Tech annoyances should be a thing of the past
12th Aug 2012 | 09:00
A story of a man, a printer and a Windows install disc
Within the books of Franz Kafka, people have to endure all kinds of unpleasantness. They wake up and they've been turned into cockroaches, or they find themselves accused of mysterious crimes and prosecuted by terrifying bureaucracies.
Kafka was good at imagining the sort of things that could break a man and crush his spirit, but even he didn't imagine the horrors of changing the settings on a Samsung wireless laser printer.
I changed broadband providers recently, partly because my router was so old it communicated with my PC by waving a blanket over an open fire. The printer promptly stopped working - new router means new station ID and new password - so I hopped onto the PC to change it.
No luck: the printer wasn't connected any more, so I couldn't connect to it. No problem. I dug out a USB cable, hooked it into the printer and tried again. Nope. I downloaded about eleventy billion different programs from the Samsung support site and tried to change the settings. Nope. I tried web-based programs and Java applets, driver installs and full software suites. Nope.
What the printer needed was the install CDs, which of course I lost within 10 seconds of installing the software a year ago. In the end, the answer was to download a program that didn't appear to be the right program but that turned out to be the right program even though Samsung said that it definitely wasn't the right program.
Finally - and I'm talking a good hour-plus here - I was able to tell the printer that the old password didn't work any more and that the new password was X.
That was nothing compared to Windows 7. For reasons too tedious to explain - short answer: I'm an idiot - I had to reinstall Windows 7 from scratch on one of my PCs this month. I'd forgotten that it was an upgrade DVD, though, so when I ran the installer it told me to get stuffed.
To install Windows 7 I needed to install Windows Vista first. Braving spiders the size of alsatians in the bit of the loft where all the really old things are, I finally located my Windows Vista DVD and installed it, and after 10 years or so I was ready to retry the Windows 7 installer.
No dice. Unfortunately for me, my Windows Vista DVD was a day-one release and Windows 7 wanted to see Windows Vista with the service pack that Microsoft shipped some months later. I downloaded the service pack, but it wouldn't install - there were too many Windows Updates I needed to download first. Cue many, many hours of installing Windows Updates, then downloading the service pack, then shouting expletives at the PC because an unknown error occurred whenever I ran the installer.
After an entire day downloading random updates, rebooting like a madman, sticking kebab skewers into crude Plasticine dolls of Steve Ballmer and shouting WHY, GOD? WHY?, I finally had a clean install of Windows 7.
I'm supposed to be a professional. If it takes me a full working day, multiple DVDs, a month's worth of internet bandwidth, a constant stream of blasphemy and a string of expletives to print a single sheet of A4 or to reinstall Windows 7, what chance does a non-geek have?
If you think it's bad for us, imagine what it's like for people who don't really care about technology and who aren't particularly interested in how it works. I do a monthly radio tech surgery, where people call, text and email their tech problems and I do my very best to solve them.
With a few exceptions, the problems people need help with are fairly simple ones. In almost every case, the problem people want me to help with occurred because somebody tried to do something perfectly reasonable, such as change the password on a wireless printer or play a video clip, and the computer wouldn't let them.
The problems may be simple ones, but the solutions are often complicated: download this, run that, turn over the money in your pockets three times, dance in the light of the silvery moon and then throw it in the bin and buy a new one.
Even simple things such as rebooting routers are made unnecessarily complicated. For example, if you've got a Virgin Media Superhub, which is simply a Netgear cable router with a Virgin logo on it, the option to remotely reboot is has been removed.
There are two ways to deal with the problem. We can tell everybody to buy tablets, or we can start suspending tech CEOs by the testicles above shark tanks.
I like the second option. I mean it. It seems that the only way we'll get technology that works properly is if we ensure that the men at the top of the tree - and it's always men - have a stake in making sure it works properly. We'll simply dangle the boss of Samsung over the tank and give him 15 seconds to update his printer's password, or get a Microsoft bigwig to reinstall Windows 7 on an ageing PC.
Until tech firms start treating us better, we'll just let the sharks get fatter and fatter.