Monday, 5 January 2015

Less And Less Control Over What My Computer Does

As noted last month, I was facing the deterioration of my laptop after 3.5 years.  Over the Christmas period it got worse, regularly overheating (despite cleaning out the fans) and consequently crashing.  With the sales on, it seemed like an opportune time to buy a replacement.  Knowing that this one is unlikely to make it far into 2018, I spent one third of the money I spent on the last one, so it will not be such a pain when I have to dump it.  The trouble is, now I buy a laptop and it is on Windows 8.  So much stuff is buried far deeper than in the past.  I battled even to change the wallpaper on the main screen.  Everything I do I seem to have to log in and re-log in and verify myself.  Even to play the Mah Jong matching tile game, which is free, I now have to establish an account with Xbox.  I also had to receive a code to my mobile phone, just to play a simple, free game.

What makes it worse is that it is not simply Microsoft which is asking me for verification at every turn, but because I bought a Hewlett-Packard computer, their facilities are constantly on to me to link to its provision often in contradiction to what Microsoft are peddling to me.  They have no appreciation of how I work, they want to connect everything in the way they see best.  This has long been my concern with computers, that these days, the systems patronise you rather than offer the facilities you need, they try to get you to fit to their approach.  With Windows 8, I had to disable a score of apps that I have no desire to use and had to work to put all the stuff I like, such as Word and work packages like Excel and PowerPoint into a place where I could reach them easily without having to dig through recommendations for a New Year diet or trips to places that I could never afford.  There needs to be a setting which recognises - 'this person bought a cheap computer at a sale price, thus he does not have the income to afford all this stuff we are shovelling at him'.

Back in the 2000s if I bought a computer, I bought a tool.  Now what I have bought is a billboard, constantly piling me with extra things I might want to buy and locking my identity into everything.  I got sick of this and so have established an entirely anonymous account unconnected to anything else.  This, however, then bars me from playing the Mah Jong matching game.  The trade is constantly, 'you can only have basic functions if you allow us to keep shoving advertising at you'.  In the 2000s, I paid about the same amount of money and was left alone.  Is such advertising necessary to fund the cost of these machines?  What is tiresome is that I spend more time disabling all these facilities than I actually do working on what I want to work with.  It is as if I have bought a car but on the way to work I have to go by a route chosen by someone else so that I can stop at shops along the way that I have no interest in.  Just wait until the 'updates' start and I have to switch on my computer so that it can simply play with itself for 30-60 minutes apparently 'updating' something that looks identical when it has finished.  Sometimes it deigns to allow me to focus on what I want, but that is never within the first hour of being on.

The other thing is Cloud storage.  The hacking of such facilities is well known and yet I am constantly being pummelled to put my documents and photos into Cloud storage.  Microsoft, Dropbox and Hewlett Packard have all offered me totalling around 5TB of Cloud storage.  Why on Earth would I want to us that?  I am not rich and having bought a laptop I see no reason to go out and also get a smartphone or a tablet.  I would get one not all of them.  Typing novels on a phone is a waste of time; searching for an address when on the move is something different.  However, we are encouraged to see every tool as universal, rather than seeking out the best for what we want to do.  Again, the companies feel they know better than us how to live our live - am I the only one for which that is dystopian?  I am not a teenager and so I recognise that I might be out of step with current trends and indeed have no interest in current fashions in technology.  Then again, I am not a man who would buy a car because it looks good, I buy a car which I hope will work well and is safe.  Companies seem to forget that dull people like me make up the majority and many of us do not even want to try to look cool.  For me a computer is a tool not a lifestyle choice.  If Sony can be hacked, what hope do I have that my Cloud-stored materials will be safe?  If Hollywood celebrities can end up with their photos everywhere, people could send mine around without a second thought.

Memory sticks are leaping on almost on a monthly basis.  Three years ago, I got a 4GB for £29 (US$45; €37) now I can buy a 32GB memory stick for £20,  Yes, you can have memory sticks stolen or you can lose them, but for work stuff, my fiction, even photos, even if I want to use them on different devices, why risk using the Cloud, when I can have them all on a tiny piece of metal affixed to my keys?

What I am seeking, perhaps foolishly, from computer and software companies, is to be treated like an adult.  I want a tool that does what I want it to do.  If I want extra, I can make that choice in time, I do not need to be advertised to every time I switch on.  Indeed, I think they do not recognise that how in so many people it instills hostility to the very things they are promoting.  I want tools on my computer that I can use without going online.  There seems to be a fantasy at Microsoft and Hewlett Packard as with many companies that the internet is universal and always available.  They clearly do not work in the average office let alone try to use it in a cafe.  Having to incessantly connect even to use mundane products, slows the whole process up.  We have long put aside the concept of the 'information superhighway' and know at best it is a B road.  However, these companies seem determined to fill it up with ice cream vans seeking to sell you the latest gimmick. 

Each time I buy a computer, I seem to spend a larger amount of my money on getting things I do not want and finding access to what I do want harder than ever.  Perhaps in an era when utility companies charge you in advance for energy or water you are never going to use, I should not be surprised that as a consumer, despite the apparent 'choice' it is ever harder to get the right tool for me.

1 comment:

Jacob L. Kline said...

Amen, brother. Agree with everything stated herein, and specifically with the frustration at the "internet just exists everywhere" stupidity, as I do not usually keep a connection in my home, and never a fast one. This currently presents itself most often in the form of help files located on the internet. -_- Information B-Level road! :)
As for O/S consideration, I'm currently on Linux Mint, (because it was already on this $75 laptop,) and find it much better about not being loaded down with bloatware. I recommend PC-BSD to those who want a stabler alternative to Linux, along with the underlying FreeBSD kernel compatibility with linux binaries, aka precompiled programs, aka programs. Both of these Windows alternatives offer pretty good windows program compatibility with WINE, formerly called Windows Emulator, (though it isn't an emulator but a compatibility layer- LOL sorry- it's more efficient as such... ;])
Anywho, I could go on a long time about Open Source alternatives, but they do take an investment of time to research and learn over an extended period, to be sure.
The way I see it, the powers that be in the software industry are continuing down an apparently one-way road toward their own ends, and by their own means, and none of it aligns much with what the average intellectually mature end user seeks and requires of his digital technology. Sadly, I do not believe that their motivations can ever be purely the same as those of the users, which is why I prefer the meritocracy of open source software, incidentally.