computer frustration


'ADOBE Flash Player Update Available.'' Is there any more annoying pop-up on your computer screen than this notice?

I don't think I've ever used Adobe Flash Player. I don't even know what it does. I certainly have never sought to have it installed on my computer but I do use Adobe PDFs and suspect that it sneaked in when I installed the PDF reader.

To check it out I went to Adobe's website and found they posed the very question puzzling me - What is Flash Player? Their answer is: "The Adobe® Flash® Player runtime lets you effortlessly reach over 1.3 billion people across browsers and OS versions with no install - 11 times more people than the best-selling hardware game console."

I still don't know what a Flash Player is. Is it an email system? Is it a game? And are they joking about ''effortless'' and ''no install''?

The repeated annoying update demands eventually force me to install. I have no choice. The update notice only allows me one option: ''Do not remind me about this update.'' There is no ''Never remind me about ANY Adobe Flash Player update EVER!!''

A quick search of the internet reveals that I am far from alone in getting annoyed by this demand. Writing on ZDNet, Ed Bott reported that Flash Player for Windows 10.1 had been updated 17 times in the 16 months to October 2011.

Bott reported that most of the updates dealt with security problems. One exception, 10.3.181.1, fixed a bug with Internet Explorer 9 and hardware-accelerated graphics.

Several tackled ''zero-day vulnerabilities that were being used in targeted attacks by malware authors.'' (I take this to mean that they stopped bad people from using Adobe Flash Player - the program I don't want - as a vehicle to attack my computer.)

June 2011 was a particularly busy month, according to Bott, with three separate updates in a little over three weeks. In addition to the volume, he pointed to the nuisance factor of the updating process, which is not automatic, typically requires closing all browser windows and then demands multiple clicks to complete the installation.

In response to my complaint, Adobe said a more streamlined and automated option was now available. The Flash Player 11.2 background updater could update Windows computers silently with the latest patches, eliminating the need to perform the task manually.

Adobe is, of course, not alone in constant update demands. Java is currently annoying me with one too. Again it's a product I don't use, but must update because it's apparently a security issue.

The prize for annoying updates must of course go to Microsoft. This robot-run company pays little attention to customer preferences.

It is well aware that users hate the way they are ignored and at one stage ran an advertising campaign to try to convince them that this was not so.

But what Microsoft did not do was seek representative groups of users and ask them what they really wanted and then provide it. Did users want never-ending superficial changes to Microsoft packages that required a re-training course to discover where previously commonly used functions were now located?

The problem with Microsoft is that it is run by technicians who only respond to geek requests. As a result, it adds more and more functions that geeks request, not realising that most customers use only a few functions and would actually prefer fewer options and fewer changes.

Unfortunately IT people are not inclined to listen to what the customer wants. Their livelihood depends on process - the more process, the more work. If they can build an industry around threats to the system - and providing patches to cover these threats - all the better for them.

There is of course a real need for security and this brings me to passwords. We now have passwords for everything - a password to log on to your computer at home and another at work; a password for your work email account and another for your private one; a password for your Wi-Fi; a password for Google and - as I've just discovered - another one for Panoramio if you want to upload photos to Google Earth; a password for your Norton security and one for your bank account; yet another for your e-tax; and one more to access your superannuation.

When you leave your computer you need to remember your PIN for your credit card and savings accounts. On top of this even your mobile phone and suitcases demand PINs.

I resist locking my phone and having a PIN. If anyone steals my old Nokia with prepaid they are free to use the $30 worth of credit and view the small number of contacts and calls I have made. That's better than the password annoyance.

On top of the password demands themselves, some organisations censor the word you choose - too weak, they say. So you invent something you can't possibly remember with numbers and symbols.

The upshot of all this is that people write their passwords down on pieces of paper. The worst example of this occurs when workplaces (driven by IT types and unthinking bureaucrats) demand that passwords be changed every month or so.

The managers who make such rules clearly believe that the requirement makes the system safer. But they do not think about how people actually operate. The users, fearing that they will forget their ever-changing passwords, write them down, sometimes on post-its which are left stuck on their desks, keyboards or screens. Passwords that are used only once in a while, such as for a superannuation account, are also written down.

A criminal in your average office would have no trouble finding these.

There must be a better way. A biometrics identifier might be an answer. If your computer and all the institutions that required passwords could recognise you when you inserted your thumb in a scanner, while looking at your camera and having you iris and face assessed, that would be a big help.

I have no doubt someone will come up with a way to defeat any simple solution.