(2003 to 2005)

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Sun Dec 28 01:19:00 UTC+1100 2003


This is just a general rant, triggered by the message I just received from the Adobe Reader ActiveX control that is the subject of this post (no it's not a typo). This post could be described as confused and rushed at best, perhaps like a dogs-breakfast:

I had an argument with a mate in the car on the way home from Lord of the Rings yesterday about the 'cost' of smoking. I can't concisely state my points regarding matters of smoking etc. nor related topics such as alcohol, gambling, illegal drugs, taxation and 'society', so I'm not even going to try. I know I'd be here writing an essay for 3 hours, and still be frustrated that I hadn't adequately expressed myself. Not to mention that I am frustrated even in myself that I can't arrive at my own definitive position (much like the rest of society it would seem) on all such topics. However, in regards to smoking in particular I have some fairly strongly held views, and while being a smoker I hold concern that my perspective might be skewed, I would say that having been both a smoker, and a non-smoker, I am an in greater position to comment from experience than someone who has not.

All that aside, I'm sitting here, thinking about some of the things that came up, and I started doing some research on smoking, particularly the 'cost of smoking'. It wasn't long before I found a PDF file - and this is what has triggered my rant, which despite the introduction is not about smoking at all..

Let me be clear: I hate finding PDF documents when looking for information on the Internet. I understand that they are very handy for being able to produce consistent looking documents cross-platform, and that they have good support for transmission to 'hard-copy', and often I do value being able to save them very simply as a discrete document often containing a whole heap of useful information on a topic (something that can be altogether more challenging when wanting to do the same thing with HTML). But when I'm researching something I'm a content kind of a guy, and I don't care much for printing, so what I really want is my content, on my screen, fast. When I see a PDF document, I often skip it and look elsewhere, only if I'm really hard pressed to find information would I actually open it.

I also really hate installing software on my computer. If I didn't write it, I don't want to know about it, unless I think that it's good. Generally I have to install it to find out if it's good or not, often leaving me with catch-22. Frankly, most software that I see is buggy, crap (e.g. poorly integrated with the shell/OS and provides a shoddy non-standard UI), and probably does something that could be (or is) done better by other technologies, or best left 'not done'.

Every-time I install or run some new software, I risk degrading my system, and there is really no way of 'going back'. Installation can be bad, un-installation hardly works effectively, there is always something left behind, often there is no un-install, or un-install fails, or half works and half fails leaving my system in a mess until I do a re-build where I loose all my settings and many days, and generally just get pissed off. Simply running software, regardless of whether it deploys with an installation package or as a stand-alone 'just run this exe' application, often causes junk data and configuration to be written away to various locations, never to be seen or heard from again, often to areas that the system uses, e.g. the registry. Not to mention the hangs, crashes, memory leaks, bizarre user interface or focus stealing dialogue boxes. Over the years my OS has come a long way, but in many regards the software that runs on it hasn't.

Basically, for a software developer, I really don't like software. But I do empathise with developers, because I know that designing software, for a broad audience can be challenging and that keeping up with UI standards, design patterns, OS or platform features can be difficult to say the least. At the same time I despise them for not bothering to learn to program for windows properly since there are so many things they could be doing to alleviate my concerns. That said, I often find myself excusing myself from addressing these concerns, since most of the stuff I do is 'custom', I just ship the framework (e.g. the .NET runtime, VB6 runtime, etc) and my app (e.g. the executable and config/data files) and a batch file to register COM components (if I'm feeling generous) - I know that application deployment, versioning, etc are a big job, and I know what it's like to not have the time or resources to do a good job. Nevertheless, if you don't do it, and you make your software publicly available, you deserve to have sticks and stones thrown at you and your software referred to as crap - in my view. Heh, you know, do as I say, not as I do.

While I'm on a roll with this rant, let me be a little tangential and mention that I also really hate auto-update features and other spy-ware. About the only way that I'd like auto-update features to work would be as an auto-update prompt. I.e. don't go to the network first, and figure out if there is a new version, and then tell me (or worse, don't tell me but just go ahead and install, as Acrobat has just done, as per its almost English message box). Rather ask me if I want to check for a new version, and if I don't, ask me how long I want to leave it until I get prompted to check for a new version again. Allow me to subscribe my e-mail to a 'new version' announcement list, and allow me to trigger the auto-update manually if I think it is time, and do all this by default - no spying or self-modifying executables thank-you. I like software that regards me as the 'customer', not the 'luser' or 'consumer' or 'bitch' - respect my system and my network damn it, and don't you dare make me a statistic.

Anyway, back to the case in point. This rant is about Adobe Acrobat Reader after all. I know, that PDF is a god-send in regards to having 'portable documents'. But I hate Adobes software for windows. Integration into Internet Explorer, even of the latest version of Acrobat Reader (v6.0) is the sux. I vaguely recall being able to 'pre-load' Reader via some sys-tray utility that effectively just starts the process, then sits around waiting, but I refuse to do that. I'm not going to run a system that has Acrobat preloaded, just in case I want to view a PDF document.

Particularly I'm not going to run such a system, since I have zero-faith in the software being well implemented to start with. If I open Reader, my CPU rails at 100% for 30 seconds while it tries to load, particularly while loading as an ActiveX control. I understand that IE is probably going to great lengths to try and make sure that AR is sand-boxed, or allowed to execute, or signed or whatever it's doing, but 30 seconds of CPU railing is a no-no, and has bloatware written all over it. Further, page-at-a-time loading of documents blows too. The number of times that I've seen AR just sit there railing the CPU while attempting to render a page that it hasn't yet retrieved from the web server is about 1000 times to many, not to mention that half the time it then just crashes or hits an infinite loop - it's not uncommon to watch the CPU rail while the network lies dormant and nothing renders.

Anyway, basically my quest to find out about the cost of smoking to society and individuals was hampered with too many PDF documents, and I'm pretty close to considering a boycott on Acrobat for my system - I've already boycotted Real Audio as they treat me like their bitch. I've given up on WinAmp after trying v3 for a month or two before rolling back to v2 and then just giving up on it in favour of Media Player (which also makes me feel like the bitch). I have Quick Time installed at the moment, but there must have been something provided in only that format the I really wanted to see or I wouldn't have a bar of that either.

These days it seems that the only people I can rely upon to ship decent software for windows is Microsoft, and I can't trust them as far as I can throw them. There are of course a few notable exceptions to my general disgruntlement in software. For example: EditPlus totally wins, I love this software. Also TClockEx (even though it is basically just a hack) has been my friend for many, many years and is probably the single most utilised piece of software on my system.

But like I said, for a software developer, I'm really not a software guy - probably because I can spot the hacks and bugs a mile off and I just don't have the time to let your virus^Wspyware^Wprogram mess with my system.

Boy can I crap on..


Copyright © 2003-2005 John Elliot