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The Night Owl’s Pet Peeves for 2007

This is a different type of column. It’s not necessarily about Tiger, Leopard, or even the iPhone. Instead, it’s time for me to vent my spleen, and tell you about the things that annoy me to distraction in our odd corner of the universe. As is usual, my comments are arbitrary, and the selections are as well. Feel free to agree, disagree, or just ignore me entirely, which most of you do anyway.

Cables not included on new printers: I understand that you have to cut corners for a $50 ink jet, but when you’ve just paid $300 or so for that spanking new multifunction printer, it’s ridiculous to have to go out and buy a new set of cables too! In the days when these printers had both parallel and USB ports, I could understand the reluctance to provide two cables when just one would suit (and how do you predict which one?), but not today. If anyone has actually purchased a new printer with cables provided in the box, I’d love to hear about it..

Printed manuals not included: Those tiny books that ship with high-priced software, such as the new Adobe Creative Suite, don’t do it for me. These are complicated programs, with fairly tough learning curves. So maybe Adobe wants to save trees, and it’s true there are sometimes PDF versions at hand on the CDs. But when I spend upwards of a grand or two on a new software package, is it too much to ask for a complete, old fashioned printed manual? Yes, there is one that ships with the various versions of Adobe’s CS3 suite, but it is absolutely pathetic if you hope to acquire anything more than a cursory knowledge of how things work.

Ridiculous upgrade policies: You buy an upgrade to a product you already own, but you have to wait for the rebate to get the discount price. You and I both know that rebates are often an illusion, and you have to wait weeks or months to get your money back, and even then it may take a few calls to an anonymous call center, in a land far, far away, to get some action. Talk about giving a company an interest-free loan. As far as Apple is concerned, upgrade policies are almost non-existent, and while they might be moving tons of retail Tiger boxes, and perhaps even more upgrades when Leopard ships, I bet they’d move a lot more product if there was a decent upgrade policy.

We are not unpaid beta testers: I understand that shareware is also a shared experience, and the authors work with users to build better, more stable products. But when you pay hard-earned money for regular, commercial software, you shouldn’t have to wait for a .1 or .2 upgrade for things to settle down. I know the marketing department wants to get the thing out as soon as possible, so the profits roll in. As of now, Apple is promising that Leopard will ship in October, and one hopes it’ll be fully baked and ready to ship by then, and relatively free of serious bugs. But if some last-minute problems appear, I’m sure most of you would forgive Apple for postponing Mac OS 10.5 for a few weeks, because even a mid-November release date won’t be too late for the holidays. There’s never too much testing when it comes to an operating system or mission critical productivity application.

Critic proof benchmarks: It’s a case of damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. In the old days, Apple would compare a Mac against a PC box with roughly similar specs, causing the usual uproar from supporters of the product that got trashed. That’s no longer possible, since they all use the same processor and most of the same support systems these days. So Apple has switched to comparing the new Mac with the old Mac, just to show how much things have improved. But when the tech reviewers run their own test suites, the differences are never quite as vast. Wouldn’t it be nice if editors and manufacturers devised a system that everyone could agree upon, either from existing industry-standard test methods or something altogether new?

Technology journalists are too full of themselves: We think we know better than the manufacturers how to build and market products. We are quick to criticize, although some of us do really try to make helpful suggestions. But let’s not assume that we’d be able to run any of those companies without messing up big time. Do you really want to be Steve Jobs for a day, and do you think Apple would survive the experience? If any of us really knew how to run a multinational company, why do we work for a pittance sitting in front of a computer writing words that most people don’t care about anyway? And that’s the truth.

An even more interesting truth to our regular readers is that I expressed many of these same viewpoints in an article posted four years ago. Indeed, little if anything has changed.