Dumbfounded by smart-arse software

By Christian Nielsen

Constant popup reminders telling you to update , or even to scrub your fingernails… Why have computers become such smart-arses?

7 July 2010

I yearn for the days of dumber software – when it just did what it said on the box. That's probably why I love Microsoft Works. It's got all the functions I need and none of the fancy new stuff introduced in recent years that force you to relearn the programs time and again. And it often comes pre-installed on netbooks and their ilk.

Why burden your flash-memory speedster with unnecessary, sometimes costly software?

This rather banal conclusion was reached during a recent purging of C-drive content on my moaning Asus – it would tell me every time I booted up that it needed a spring clean. I ignored its pleas for weeks and then decided to investigate what could be burdening this little beast so much after less than a year's work.

Going back a step, I'll confess that I have not been using Asus' purported 32Gb of ‘hybrid' memory to its fullest. Three-quarters of that is provided through its so-called ‘Eee storage' facility in the cloud. I steered clear of that because I just can't see how Asus, or any other storage platform (Facebook, flickr, etc.) can be relied upon to keep our records as safe as a shoebox in the attic for ever.

So, my cyber doubts left me saving most of the heavy stuff on memory sticks and a separate media unit cum hard drive that was supposed to be my TV-mediated home entertainment solution for the next decade. But it was so painfully slow (apparently no optic cable or something) that I was forced to resuscitate  my DVD/CD player, much to my wife's relief. Sure, I saved the odd article, some downloads here and there and sundry dreaded software updates and add-ons that you can no longer ignore on the 12Gb of flash memory available in the Asus, but that shouldn't have amounted to a chastising message from the operating system every time I switched it on, should it?

Rarely used, clueless why

Eventually, I tired of reading the start-up message, along with all the others popping up nowadays every minute or so to tell me I've got some unfinished business that didn't seem to bother me five years ago. Why is it so flipping urgent now that I fix, update or abrade it? So, I caved in and clicked on the solution offered to try and get back some speed and clear some of the C-drive memory. It gave me several options to do this and I was told after performing a couple of them that I'd almost recuperated enough memory to restore my Asus' faith in me as a user.

What else could I do to please the machine? I went manual and searched in all my work folders for Excel sheets, documents and the like that I didn't need. I deleted them all. I deleted all the old Chronikler blog docs, too, figuring they're securely stored in the cloud, hahem. But my Asus friend was still not perfectly satisfied.

I felt like I was a boy back home trying to please the teacher. A cheeky upstart, granted, but a friend that had held my hand back into the world of impressive gadgetry and a fast, cheap, mobile geezer at that (See Psion of things to come ). So when I'm clearly displeasing this friend, the scolding is real.

Again, I follow Asus' instructions for more options to lighten the load and I'm ushered into a software backroom with apparently every program sluicing the popups, beeps, graphics, firewalls that drive me to distraction. And here I am with the keys to the shop on what I can delete to free up space. An immediate candidate is a ‘rarely used' program – sorry to say it – called Firefox/Mozilla. Deleted. I admit it, I'm not trendy enough to use Mozilla or drive a Mac.

Next, I see all these extra security features I have like Adaware and some search and destroy bot that Christian Bale's Terminator Salvation would happily rail against. The IT guy who removed an embarrassing VD from Asus in January said I had to get those two if I wanted to be safe-cracker protected.

At triple digit Mb weight, Adaware had to go. The S&D bot was lighter but I'll just have to practise more safe memory stick sex and I should never need that. The catch-all cyber security solution I have, called Kapersky, sold itself as one of the best for netbooks and I've come across no evidence to the contrary.

Going down the list of other programs I could remove, I see some Adobe software and, though I'd love to do without it, I know too well I'd regret removing it, despite rarely using it at home. There's also some compatibility software for the professional MS tools which mean I can open Excel sheets Powerpoint presentations, and such.

The temptation to delete that compatibility software, or what ever it was called, was very high. But I've been blasé about such 'uninstalls' in the past and found my computers didn't have sound afterwards, or were missing some other function that I failed to note when it warned me that my action would have catastrophic consequences.

I passed further down the uninstall hit-list, and a sudden wave of fondness crept over me when I reached the Works icon. Trying to understand where this sentiment could have welled up from, I decided that this sub-professional software that you seem to increasingly get preinstalled – because the companies want to avoid being called cheap and ungrateful by their new customer – is probably the best thing for the job. And just so you know, it is a fallacy that anything saved in these MS-lite programs can't be opened or used by their high-priced cousins. Just ‘save as' in the relevant format you need at work or where ever to open it.

There you have it, if you want to keep your netbook friend happy, don't go inviting all these foul-weather friends like Adaware, to your party, or MS Work's snobby relatives, for that matter. It's software dumb-arses all the way for me, thanks!

Published with the author's permission. © Christian Nielsen. All rights reserved.


  • Christian Nielsen

    Christian Nielsen is a journalist, copy writer and editor based in Brussels. He writes pretty much anything that takes his fancy, from the woes of travelling with kids to the dangers of antidepressants, but , EU affairs and science writing pay the bills.

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