10 November 2009

Good Website, Good software

There's been a couple of computer based things that have been making me twitch with annoyance, and they stem from both web and off-line software. I may not get time to go into everything, but I'll hit the big boys.

Don't reside in systray (PC) or menubar (OSX). I put things in my menubar, because I want them there. I have very specific tools that I use on a daily basis, and want to have residing there. Else, it lives on the dock, and I ignore it until I need it. If you're going to take up space on my menubar (or in a PC, my systray), there had better be a damned good reason for it that makes it show up there, or else I'll be turning it off. I don't have to be reminded of software. When I want something done, I'll go to it, because I know exactly where I placed it.

If you make software that has to reside in my menu bar while it runs, chances are that I'm going to find reasons not to use it, and eventually uninstall it. I'm looking at you, Twitterific. I'm looking at you, every piece of software from Intego. In fact, I even get annoyed when software places itself in my menubar without asking, like Adium. Fortunately for Adium, it lets you remove it from the menubar, so I still use it.

You may think that you're being "clever" by forcing your presence in my menubar, but you're not. You're being a fucking twat. So enjoy your obscurity while I uninstall you, and never turn back. I'll either find a way to use another piece of software that'll do the same thing, and NOT shove itself in my face, or I'll decide that the task isn't important enough for me to be arsed about, and I'll continue doing it by hand.

NO PDFs EVER, unless you have text to back it up. This one's a big one. It used to be that you'd only get a PDF when the formatting mattered so much that having the raw text would outright make the content useless. Think of situations like instruction manuals with images, bookmarks, and all sorts of other useful features. If you're reading an instruction manual, you more or less expect a PDF, because without one there, everything jumps thither and yon, and you can't really do much about it, can you?

I even (to a lesser extent) understand the need for a PDF when you're doing something legally binding, like a form or other such thing, so that the content isn't easily altered. Few people have the software necessary to edit a PDF. So far, so good.

In the case of a menu, or catalogue, or any other such thing when you're simply browsing, and don't want to make too much of a commitment that comes with downloading the PDF, and viewing it, or waiting for it to try to load in your browser, and watching the browser crash and burn. Don't pretend like it's never happened to you! I know it has. I have a very nice machine, and even my browser crashes at PDFs. So when you're presenting data, like what's on the menu, or what's in a catalogue, have the bulk of the contents presented in plain text. If someone really does give a shit about your formatting, they can download the PDF at their discretion.

When I browse to a website, especially for a restaurant, and it takes me the better part of five minutes to wrangle through the PDF to figure out what you have, I'm going to just skip it all together, and try somewhere else. If I order from the place a lot, I'll actually download the PDF and print out the menu. However, it'll never get to that point if accessing the menu is damn near impossible.

No obnoxious splash screens (web or software). If it takes more than 15 seconds to load, you'd better be offering so much functionality with that load time that it's worth the wait. Even then, you're going to end up pissing people off. For example, those nightclub websites that have "fancy" flash splash screens that you want to skip anyway. The faster your home page loads, the more likely someone will be to stick around and check it out. If you entire navigation hinges on a single element loading, chances are that you're going to break someone's browser, and piss them off enough that they don't come back. Was that flashy splash screen worth it?

This goes double for splash screens for software. Unless it's a slow-loading software (I'm looking at you, Adobe), the splash screen is really not necessary. Neither are welcome screens. I don't want ANY of it. Just load the bloody thing, and let me plunge in head first. Don't ask me what sort of thing I want to do. Just load a blank page, and let me make changes as necessary. Think about it. Why are you going to invest time and money into a feature that most people will see as a nuisance (at best), may cause crashes (at worst), and be disabled by most of the people who trip past it (at least). When you're on a website, how many splash pages do you actually watch (y'know, instead of hitting "skip intro" if they give that option)?

There are very specific cases where flash is necessary, such as when the functionality of the site hinges on it (I'm looking at you, online games). But if the same thing can be done with simple pages, with a couple of very minor, tiny flash tweaks to make it look smoother, why not do that instead of making the whole entire page a flash environment? It's like those fuckers who ask you to use margarine in baking, and then promptly ask you to melt it.


Don't set obnoxious defaults, like loading up at startup. It's why I refused to run skype for so many years. I knew full well that I could disable this option but (1) it didn't used to be so blatantly simple to do so, and (2) it was the principle of the thing. I find it an insult to my intelligence when software assumes to know what's best for me, and sets obnoxious defaults, thus slowing down my machine. Your antivirus starting up with the operating system is one thing. Anti virus software is critical for a computer running smoothly. Skype and AOL instant messenger, are NOT crucial to my machine functioning. In fact, they will slow me down. For years, I flatly refused to use Skype or have it running on any of the machines I maintained. Even now, I only use it rarely, and that's only because there are specific people I have to contact, and I have no other way of contacting them. All because of that initial (and persistent) insult.

No "tag along" software. Say it with me: "If I downloaded YOUR software, that's the only thing I want to install." Google is pretty capable of running the world, but packaging that toolbar along with every software known to mankind was not only obnoxious, it made me boycott both the software that made it tag along AND the toolbar itself. Let me tell you how annoying it is to have to go through and uninstall that fucking thing again when you work in a computer lab. You have to go through and log out the current user. Then log in as admin. Then uninstall it. Then close the browser window asking you why you uninstalled it. Then scream and throw things. Then lather, rinse, and repeat about 49 more times.

Per. Room.

Don't use audio unless explicitly necessary. Youtube has a reason to access my speakers. I'm there to watch videos, whose content would fall flat without the audio. There's a couple of websites that use audio to enhance your game playing experience, so that you're not listening to the sounds of your crisp packet as you spend hours clicking the same buttons repeatedly. A website for a night club may get away with it if they have a "music player" up top that you can hit stop on. That's the end of it. All other uses for audio in websites need to be banned. No, Mr. Restaurant. You shouldn't be blasting crappy techno music on your home page. No, website for random person who's looking for "acting work". You have no reason for your street musician crap assaulting my ears while I visit your corner of the web. Turn it off, or I'll turn it off for you.

Point is that overall, you want to avoid annoying the people you're looking to reach. This past month has just been a stack of that, so I figured I'd rant, rather than take it out in little passive aggressive ways on the people who surround me.

I swear, it was an accident when I forgot to make more rice yesterday night.