A tribute to Steve Jobs

A tribute to Steve Jobs

Back in the late nineties, I was lucky enough to get hold of that most prized of possessions, a Hotmail address with my christian name first, my surname second, and no dots, dashes, numbers or anything else extraneous in between. Purely for illustrative purposes, let’s pretend that my real name is Billy Nugget, and that the address in question was billynugget@hotmail.com

Even then, there were already scores of other Billy Nuggets using Hotmail, but I just happened to sign up at the precise moment the original Billy Nugget either decided not to use Hotmail any more and cancelled his account, or died in a freak dog grooming accident. As I’m sure you can understand, I was very pleased about this fortuitous turn of events (fortuitous for me, that is, not necessarily for Mr Nugget). Partly for convenience sake, and partly because I couldn’t bear the thought of giving up something so easy to remember, I kept hold of this holy grail of email addresses, and in the intervening years have become well acquainted with the idiosyncracies of Hotmail’s service, of which there are many.

For example, allow me to introduce those of you who are not familiar with Hotmail to its ‘Contacts’ feature:

Like other free email accounts (and indeed mobile phones. And indeed, er, address books), Hotmail allows you to store your friends’ / colleagues’ / acquaintances’ / stalkers’ contact details alphabetically. Should you happen to email someone you have not emailed before, or should someone non-suspicious happen to email you, Hotmail will even ask if you would like to add that person’s name and details to your contact list. So far so good, and after more than a decade with Hotmail, I now have getting on for two hundred contacts, some of whom I email regularly, some occasionally, and some I will probably never have reason to email again for the rest of my natural life.

Anyway, let’s assume I want to send an email to one of those occasionals; one of the people whose email address – and this is a key point – I don’t happen to know off the top of my head. As usual, I click on the ‘New’ option on my Hotmail page and a blank email appears. In the ‘To:’ box, I begin to type my friend’s name – once again, and purely for illustrative purposes, let’s call him Harry Pratt. Almost instantaneously, a drop-down menu appears listing everyone on my contacts list whose email address begins with an H: harold.bobbins@gmail.com, horatio-nelson@britishnavy.net, humbert_humbert@lolita.xxx, and so on and so forth. The trouble is, now that I come to think of it, Harry is a bit of a joker, so rather than harry.pratt@gmail.com or harry-pratt1971@yahoo.co.jp or even pratt_harry@dyno-rod.co.uk, his email address begins with crazyharry or bonkersharry or madcappratt or something similarly ‘hilarious’.

Now you would think, wouldn’t you, that the whole point of a contact list – particularly the contact list for an email account – would be to allow the user to quickly access his or her friends’ email addresses merely via the use of their christian name or surname. As anyone with any sense will tell you, it’s far easier to remember a couple of key words like, say, ‘Harry’ or ‘Pratt’ than it is to remember something far longer and more complicated, like xiekdgijdkaoed.23856308386.harold_h-pratt.jr_the-3rd@itsonthetipofmytongue.org, for example. The mind-bogglingly infuriating thing about the Hotmail contact list, however, is that even though Harry’s email address is stored along with his name therein, it is not possible to access that name at the precise moment you need to do so. In other words, the drop-down menu that automatically appears when you begin to type in the ‘To:’ box is not a list of your friends’ names that start with that letter, but merely a list of the email addresses on your contact list that start with that letter, which two things, as we’ve already discussed, have no intrinsic connection.

What I actually have to do in order to get Harry’s email address into the ‘To:’ box of the aforementioned email is to:

1) Save a draft of the email
2) Go to my contact list
3) Go to the H section of my contact list
4) Find the name ‘Harry Pratt’ halfway down the page
5) Click on said name
6) When Harry’s contact details appear, manually copy his email address [my italics]
7) Go back to my inbox
8) Go to my drafts folder
9) Click on the drafted email
10) Paste Harry’s email address into the ‘To:’ box

Now if you’ll just excuse me, I need to pause for a moment and use some punctuation:

#$&’%(“)&=’~}*<+{>?????!!!!!

Call me a remorseless pedant if you like, but surely, after well over a decade of running what is still one of the most utilised email services in the world, the good people at MSN might have figured out that this small but significant glitch in their system could do with being fixed. More to the point, they have probably received complaints numbering in the tens of millions from disgruntled and remorseless pedants like myself: enough complaints, in fact, to make them realise that perhaps the time may have come to sort things out.

One of the obituaries for the recently deceased Steve Jobs claimed that he had a reputation for prioritising ‘form over function’, but whoever wrote this had clearly never used a single Apple product. Sure, I have had my fair share of problems with the various Macs I have owned – malfunctioning CD drives, crashed hard drives, dodgy keyboards etc. – but that never stopped them from a) looking good and b) being easy to use. PCs, on the other hand, a) look ugly and b) are not easy to use, and for this, Mr Jobs deserves at least a modicum of retrospective credit.

So what does this all have to do with Japan, I hear you ask? Not much really, except to say that had Bill Gates been born Japanese, PC and Windows users might all be a lot more satisfied with their Microsoft product user experience, and I might more readily be able to access the email addresses of my contacts, thus allowing me to waste even more of my time on Facebook, Twitter and Badass of the Week.

0 thoughts on “A tribute to Steve Jobs

  1. Re. the contacts / email addresses issue, as I said in my reply to a previous comment, it is now possible to get a list of contacts and email addresses when I compose an email, but not all of them.
    Also in my defence, I have complained to MSN in the past – not about this issue specifically, but during a period when the whole Hotmail service seemed to be constantly on the verge of collapse, and admittedly, things did improve not long after that.
    The PC I use at work is hopelessly old and slow, and I’m willing to concede that more recent editions of Windows may be an improvement. Then again – and to give you another example of the infuriating nature of Microsoft – I hate using the trackpad ‘tapping’ facility on any laptop, and in order to disable it on the aforementioned work PC, had to go through a mind-bogglingly complex process that culminated in downloading the correct version of a trackpad driver, as the laptop’s operating system didn’t even recognise that there was a trackpad on the computer at all, and there was no corresponding menu for it in the control panel menu.
    Apart perhaps from the transition from OS 9 / ‘classic’ to OS 10, I’ve just never had that kind of problem with a Mac, which I think speaks for itself, although now that Jobs has gone, there is a chance the Apple may go bad, so to speak, and their previous attention to detail will fall by the wayside.

  2. Still strange – I get all contacts when I start typing. Maybe it is an Apple issue? 😉 Seriously though, I think you are unnecessarily harsh on Microsoft. Apple design both the hardware and the operating system. If they did not work together better than in an environment where that is not the case, it would be a sign of bad design on Apple’s part. In your case it also seems to me it is the manufacturer of the laptop and not Microsoft that is to be blamed.
    Also, I could give you similar stories about the Apple Powerbook I once used for work. It had endless problems connecting to WiFi, and other than Windows it refused to give any indication of what the problem was. It took ages to boot and froze regularly, and despite being a powerful machine software took longer to start than on a similar Windows machine.
    These things happen no matter which platform we talk about, and all are better in some areas than others. As long as we are speaking about personal experience I find that Apple OS X has worked worse for me than Windows 7, but I would not generalise from that. I fact, the Microsoft platform has worked reasonably well for me since Windows for Workgroups, whereas the one Apple laptop I had was probably the worst computer I had in terms of reliability. Again, that is a personal experience and I’d never generalise from that.
    What I dislike about Apple, on a more general level, is the price you pay for some things appearing to run smoother – locked into one vendor. Why is it not possible, for instance, to upload MP3 files on an iPod without iTunes? That has nothing to do with better user experience. Microsoft tried similar things in the past and has failed (mostly; luckily).

  3. When I compose an email in hotmail and type in the first letter of the person I want to sent to in the TO field, it gives me a dropdown of all people starting with that letter AND all email addresses. Why is my setup different to yours?

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  4. I had another look after reading your comment, and if, rather than starting to type, I instead click on the grey coloured To: ‘button’, I get a longer list that is a mixture of my contacts’ names and their email addresses, although bafflingly, it’s not all of them, just a selection, which leaves me with the same problem I already had. This happens whether I’m using my home Mac or my work PC, so the only possible reason I can think of that my setup might be different from yours is because – tadaah! – Microsoft are rubbish.

  5. Well, I am only an occasional Hotmail user (never liked it, but use one account as a “junk” account), but I have just tried it and when I start typing it offers me both email addresses as well as names that fit what I type. As far as I can see non of my contacts are left out either.
    Frankly, I would be very surprised if Hotmail had an issue like this, but I suggest you email them and see what they say. If people constantly assume someone else will complain about an obvious fault and don’t complain it is now wonder that companies get on with what they do.
    And to make myself even less popular: I have used Apple, Windows and Linux. With the latest systems I don’t see such a huge difference in usability. I prefer Windows 7 or XP over Mac OS X, others will have other preferences. There are certainly issues that are handled better in one or the other OS – for instance, nothing beats the ease of use that Linux offers for updating your whole system and all applications with just a couple of mouse clicks, but overall it seems to me to be a stylistic and personal choice. If you move away from the desktop/laptop area, difference in usability appear to be more pronounced though and, so far my impression, more favourable for Apple.

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