I just wanted to print a file

I just wanted to print a file, now it is an hour and a half later and I still have nothing … this is where all our time goes gently coaxing our computers in the hope they may do what we ask.

Such a simple thing to want to do … and so much pain on the process, and so many simple things that application designers could do it make it better.

I have a PhD thesis to read, it arrived last night and palexa, whose thesis it is, is coming this afternoon to talk about it. But I got an error that communication to the printer had failed – “please check it is turned it on”! Of course it is on already, but I checked anyway.

I recall at the weekend Fiona had a similar problem; she rebooted her machine and it all worked again.

WHY should a simple thing like connecting to a printer require periodic reboots?

… who knows, but we try …

To reboot my computer involves closing it down … and some applications notably Microsoft Word, Photoshop, Dreamweaver never close without more coaxing … shutting windows one by one, until there is nothing left and then …. ‘application not responding’ and I have to Force Quit them anyway.

Of course some of the problem and the reason why the machine crawls to a halt, with lots of spinning rainbows and sluggish mouse, is that I have so many open applications and they all grow over time – but

why can’t an application quit without dragging a gigabyte into RAM?

… and of course because I know it will take me so much pain to close down my computer I don’t do it often … hmm what was that about positive feedback?
As I close down Firefox windows I find several that I need to do things with as they were sitting there as reminders – so twenty minutes updating web pages, saving bookmarks or grabbing bits in Snip!t. In fact if Firefox crashes it does recall its last state … but not when it is closed down ‘normally’. I sometimes ‘Force Quit’ it in order to make it save state – that is like pulling the plug out form your computer to stop it erasing your disk when you shutdown.

In an age of laptops why don’t all applications save their current state when they close down?

And of course Firefox crashed anyway when I eventually hit Quit.

And then as the windows clear I find a little Software Update window asking me if I want to install urgent security fixes … between 80 and 50 meg each. What I can never recall is whether this means “I have downloaded do you want me to do the actual install” or “if you say YES install it will take a LONG time as it downloads files”

Why can’t applications give you ate least order of magnitude estimates of the time cost before you confirm actions?

Of course, if I had recalled the download was still needed I could have put off the update … but of course the dialogue didn’t have any options to say things like ‘do this slowly in the background’ and if it did would I risk rebooting my computer through it.

Why can’t applications give users control over when things happen instead of assuming it happens now or never?

Software Update begins the download … it estimates 5 minutes, so go off to get some cornflakes. I come back and it is almost finished … I wait … the little progress bar gets to the end … and then starts again with another 5 minutes. My head in my hands I recall “Of course the 5 minutes was for the first of the sevral tings it needs to downlaod”.

Why when an application does something in several stages are the progress bars on an action-by-action basis? The user has to wait for them all to complete. By all means show individual progress for each stag, but also some form of overall estimate … please.

Some time later … an information box appears: “Some of the checked updates couldn’t be installed – a network error has occurred”

I despair.

Software Update Failed

5 thoughts on “I just wanted to print a file

  1. > In fact if Firefox crashes it does recall its last state … but not when it is closed down ‘normally’.

    Try: Preferences -> Main -> When Firefox Starts: Show my windows and tabs from last time

  2. Thanks, just tried it out and it works a dream 🙂

    I just checked too what happens when FireFox crashes (by killing the process) and it still asks what to do … essential in those times when Firefox encounters a page that makes it crashes, it restarts, restores the session, gets to the same page, crashes … Then the only thing to do is to ask it to scrap its remembered session state.

    It is interesting that the most reliable apps are the ones that are either open community or written by individuals, it is the corporate monster ones (Microsoft, Adobe/Macromedia) that really die a lot and tend to be unresliant to environmental problems such as network glitches or sleep/wake-up cycles.

    To be fair, this may be partly a matter of scale as FireFox has some of the big-boy problems although certainly not as bad.

  3. Individual developers know that their software will face usage patterns they can’t foresee, and they can’t rely on a QA department, so they take failing software as a fact of life. The careful ones try to make that event as graceful as possible.

    Perhaps the difference with corporate monsters is that those *do* have a QA department, which deludes them into thinking they’re in a different boat. 🙂

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