Time to air another pet peeve of mine, namely applications that don’t do what they’re supposed to do. I have found very few examples recently, in that I can’t remember any other examples than the one I’m about to write about. I know it’s happened before; I just can’t recall at the moment.
Anyway, I’m enrolled in an English class in which we read William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, and write various reports on each act (that’s just Unit 1). To assist with that endeavor, the course’s publisher, Class.com, provides students with a (not-so; read on) slick little Flash application that acts as a way to take notes within the browser. Sounds quite hunky-dory and very useful, if you ignore the fact that just using a word processor and switching between windows would be easier. Heck, I’d prefer copying-and-pasting the whole text I’m supposed to notate into Google Docs, and note on it there. Or use Word’s split view for it.
The point here is, taking notes with the provided application turned out to be a huge disaster. First, I began typing notes. I soon reached the end of the visible note-taking area (Shakespeare requires a lot of commentary). Instead of scrolling along with the caret (the blinking line), the app just let me continue typing off the screen. I couldn’t see what I was writing, and besides, I was running out of material on the content side. So I scrolled both columns.
Scrolling would seem to be a very easy thing to implement. Given that countless Flash applications display text in a scrollable window, it should have been a no-brainer to copy scroller code from another program written in Flash and use it in the note-taker. But no, they had to go with a totally new approach.
Each column scrolls by dragging a little box with arrows on the top and bottom. Now, one would think that dragging should be all that works. But no; one can click on the box, move the mouse up or down, and it will scroll as well, but only up to a certain distance, at which point it disconnects. You can also drag it, as mentioned already, but releasing the drag results in additional scrolling when you move the cursor away; this extra drag-release scrolling stops at about the same distance as click+move scrolling. So in short, scrolling is a real pain by dragging the little box. And there are no arrow buttons to click, as with a normal Windows/Mac/Linux scroll bar.
Once I managed to get the text on both sides scrolled to a reasonable point, I continued typing, using the formatting buttons as I went. Which brings me to the next section of this rant.
The moral of tTake-Awaye known that for years). And never trust a program that can’t even properly display and manipulate your input to give it to you in an easy or bug-free manner. While the save failure was on IE’s part, the developers of the editor should have put more work into the save feature, perhaps found a way to bypass IE’s Information Bar (which I will now name the Lose Your Work Bar), and prevented this. But before working on the save function, the editor should have been made to be usable.
The fact that users have to mess about with their mouse to display formatting, and can’t scroll without learning a new system, is definitely broken. I’ve seen many a Flash-based webapp that can scroll in response to a mouse wheel or touchpad scroll-track; this one can’t. I’ve seen lots of text-displaying apps that properly update when the text is changed; this one only does so with the help of an obscure selection process. And I’ve seen lots of apps that can save files without losing your work.
Granted, I use Firefox for everything these days, but I am forced to use the Suckernet Exploder because Class.com refuses to make their courses compatible with anything else. Might I add that Firefox just displays a file download prompt, without displaying a bar and reloading the page first? And even if a site attempts to install software, IE will reload the page after you say it’s OK; Firefox just lets you click the link again after whitelisting the site. I know I’m using IE6, and am horribly outdated, but I can’t stand IE7 either. So what am I to do? I know, I’ll uninstall SP2, which is when this Information Bar nonsense started. Can’t do that, though; the trojans’ll get me. I’ll just start using Google Docs or Word for this, and switch between windows. At least I know Google Docs won’t eat all my work with its auto-saving feature.
Update (ten minutes later):
Apparently, I’m not the only one who’s been having problems. The teacher posted an announcement that there have been some issues with the note-taking tool. I’ll say. Perhaps I’ll invite students here to start up a discussion, and maybe even get Class.com’s attention.