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Electronic Design

What’s All This Microsoft Stuff, Anyhow?

A wise man once said, “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.” If only that were true. I kept asking my old Lenovo laptop to do things, and when I asked again, I often got a different result, which is very annoying.

For many years, my experience with Microsoft was simple. I logged onto MS-DOS-3.06, which was adequate to let me turn on PC Write Lite from Quicksoft in Seattle (now gone, alas) and do some ’processing. It never gave me much trouble.


I have never used Microsoft PowerPoint, nor Word, nor Excel, though I have heard bad stories about their gross errors, user hostility, and flakiness. After I had to give up on PC Write Lite, I used a Sun Solaris workstation, which was pretty weird. Then I used Mozilla and Thunderbird for a while. They were pretty good amateurish pieces of software. But when they got buggy, I had to give up on them.

My Thunderbird e-mail program and the whole computer would lock up as “Not Responding” for 52 seconds every five or 10 minutes, making it hard to get work done. At NSC, we had several crackerjack PC repair guys. They would ask if McAfee was causing the computer to lock up, and the computer would reply “no.”

But one of the experts was suspicious. When the computer said no, he didn’t believe it. He checked, and sure enough, McAfee really was tying it up. We never did find out if it was the PC itself or the Microsoft operating system or the Mozilla or the McAfee to blame. Or maybe it was the allegedly corrupt contents of a file. We couldn’t tell.

So, I was hoping that a fresh start in the 21st century would give me some modern and competent software. I got a little suspicious when I learned I was getting Microsoft Office Outlook 2003, but I was assured that it would give me a mature and stable system. So, I tried it.


We finally got Outlook working on a Thursday night. It ran okay on Friday and Saturday morning. But then it decided to not let me send myself a spare copy of a memo I was sending. Repeatedly. Then it said that my e-mail address at the time, [email protected], wasn’t a valid address. On Sunday, it demanded my password, which it had not asked for previously. And when I gave it, Outlook refused to accept it. I had to wait until Monday to get this fixed. (Rebooting didn’t help.)

What else? If I pushed a draft of an e-mail into save and shut the computer down, the draft often couldn’t be found in the drafts file. But it could be found in the sent file. That’s not a nice thing, for a computer to send out a draft that isn’t properly finished or polished.

When I hit send, the message sometimes got sent, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes it just sat in the outbox and refused to go anywhere. I had to do a workaround, copying the text into a new e-mail in Thunderbird and sending it from there.

Using a nickname to obtain a valid e-mail address sometimes worked, and sometimes it didn’t. Sometimes if I asked for “rap,” it would give me [email protected] Other times, it gave me the address for Rapolu, Kavitha without showing that [email protected] was a choice. Sometimes starting an address finished up fine, and other times, it went elsewhere. Can “Ctrl k” help you finish an e-mail address? Sometimes yes, but not always.

When I type two spaces between two words, sometimes the word processor gripes because it considers that an error, and sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes when I type a dash, I get an em-dash, and sometimes an en-dash. The stupid software seems to think it can just do what it wants to do, and not what I want it to do. That’s why I do most of my typing in Thunderbird, which does not have such random quirks. Outlook also has learned to go “Not Responding.”

Recently, the expert at NSC told me I had to shut off various programs in a particular sequence before shutting down the computer. I asked him where it said I had to do so. He typed this advice out for me, so I could see it on paper. But even when I did follow that sequence, the computer would goof up at times.

I looked in several books to learn neat shortcuts, but the ones they showed me weren’t useful. The ones I had found that were useful weren’t even in the $80 books or in any cheat sheets.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is always assuring us that it is “devoted to the idea that every person should fulfill their happiness and their potential.” Yeah, but we could reach our potential a lot better if we didn’t have to use such lousy, buggy software. A lot of this software is just a t--d in the pitcher of the milk of human kindness. When people ask me if I’d like to have a thousandth of the money that Bill Gates has, I reply that if I had a thousandth as many people cursing me as there are cursing him, I wouldn’t consider it a fair deal.

Comments invited! [email protected] —or:
R.A. Pease, 682 Miramar Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94112-1232

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