By Al Fasoldt
Copyright © 1998, The Syracuse Newspapers
The people who make software must think we're dumb.
They show us a message when we're installing programs that tells us to choose "Typical," "Full" or "Custom" installations. Who can blame us when we pick "Typical"? Yet that's nearly always the wrong choice.
We're not dumb. All of us are smart enough to make our own choices, but only if we know what those choices are.
That's the problem. And that's why "Typical" and "Full" are nearly always wrong. The problem? You're not shown in advance what will be installed if you choose "Typical" or "Full" (or "Standard," another term programmers like to use). Only when you check "Custom" will you find out what's going to happen.
The minions who create software must be from Mars. Here's an example of how untypical "Typical" installations can be.
When you install Windows 95 or 98 and choose "Typical," you don't get Quick View, one of the cleverest little programs in modern history. It takes up almost no memory, is always available (by right-clicking an icon, for example) and lets you view all kinds of documents you get via e-mail or from Uncle Ned's floppy disk collection.
And that means, of course, that most of you don't have Quick View on your Windows PC, even though it's available as part of Windows. You paid for it but you're too dumb to use it—so say the programmers who decided a "Typical" user wouldn't know what to do with Quick View. (Open the Control Panel, choose Add/Remove Programs, choose Windows Setup, then Accessories. Check the Quick View box to install it.)
Obviously, "Typical" is a relative term. But so is "Full," even though you'd think it means "everything." But what is "everything"? You have no way of knowing what you're getting. "Everything" might include stuff you already have—yet another copy of Internet Explorer, maybe, or your fifth identical installation of the Adobe Acrobat Reader, to name two common examples. Or it might include items that are just plain junk.
That's why the only choice that makes sense is "Custom," because it's the only way to get the programmer to ‘fess up. "Custom" shows you a list of items, with checkboxes to the left of each one. You can pick and choose the components you want.
Don't do this in a hurry. The other day I had to reinstall Word 97 on my wife's PC, using her Office 97 CD-ROM. All we wanted from the Office suite was Word 97. So, being Mr. Genius, I choose "Custom" and checked Word 97. I left the other choices blank. There was a checkbox for Excel, one for Outlook 97 (we use Outlook 98), one for Access—you get the point. There was one called "Office Tools," too. I left it unchecked as well.
The next day my wife wanted to know what happened to her spelling checker. It not only didn't work—it didn't even show up on the menu.
I spent two hours tracking down this new bug in Word 97. I teach people how to use Word and know most of its bugs, but this was a new one—spell checking that had the ability to come and go as it pleased.
Alas, time to get out the Office 97 CD and reinstall Word 97. Surely that would take care of it. It asked me if I wanted to repeat the previous installation and (Mr. Genius, remember?) of course I agreed.
I won't trouble you with the rest of my pain and suffering. More long hours hunched over the keys, more probing into the code, more head-scratching and oath-saying. Still no spell checker.
Back to the Office 97 CD. This time Mr. Sheepish took over and actually looked at al the choices. Word 97? No spell checker among the components. In other words, when you install Word 97 and nothing else, somebody who makes a whole lot more money than you do and knows how to spell the words "bad joke" has decided that you don't deserve a spell checker with Word 97 -- unless, that is, you are clever enough to figure that the spell checker for your word processor is a tool.
As in "Office Tools." Everybody ready? Hammer, pliers, spell checker!
There it was, under "Office Tools." Installing it took only a few minutes.
My wife's back to speller heaven and I'm Mr. Genius again. Just don't ask me to install a word processor for you.