Why is the Microsoft HTML Engine an embedded module at all?

It occurred to me sometime in the night that someone should really spread the word about the power of modular programming at Microsoft. Maybe even talk about web services. Okay, I know the folks are Microsoft are actually really great people and are definitely smart. (I still think they need a few more hunchbacks, though.) But really, why are there two HTML rendering engines at all? And, why are they embedded in applications? Why isn’t there one rendering engine?

It seems like basic (no pun intended) software design. But, then, I’m definitely a hunchback.


Not-So-Minor Annoyances: Slow Open (and Save) File Dialogs in Microsoft Products

I spent some time today hunting down why using the Look in: field in the open and save file dialogs in Microsoft products murders flow. The “fix” is even more annoying than the problem.

First, the problem is caused by disconnected network mappings. Second, the “fix” is to remove the disconnected mappings. Brilliant.

For the love of petunias, people. We’ve been a mobile society since even before the PC.

I’m posting because it was somewhat difficult to find the actual cause. There was a wealth of aren’t-I-smart replies that were totally useless. “Press Ctr-Alt-Del and see what’s using all your processor time.”

If anyone knows of any tweaks, please, please, please, let me know. Otherwise, would someone slap an MS developer upside the head and suggest they fix it? Pretty please?

When a vender spends a lot of time envisioning the house of the future but can’t seem to imagine that I will use my notebook on different networks and will not want to have to recreate my mappings every time I move around just baffles me.

Or maybe this will be in Web 3.0?

Programmers aren’t the only ones who suck at user interfaces

I recently saw a notice posted in the front lobby at a client’s office. The notice gave directions to a room where a class was being held. I was struck by the relative complexity of the instructions and sympathized with an attendee trying to remember the details as they navigated the halls.

This example of a “user interface” illustrates a couple of interesting things:

  1. Too much information too early in a process can actually impede communication rather than facilitate it.
  2. It’s hard for any “expert” to think like someone who is inexperienced…not just programmers. So cut us a little slack! We’re only human.

I noticed this because it’s far more common, it seems, to post simple directional signs with the name of the class, for example, and an arrow pointing in the direction one should go, at the spot it’s necessary to know the fact. In other words, direct the person when they need to know.

This is of particular interest to me because I work on a web-based module that requires my client communicate a lot of very dense information to the target audience. The inclination is to put in more words rather than fewer. I sympathize because it’s an inclination I share, but I work overcoming it. Whether in personal relationships or program interfaces, I struggle to find a balance between words and silence. I suppose it’s a little like the spaces between musical notes. Thelonious Monk and Erik Satie are two composers who exemply the practice of making the silences between notes count as much as the notes themselves.

Hm. I think Thelonious Monk will be on the CD changer today.

On being treated like a criminal

One of the things that really gets my shorts in a knot is being treated like a Bad Guy without any cause. Case in point: automatic rejection of emails.

More and more legitimate emails are being either rejected out-of-hand or returned with a message that the sender (me) has to double my work because the recipient isn’t willing to deal with their own spam problem.

Spam is a problem, and I sympathize, really I do. But to treat everyone by default as a spammer is insulting, not to mention short-sighted. (I am being polite in my choice of adjectives starting with the letter “s”.) Why short-sighted? People aren’t getting emails they’ve actually requested or that are in response to a process they started.

For example, one of my fall back error handling routines on a web customer’s site allows a user to email me an error report. Sunday afternoon I got just such an email, found and fixed a bug, and emailed a reply to the user telling them they should try again. The reply bounced with the message that the mailbox doesn’t accept any email from unexpected addresses.

Even if I squelch my human reaction of feeling slapped after responding quickly to a bug report, and on a Sunday, it’s irritating, and has caused me unnecessary work. And, the user, who had waited until the deadline to do this task, doesn’t know that the problem is fixed; was fixed, actually, within an hour of getting the report. That will cause him extra work. His very human, very likely reaction will be frustration with the system. And round and round we go, because a small number of people feel righteous in perpetrating nearly all the spam we’re forced to deal with.

This same website has the ability to email account holders password reminders. I’m frequently getting automated responses from accounts that say the following:

I apologize for this automatic reply to your email.

To control spam, I now allow incoming messages only from senders I have approved beforehand.

If you would like to be added to my list of approved senders, please fill out the short request form (see link below). Once I approve you, I will receive your original message in my inbox. You do not need to resend your message. I apologize for this one-time inconvenience.

Click the link below to fill out the request:

Now, allow me another gripe: this is supposed to be an automated system, and the user has asked for this email. It’s automated, sent via the SMTP server on the website and the user will have no way to know beforehand what email address it will come from, even if they remember to add the address to their “approved” list.

Frankly I don’t have the time or the inclination to beg permission to send email to someone who as already asked for it. Is that snarky? I admit it. (I did say my shorts are in a knot, right?)

This sort of bounce seems to come exclusively from Earthlink. They used to be my ISP years ago until I became disenchanted with their service. This sort of thing doesn’t do anything to improve my opinion of them.

What in the world are they thinking? Some people are trying to intelligently build rules for filtering the majority of spam using Bayesian filters. Others are building tools tools that at least helps up cope with it. Earthlink’s option is the equivelent of razing the village to save the village.

Honestly, I wish people would consider how much they might be compounding a problem, or causing new problems before implementing a solution.

Is Earthlink the only ISP/Mail host using this technique? What do you think about it? Perhaps there is some positive aspect of it that I’m not seeing. I’ll be hard to convince, but I would be interested in hearing the other side.