we can now move on to solving an undocumented ‘‘feature’’ in Microsoft’s Office 365 that has just started eating into our time: Word 2013 has suddenly decided we no longer have administrative privileges to save to the Documents folder on the OneDrive cloud storage we are paying for.