Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Thank You, I Don't Care

Occasionally computers just beg for me to smash their monitors. One laptop in particular tempts me to split it over my knee. The guilty laptop has the misfortune of running Windows XP. On top of this outrage, IT manages it.

What drives me crazy are the little cartoon alert balloons that periodically pop out of the task bar to bother me. "A network connection was lost." "A troublesome USB device is still troublesome." "A new program is available." IT installs a new virus patch or spam filter and suddenly it becomes OS priority #1 to convince me to run it. Thank you, I don't care.

Why must windows behave like some dumb sidekick? "Golly Mr. Holmes, you just installed a new text editor so you can write programs." Thanks Watson, get lost. Who is he narrating to? I think most people know what installing a program does.

That might sound picky of me to complain about the stupid cartoon bubbles. But here is the thing: it distracts me. When I'm focused on some knotty engineering problem, distraction is enemy numero uno. No, I don't care that a USB device is working just fine. Now it will take me 15 minutes to get back into the zone.

And don't get me started about the few cases where I manage to ignore the bubble. Eventually I get to a good stopping point and it fades just as I start to read the message. What if this message was actually important? "Your building is on fire. Escape while you can!" I guess I'm doomed since I don't know how I can check on messages I missed.

So yeah. I know that I'm not the first person to complain about this (there are ways to stop the balloons), but here is my suggested fix for all the operating systems out there that want to alert me to issues that aren't urgent. Put it in my email inbox.

Why? First, my email client already has filtering and search capabilities built in. No need to reinvent the wheel for that. Second, I expect worthless messages to appear in my inbox. I would feel good knowing that all my annoying correspondence lands in the same place. I'm prepared to handle the situation when I find useless stuff in my email: I delete it.

When I'm working neck-deep in a complicated bit of code, I'm not prepared to deal with a lost network connection. It happens all the time in Windows, I'm not surprised, and I don't particularly care. Send it to my email. My filter will arrange to forward the message to Steve Ballmer. Or in this case you'll have to send the mail when ten seconds later you find the network again. Please don't cover my workspace with silly messages.

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