Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Non-resizable Windows: Showing Their Age

Some parts of Windows look like they haven't been changed since the NT days, when 800x600 was standard resolution.

Take this printer setup box for example:

Under "HP" printers, there are 20+ "pages" of printers listed. The scrolling resolution on such a small scroll bar with such a long list is awful. Given every printer name starts with "HP", you can't really hit the first letter or number of what you want either. Having installed the three printers I use maybe 6 times over the past months thanks to Vista printing issues, I've become all too familiar with this long scrolling operation, and now I've resorted to using the keyboard.

This window should be much bigger, giving a better overview allowing faster "jump to" the area of the list you want. Also, a bigger window would increase the resolution of the scroll bar. The availability of screen space is obvious in this screen shot, from one of my two monitors:

Windows certainly knows the resolution of my screen and could size this box accordingly, if they really don't want to allow me to have a resize handle.

I strongly believe it really is the little things that add up to ruin an interface experience.

Open Letter re Tibet

I sent the below letter to the Prime Minister. I do not claim to be an expert on the region, or on what the state of Tibetan human rights during the reign of the monastic government, but I think what is happening now is truly abhorrent. Why do we ignore Tibet? Darfur? Congo? Guantanamo? Canada should be a country standing up for human rights.


Dear Prime Minister Harper,

I am writing today to express my concern for the people of Tibet. For many years I have wondered why the developed countries of the world, like Canada, have ignored the plight of that country, suffering under occupation by China. Recently, it is becoming increasingly clear that the occupation of Tibet by China is unjust and against the ideas of freedom and human rights that the people of Canada support and the privileges we enjoy. Why does Canada do nothing to support Tibetan human rights? If another country had invaded Canada, I’m sure we would want someone to come to our aid. Imagine losing our free press, our rights to assembly and free speech, and having yourself, the legitimate head of government, exiled to a neighbouring country. Of course, it’s unthinkable. The situation in Tibet is, to me, equally appalling. I understand that perhaps it is too late for a "free Tibet", but we must advocate for the fair treatment of Tibetans.

I’m appalled to see the treatment of the Tibetan people as they make peaceful protests against their oppressors. That the Chinese government blames His Holiness the Dalai Lama is just absurd and insulting. No one inspires more people to lead a peaceful path than him.

Please support the Dalai Lama’s call for a United Nations-lead investigation into Chinese human rights abuses in Tibet.

In addition, I call on you and all political leaders and other prominent Canadians to decline to attend the Beijing Olympic Games in protest. It is not right to celebrate the Olympic spirit in a country that is clearly not making sufficient progress towards supporting the ideals put forth by the Olympic organization.


Christopher Collins

Friday, March 14, 2008

No more lists of JREs in Add/Remove Programs

I just upgraded to an experimental version of the Sun JRE (6uN b13) and found this nugget of information in the release text:
"follow-on update releases will no longer be listed as separate items in the Windows "Add or Remove Programs" dialog"
This is really great! When I did the update I had to remove 4 versions of JRE and 3 JDKs. Generally, I only use the latest one, but all the others are kept around, cluttering things up. With my OCD, this change will save me some time. :)

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Dell vs. Lenovo Automatic Update

I'm lucky to have a brand new Lenovo (IBM) ThinkPad and a new Dell desktop. Both systems are generally great. One big difference I've noticed is in the level of software support. Both Dell and Lenovo supply an auto-update program to update drivers and, in Lenovo's case, the various helpful utility programs that come with the system.

I've had a vastly different experience with each. My laptop is always up-to-date, and the update program has never failed, performing bios flashes, software upgrades, and even installing some new features. It's not always present in the system tray, and does not send me stupid and useless messages. From the first day, the Dell update program has been sending inane popups like ads for a new wireless mouse, a notice about upcoming daylight savings time, and update notifications for hardware that I don't even have. I don't need such interruptions! I just want driver updates. The program has the "express service tag" of my machine -- doesn't that supply all the info on what hardware I have? Worst of all, whenever I click any of the messages that I might actually need, two annoying things happen: first, I get a popup asking me to inform Dell that I've read the message (which I decline); second, the support program reports and error, saying it can't find "Windows NW\applications\wordpad.exe". As you probably know from previous posts, I use Vista. Anyway, why does this program want to open WordPad? Perhaps it is opening some file type that has been registered to a non-existent version of WordPad? I don't know. But I also can't ask anyone. You see, despite the fact that U of Calgary purchased long-term extended warranty support on this machine, it only covers hardware. So, when a piece of Dell-supplied software doesn't work, I'm asked to pay $129 for a support subscription, on a machine that's only several months old. And, if what I've read is true, if I managed to read Dell support they'd just read me a script telling me to restart the computer and update the software anyway.

What's going on with customer service these days? In the meantime, I've uninstalled all the junky software Dell sent, and I'm doing updates manually with my service tag and their website.

Mystery Error Dialogs

I received this error today and I thought, "what application is crashing"? It wasn't hard to find out -- I just had to look at the taskbar to see which application was highlighted. But, it would be easier if a fatal error message had the name of the application in the title or text somewhere. When will application programmers adopt a culture of ensuring, where-ever possible, that crashes provide informative feedback? I guess they tried to diagnose the problem here with the suggestion that maybe another instance of the program was already running under another user.