Geek News

It’s the 21st century, and we’ve had personal computers for a little more than 30 years. In fact, modern computing is almost 70 years old.

You might think of computing as a “mature technology.” You would think that we would have figured them out by now.

So why are computers such a royal pain in the butt? Why are they so infuriating, maddening and so damn frustrating?

I’ve worked with computers for almost 30 years. In 1979 I was using computers to analyze drilling conditions on oil rigs, and by 1981 I was working in software development designing user interfaces, and I’ve been using computers virtually every day ever since. I’ve written 50 computer books, project managed software-development teams, tested software and designed software. I know computers.

If anyone can be called a complete geek – or a “power user” – it’s me.

I know how to use computers better than most people, but I’m constantly frustrated by poorly designed software that either doesn’t work or is just unnecessarily hard to use. The last few weeks have been particularly maddening because my laptop has been gradually grinding to a halt. This happens every few years for me. Over time Windows PCs get slower and slower as you install more software. You can uninstall programs and run registry cleaners, but long term nothing seems to help you avoid the inevitable Windows reinstall or hardware upgrade.

I bought a new computer from Costco – a neat little H-P laptop. It turned out that it had a 64-bit version of Window Vista, a bizarre choice for a machine being sold through a warehouse store. As I quickly discovered a lot of existing software won’t run properly on 64-bit Windows Vista so getting up and running on this computer quickly turned into a complete mess. I sent it back.

Next I tried a Gateway laptop, which was great for a few days, though it had a nasty habit of not waking up properly after hibernation. I sent it back once it became totally unusable. It simply would not turn back on. I hope the third time is the charm, as I get my new Dell laptop up and running.

Setting up a new computer is a real hassle – a project that takes several days for me – with all the data transfers and software installs. You’d think that Windows Vista’s built-in Easy Transfer Utility would be a real help. In fact I’ve tried it several times now – a couple of times on the Gateway machine and a couple of times on the Dell. Did I ever get it to work properly? No. Every time it locked up, generally after seeming to work fine for several hours.

I thought I would try Laplink’s PCMover software. Did that work? No, it just locked up with no indication of why or how to get it moving. I gave up on transfer utilities and decided to transfer everything manually.

What other frustrations have I run into recently? There’s a file on my desktop that Windows Vista won’t let me delete. It won’t tell me why or what to do. It just says I don’t have the right to delete the file, as if somehow I should have to ask permission from someone (who?) to delete files on my own computer. Outlook locked up on me yesterday. Not sure why, but I got it running again by opening Task Manager, killing the process and restarting it. Today, however, it stopped sending and receiving e-mail, a pretty important function for an e-mail program.

I’ve had various networking problems, of course. It took me an hour or so, and a call to H-P, to figure out how to get my Dell to recognize my new Windows Home Server shared drives. Although I finally did connect the two, neither I nor the H-P tech had any idea why it wasn’t working in the first place, nor what we did to get it going.

Oh, I have so many questions. Why does Windows Defender keep turning off? Why can’t I open ACT from a networked computer? Why does Microsoft’s Windows Error Reporting interface encourage users to report only partial information? Why does the message in the “Download and install the driver for USB 2.0 VGA Device” box say “Follow the directions on the manufacturer’s Web site,” but not tell you where that is? If I disable wireless networking, why does Vista then hide it from me? Shouldn’t I be able to re-enable it in the same place I disabled it? Why does Intel’s Wireless tools diagnostics utility truncate its results messages? Why does the help file tell me to turn wireless on in the “Mobility Center” but not tell me what or where that is?

Why are so many computing tools designed in a way to convince the world that the computer business is run by complete idiots?

If we’ve had computers for 70 years, in which century will they finally become easy to use?

Peter Kent is an e-commerce consultant in Denver. He’s currently working with e-book software company DNAML,, to introduce its products to U.S. publishers.