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I bought Pagmaker 6 for Power Mac. Unfortunately, every time I print a page my LaserWriter 320 shifts the contents 2cm up the page and over the top. It does that with no other software. I sent five faxes to Adobe. No answer. I finally telephoned them in Scotland. There was nowhere nearer to contact. After negotiating with the computer answering system I got to talk to Ross. "It's your printer" he said. "Download the latest driver from the Apple site and all will be OK." So I did - several megabytes of it. Now the printer shifts the contents 4cm. up the page and prints 2 extra blank pages. I rang Adobe again. After a long wait I got to speak to a different person. "No, don't use the latest driver (8.4.1). There are problems with it. Reinstall the older version." Great! More work. He went on to say "You must have a LaserWriter 320. It's the only Apple LaserWriter that doesn't work with PageMaker 6." Wonderful. So what should I do? "Shift the margins 2cm. down the page." I did. Unfortunately, working with small margins, the contents go off the bottom of the page and are cut off by the printer...

Who's for quality?

Maybe what is described above is just a nightmare that has nothing to do with reality. Could it be that what follows is just an exaggeration so as to make a point? Whatever you think, we often seem to accept less than the best in software and on-line services. Try comparing them with a car. How would you feel if you pressed a button on the dashboard of your car and the button promptly disappeared? Well that recently happened to a friend of mine using Windows.

After-sales catastrophe

In a recent article for Hot Wired's Netizen, Jon Katz compared the quality of service of a car salesman with that of computer and software merchants. A real horror story for those who entered the computer shop. The total lack of interest or concern for the customer on the part of the computer retailers as described by Katz must be vaguely familiar to many people. How many of you have felt completely helpless and lost with those incomprehensible bugs when the manual mentions nothing like them and you realise that there is nobody out there to help you?

The never-ending story of unfinished software

At the same time, the never ending story of software, in which products are constantly evolving and never properly finished, has its down side with bugs and quirks. Feeling like an explorer at the frontier is all very well for some, but for most people it is out of the question. Even if you don't dabble in beta versions, you can be sure that somewhere in your most used software there is a bug waiting for you. If it isn't a pre-programmed, unchangeable option that doesn't correspond to your needs.

Flashy complexity ...

Software has become exaggeratedly and unnecessarily complex. To get one up on competitors, software companies add hundreds of gadgets that most users never use. Sales-talk would have it that products cater increasingly for individual needs. Each user can tailor software to fit his or her requirements. To do this most major programmes are stuffed full of possibilities most people don't want or need... These mammoth programmes are slow, take up far too much room, are costly, tend to be unreliable because of their complexity and confuse the majority of users. Do users really want to flash-off the hundred buttons and functions they don't know how to use? Or is it that software manufacturers are so caught up in their battles with each other that they don't see what users want? Wouldn't we better off with light-weight, fast and totally reliable basic units (e.g. a simple word processor) that can call up other elements (a spell-checker, an HTML converter, an e-mail sender,...) when needed?

So who's complaining?

Why don't users complain about the unsatisfactory quality both of products and of service? Is it that they feel they can do so little about the situation? How much can an individual do? Consumer or user organisations play no substantial role in this area. Some users have got together to help each other out by setting up newsgroups or discussion groups but they offer no wide-scale solution. In the mean time, much time and energy is lost at a period when none of us can afford to waste either of them - such is the competition on the work market.

Labels for quality

One possible solution would be to encourage the development of quality labels. How might this be done? Draw up a set of quality criteria: what a user would expect from a particular sort of software or machine. Special companies could test the material and should it meet the standards provide a quality label. If organisations can sell trust by certification, then surely there is a market for the independent certification of quality.

Quality criteria should however be regularly reviewed by users, as our perception and our understanding of quality evolves. Developing quality criteria and associated quality labels directly with users would have the added advantage of making not only manufacturers and service providers but also users more aware of questions of quality.

Alan McCluskey

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ISSN: 1664-834X Copyright © , Alan McCluskey, info@connected.org
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Created: February 17th, 1997 - Last up-dated: February 17th, 1997