Monday, July 5, 2010

It’s new, but is it improved?

I’m having one of the busiest holiday weekends ever. Why? I suppose it’s because FedEx delivered a chunky Dell desktop computer on Tuesday, for my home office pleasure, and I’ve been loading it up with software I “need” ever since. So it’s no surprise that I’m thinking this week about new technology.

First there’s the question of cell phones. Faithful readers may remember that I identified myself as a “cell phone refusenik” in a prior blog post. I don’t own one, and I’m not keen on the prospect of always-on reachability (I know, I know, the things have off-switches ... but carrying a leash is carrying a leash, even if it’s loosely fastened).

In any case, I had breakfast with friends about a week ago, one of whom is a serious gadget geek (S-- programs mobile apps for a living), and conversation turned to the question of what sort of pocket device I might migrate to when when my trusty old Palm T|X gives up the ghost. It’ll probably be a phone -- PDAs are pretty much over, after all -- and S-- was showing off his Android device. He’s not interested in owning an iPhone, which we also talked about; and that led me to e-mail a friend & colleague later in the week to ask why she recently made the iPhone-to-Android switch. That exchange led to Quinn Dombrowski’s thoughtful blog post, Why I’ve walked away from Apple. When I shared Quinn’s post with S--, he forwarded a link to the most hilariously snarky video about iPhone obsession, iPhone4 vs HTC Evo, from tinywatchproductions (complete with pottymouth dialog, in a South Park vein). LYAO funny. Thanks to S-- and Quinn and tinywatchproductions, I guess I won’t be getting an iPhone anytime ..... ever.

Then there’s the new Photoshop CS5. I don’t know anybody who uses it, but Matthew Sun blogged about it last week. That’s what brought a feature tour video to my attention. The video demonstrates just how easy it is to falsify digital images with the latest tools from Adobe. Scary stuff. It makes Winston Smith’s “memory hole” seem so ... 1984.

So meet the new Google Docs interface. I’m with the complainers in this thread, hoping against all odds that Google brings back the old one. Yes, yes, the new interface & features make it far easier to collaborate on documents and spreadsheets, even in real time, as explained by’s Jolie O’Dell, or in the embedded Google video. But in its bid for compatibility with Microsoft's Office suite, Google Docs has mucked up one's ability to simply copy-paste into Blogger's editor. Formatting cruft everywhere.

This content-producer isn’t sold.

Which brings me to installing new software on my just-born Windows 7 desktop. So, okay, the latest Microsoft OS isn’t so bad. It’ll take some getting used to, given that I like to know where to go, fast, to tweak this or that feature ... there’s inevitably a learning curve, but c’est la vie. Technology changes. I know that.

However. With my brand spanking new computer I bought a brand spanking new copy of Microsoft Office. Office 2010.

OMG. In a word: “bloated.” In two words: “hella bloated.” This is truly an interface from Ghenna.

Now, granted, I’m a stick-in-the-mud when it comes to productivity software. I’m most at home with a 13 year old version of this suite (I’ve also used Office 2, 95, 2000, 2003, and 2008). Microsoft would have done the world a favor, or done me a favor anyway, if they’d only gone as far as ‘97. See for yourself, on the Beast from Redmond’s Word 2010 features and benefits page.

Too many bells, many too many whistles. Maybe they should have called it Cubicle 2010, because it makes the user feel boxed in and at sea, both at the same time. By the way, there are six more, equally dense “ribbons” found at the top of the other tabbed menu views.

Yet all I want to do with the document-producing part of a productivity suite is write. Produce pages of text. Get an assist every once in a while with my aweful sppeling. You’ve got to wonder whether it makes sense to buy a menu-rollback add-in. I’m thinking about it. (I’m also thinking about finally making the switch to OpenOffice, which I’ve tried in quite a few of its evolving versions over the years. Version 3.2 is looking pretty good, especially in comparison with Cubicle 2010.)

The “improvements” new software technology brings to our digital lives ... not any particular improvement, but the whole kit and kaboodle. On average, are they truly improvements?

The whingeing Luddite in me is doubtful. What do you think?


  1. Testdrive something steve !
    Some of the programs by Apple are just simpler up front with as
    much complexity as you want behind/underneath...
    The iPod touch has wifi and is a good stand -in for a palm/no contracts etc...
    It's very tricked out w the new iPhone 4 software ...My recc to you...

  2. Thanks, Karen. Actually, I have test-driven a fair bit of Mac software, including analogs to Word, etc. (I have a MacBook I use for work, have used it for a bit more than two years). No objections per se, but I'm not a convert.

    The iPod touch is something I've thought about. Time will tell....

  3. Steve,

    I enjoy Charles Strosser's blog for a writer's perspective, and he wrote something nice on the subject of writing tools a few months ago:

    I'm thinking you might enjoy his blog if you aren't already.


  4. Cliff --

    Nice reference, thanks for that. No, I hadn't followed Stross's blog before. Great comment thread on that post as well.

    I wrote my "senior paper" (culminating project for a B.A. in English) using vi, back in the early 80s, because it beat the heck out of a typewriter.

    CS got it right about "long -- but structurally simple -- text documents" in the matter of novels. It's what makes programs like Word or Pages so bloated for my usual purposes. KISS is definitely the principle to follow. But then there's the matter of sharing with agents & editors -- "the need to exchange documents" as Stross put it. Bottom line for me: if the technology is one to which I'm acclimated, and it's not the core issue in a project, moving from a usable technology to a perfect one isn't a battle I want to fight. The first commenter on Stross's post, jwz, put it well: Your choice of a text editor is kind of like a tattoo, isn't it? After a while you have to look back on that decision you made when you were fifteen and realize, "yup, that's just never going to go away."

    I write novel mss. in one-file-per-chapter form, and merge them when it's time to print or send electronic copies. Sometimes chapters get moved or excised as a unit ... I find them easier to deal with than whole-mss files, no matter how spunky the software I'm using. I also use Subversion for self-protection purposes (saving old drafts of files, maintaining history through the comment logs) ... but not for svn -diff sorts of comparisons. I've rarely had occasion to resort to it, but am glad it's there just in case. When you've got years of work bound up in a long, structurally simple text document, you don't want to lose it....


  5. ps I forgot to mention that there is a hilarious video (made by the same guy) that argues the other way.

    pps vi is also burned into my cerebral cortex...

  6. @Cliff -- Nice: a clever misanthrope, good for bidirectional laughs. I think I'll stick with my antique Palm T|X for now.