Monday, November 19, 2007

Honest Deception

I was going to do a rant on some of the deliberate flaws in Excel--I've got it half done, but I can't manage to make it interesting, so there it sits.

This morning, I opened my mail to find an "Item Expiration notice" from Godaddy. A vague product descripton about "Complete Email Renewal", with no mention of the domain name this is attached to, then dire boilerplate warnings about losing your domain. The "item" in this case is webmail for a domain I bought my daughter as a gift a few years ago, but it would be difficult to know from the mail they sent.

Excel has a bunch of "flaws" that make it difficult to work with .csv files. .csv stands for Comma Separated Variable, a simple way of storing tables in a text file The one I deal with the most is that you have to jump through hoops to get it to retain leading zeros in numbers. Most of Microsoft Office makes it difficult to use the file formats of older versions. One of the versions of Word (2000, I think) would let you "save as" Word 97 format, but you had to do that every single time-It would not save in the original format without being told, and it would give an error "This file already exists, do you want to replace?"

Sony's minidisk players were amazing in their day--When MP3 players had limited and expensive memory, their minidisks were a fraction of the cost of flash. However, they had a major flaw--They used a proprietary format. Eventually they came out with a player that said "MP3" in big letters on the packaging. When you got to the fine print, there was software to convert MP3 to the Sony format--Very buggy, and when it did work, it was extraordinarily complicated.

I'm convinced that this sort of thing is deliberately designed to be confusing. In Microsoft's case, it makes it difficult to use older versions of files, therefore difficult to avoid upgrading to newer versions of their software. Godaddy could easily explain exactly exactly what you are about to lose, but instead you have scary messages--Better to just pay the $10 rather than risk losing the domain. Sony shows the conflict of buying hardware from a music company--The hardware side knows consumers want MP3 hardware, but the music label side hates the MP3 format.

These companies are being honest without being ethical.

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