Why can’t it ‘just work’?…

(subtitled - Isn't technology supposed to be making our lives easier? Simpler? Less complicated?)

I hear that all the time - why can't it just work? I say it all the time - why can't it just work?


I am watching TV last night. Actually I am watching a PVR recorded episode of 'Lost' when all of a sudden, the cable/DVR box shuts off. Just that. Nothing else. TV is playing. Surround Sound is powered up. All the lights stay on in the house. I turn the unit back on, go the PVR list, select 'Lost', and hit resume.


For the record, I am with Millennium Cable, and everything about their service is horrible. Despicable customer service. Horrific pricing. Unbelievably high number of service outages. But I am locked in because they are the ONLY cable provider that services my area. I can't get OTA signals for HD, and because of the trees and hill where I live, Dish and DirectTV can't get a signal. So I am stuck.


When I finish, I realize that 'Ugly Betty' is recording in the background so I go grab a beer, come back to the couch and start watching 'Ugly Betty'. Forty minutes in, the recording stops. It never finished recording. BitTorrent can be your best friend.

So my wife mentions to me that she was going to watch "Grey's Anatomy" from last week and it wasn't in the recording list. I check the Series Recordings and sure enough, "Grey's Anatomy" is supposed to be recording. So I spot check....'Scrubs', 'The Office', 'My Name is Earl', 'The Deadliest Catch'.....all show up on the series recording list, none of which have been recording.

Why can't it just work?

My wife and I went with my neighbor this last weekend up to the Skagit Valley to check out the Tulips Fields. We bring our digital camera of course so we can take pictures of these fabulous fields of tulips. I even buy two separate packs of AA batteries to make sure I have enough juice.

Field #1 - Camera turns off, but as soon as I press the shutter button, it turns off. I swap batteries. Same thing. Swap batteries again. Same thing. Batteries appear to be fine, camera just seems to have remapped the power off button to the shutter button.

Why can't it just work?

I am playing my XBox 360 yesterday afternoon - 'Need for Speed: Most Wanted'. I am running my way through the 60 or so maps in the challenge series. I am somewhere between maps 30-40 driving the Pizza delivery car (slow!) in a Tollbooth Challenge. I am about 3/4 of the way through the track, coming over a hill and I see the horizon, then more horizon, then more horizon, as I crest the hill, the game freezes up. (note - this is the ONLY XBox 360 game of the 1/2 dozen or so I play regularly that has ever frozen up).

Why can't it just work?

Last week I am at a hotel with free wired Internet access. I decide to check email and fire up the laptop. I get to a desktop, I open IE, the spinny spins.....and spins....and spins and then......404. I start jumping through the hoops of troubleshooting before ultimately calling the support number conveniently located on the placard on the desk. Resolution? Unplug the "router thingy" under the table, count to 5, plug it back in. Now it works.

Why can't it just work?

Last One.....

I am in airports a lot. I always use the check-in kiosks when possible to avoid talking to the overly stressed out counter reps. It is almost always faster too, even if checking bags. Almost. I swipe my ID, select my flight, verify my seat, select the number of bags I am checking, then......."UNABLE TO COMPLETE REQUEST - PLEASE SEE COUNTER AGENT". 35 minutes later I am told "Huh, I don't know why that happened". Here is your boarding pass. Have a nice day."

Why can't it just work?

Microsoft is not exempt from this. I have a laundry list of Microsoft products and technologies I can run through here as well. And I will in time. But I think it is only fair to speak to the product teams before I do. Maybe I am not configured correctly. Maybe my machine has some other conflicting issue. I am going to eliminate those possibilities before I post anything here. But I will post about it.

The purpose? I am growing increasingly frustrated with the complexity of technology and how difficult it is to get what should be ultra simple things to work properly and consistently in today's world.  I can write a letter to my cable company, the airlines, the hotel Internet provider expressing my frustrations above, but unless a few thousand other people do as well, not much will come of it. I work for Microsoft though. I should be empowered to effect change within this company and in the products and technologies we provide to......everyone.

It should just work.

I have my list of things I am going to go to the product teams about. What do you want me to go to them about? Hit the comments. Email me. Call me.



Comments (7)

  1. jeem1 says:

    Static build-up?:-p

  2. I rely heavily upon TechNet events, webcasts, and virtual labs to stay current on the Microsoft stack. Chris is often the presenter when I attend the TechNet Quarterly Briefings.

    Microsoft UK Evangelist Eileen Brown recently asked for feedback on a couple of Harold Wong’s Exchange series webcasts http://blogs.technet.com/eileen_brown/archive/2007/04/19/watching-webcasts-on-exchange.aspx). Since she mentioned me by name, I provided her with my feedback in Word documents. I gave Harold solid nine’s on my evaluation form. I also documented what I consider to be defects in many aspects of the user experience in viewing the webcasts.

    I also recently completed the Vista Express Virtual Labs http://www.microsoft.com/technet/traincert/virtuallab/vista.mspx). I prepared and sent a PowerPoint presentation to Anthony Tsim at the Virtual Labs. None of the evaluation forms I filed on those nine virtual labs contained a single nine. While Anthony has acknowledged that many of the issues I raised in detailed follow-up evaluations were valid, suggested that we talk and even meet up to go over the issues, I haven’t heard back from him despite three phone calls and detailed follow-up evaluations on fifteen additional virtual labs.

    Since blog comments are not formatted to handle my Word document feedback to Eileen or my PowerPoint presentation to Anthony Tsim, I’ve emailed them to Chris. I hope that they will provide him with some talking points to discuss within the TechNet teams.

  3. Anonymous says:

    http://stewedprunes.com/blogs/stewed_prunes/ For those that followed the Stewed Prunes blog… you may

  4. Jim Maher says:

    It won’t "just work" because reliability isn’t a product development priority.  Neither is price.  And that’s our fault.

    All consumers want "more and better".  They vote with their purchase of the most bells and whistles.  When comparing products, we look at the longest feature list and never ask for reliability statistics.

    We’re even willing to pay more for new wizardry, even if it costs us performance (Aero?).

    I’m beginning to believe its a combination of greed, boredom and laziness.  We want more.  We demand stimulation.  We refuse to learn.

    So your cable company gives you more channels and a PVR, not greater reliability.  Your digital camera maker gives you more pixels, more buttons, more settings, more "automated features", not greater dependability.  Your game developer gives you more visual stimulation, even if it occasionally locks up.  Your hotel gives you "free" internet access (I always look for it before booking), but you never demanded that it work.

    Applications don’t work, aren’t integrated with other application features and certainly don’t interoperate because those things don’t sell.  They may help with customer retention or – god forbid – customer satifaction, but they aren’t flashy.

    Cancel your cable PVR.  Take the camera back to the store for a refund (good luck).  Mail your game back to the publisher and demand a refund (but don’t hold your breath).  Refuse to buy Vista and Office 2007 (as many are seriously trying to do).  


    Jim Maher

  5. pete gilbert says:

    Well, at least somebody can go "speak to the product teams" about their issues.  I often feel terrible for the average PC user — I feel bad enough being a tech and having random, unforeseeable issues and having to google the issue to death until a workaround/solution is found.  Gee, bet Vista is going to help that situation… NOT!!!

  6. Chris E. Avis says:

    Robert – I received your email and will spend some time reviewing the docs before forwarding to the appropriate teams. Please follow-up with me on this at your leisure.


  7. Chris E. Avis says:

    Susan – Wonderful meeting you for the first time last week!


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