Why am I constantly struggling with software?

The dog thinks, the cow thinks, the software user does not think, the software user just clicks.

Sometimes I feel that the sentence above is the motto of many software marketers and developers. I don't know if the problem is with me but I constantly have issues in software. I also stumble on bugs more than my share, but today let’s concentrate on the choices that are left to the user in order to let him work as he please. Generally speaking, I don't mind if default options don't fit my tastes or working habits but I do want to be able to change them. Depending on the philosophy of the software authors, this can range from straightforward to impossible.

This lack of flexibility in software results in plenty of user messages like the following, which I found on forums:
Ironic: "its a feature, you should love it because we think its the right way no matter what the users say."
Exasperated: "Is there anyway to tell LibreOffice to just sit tight and trust me to look for the toolbar when I actually need it?"
Explicit: "They are driving me bonkers."

On the other hand, when an option is supposed to be very easily changed, software developers and marketers often want to make it over straightforward. So they design a gorgeous icon and let it squat your interface. Sometimes they add a tooltip so that you can have a clue in case you are wondering. However, when you are looking for something specific, you might well have forgotten that icon, because the mind tends to filter out constant stimuli.

What I like is options that are searchable using a text string, like about:config in Firefox or opera:config in Opera. AFAIK however only browsers have such lists of options, while text processors and other complex applications would greatly benefit from them. Also I think that even the options that are readily available as an icon in the interface or in the Preferences dialog box should be reachable as well through a searchable list of options.

As you probably noticed, all the more or less useful but supposed to be fancy features are usually enabled by default when you install a new software. That’s one reason why upgrading a Linux distribution like Fedora is no piece of cake, because so many software developers are burning to impress you with the new features, about which they are often the only ones to be excited So if you primarily use the software for serious work, your first task should be to disable most of the features, especially if you go mobile and have limited resources However this requires availability and time to go through the various options. It is more probable that you’ll have to disable them one by one when you stumble on something you don’t like. Sometimes your options get erased upon upgrading, so you’d better keep track of everything you do. By the way, that’s another reason why searchable options with a name like browser.cache.check_doc_frequency for instance are preferable. To remember them, you don’t have to write an instruction manual chapter of the kind "In the Advanced section of the Preference Dialog box, select the Network tab, then under the Connection section click on the Settings button blah blah blah..."

Next time I’ll speak about those dictatorial features that entirely justify the ironic comment I cited above. Among them are the smart selection of words, which by now has infected almost all GUI software to the exception of really great stuff like Emacs, and the infamous scrollable tab bar of Firefox.

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