Monday, December 05, 2005

Bad Design Dept.: WinXP and Flash Drives

When I stick a SanDisk Cruzer Flash Drive into my XP machine's USB slot, I get a succession of 4 (four) messages on the task bar telling me -- in stages -- that my system is recognizing and eventually has recognized the drive. Each time, I need to click on the message bubble to make it go away. Finally, I get a dialog box asking me to choose among several diferent tasks I might want to perform on the flash drive (display picture, play a movie, etc.). I have to make this too, go away. Annoying as heck. When I stick the same Flash drive into a Mac USB port, the drive simply shows on on the desktop as a drive, thereby letting me know -- visually -- that all is okay. All I need to do then is to click open the drive and use it like any other drive.

Why have Microsoft's designers -- in their infinite lack of wisdom -- decided to do it this way? If the system is smart enough to know the nature of the device plugged in (flash drive, camera, MP3 player, etc.) why should it present me with irrelevant choices that would either annoy or confuse me, depending on my level of expertise?

Even more annoying is the procedure for unplugging the drive. You need to right-click on the flash drive icon on the task bar, when you get the message, safely remove hardware. Next, a dialog box comes up with one or more icons on it, depending on the number of devices plugged into various USB ports. In this case, I get one icon with the legend, USB Mass Storage Device. Those same words are repeated outside of a box on the same window with the additional explanation of at location 0. I have no idea what that location is, and I don't care either. The lay user would be needlessly confused by this.

But wait, there's more! I need to click on the icon, and then on a Stop button. Whereupon, I get one more dialog box now with three icons with the following labels next to them:

USB Mass Storage Device
Generic volume - (I:)
SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB Device

Which one of these am I supposed to click on? Why weren't these choices presented the first time? Anyway, I am guessing the right answer to be SanDisk Cruzer Micro USB Device, which I select and then click on an OK button. (BTW, it turns out that it doesn't matter which icon I click on; the result is the same, making the whole idea of presenting choices moot.) Magically, all three icons and their respective labels disappear and then another message appears on the task bar telling me it is safe to remove the flash drive. I still need to close the message box by clicking on the Close button.

Now, that is a lot of work to just remove a flash drive. How does it work on the Mac? One of two ways:

1. Drag the flash drive to the trash can. You can then safely remove the drive.
2. Open the hard drive and click the eject icon next to the flash drive. The flash drive icon disappears and you may then safely remove the drive.

That's it, no unnecessary messages. Why, again, have Microsoft's designers insisted on this approach? I suspect that flash drives and other removable devices just sneaked up on them; they never anticipated the use of devices that are frequently plugged in and removed after short-term use. So this tedious procedure is the best workaround they could come up with.

Will Vista be any better? Stay tuned.


Anonymous said...

This is why I just yank the thing out of my computer, damn the consequences. I've never lost any files off my camera or flash drives so I've been lulled into thinking its safe. But I suppose it will only take one vacations worth of memories ruined from my PC to really make me hate this removal delema... but maybe I'll keep yanking it out of my PC all the same until something better comes along.

The funny thing is, despite all these pop-ups and dialogs that you describe, the USB device works great without any user input. And simply automating the removal process should be easy, its not like we have to enter any codes or there is a magical sequence of buttons that changes from case to case, and removing the drive is quick and easy once you've navagated to the right spot. It's just a case of Microsoft being lazy. All the technology is there for them to operate much the same way Mac does but they simply don't focus any development time on it.

This is pretty common with MS, however. For all the crap I give Jobs about being artsy fartsy and making things too pretty, MS has a hard time tearing themselves away from the bells and whistles long enough to make something more usable.

Murli said...

I don't ever want to risk either losing data or frying my flashdrive -- I've fried two so far.

Given MSs alleged 95+% market share, the amount of human time and effort wasted is phenomenal. Enough to warrant a class action suit. It defies reason why they need to do things badly given that they can -- and do -- hire the smartest computer professionals in the world. Note how they slacked off on Internet Exploder once they had killed the competition. Laziness? It seems to be entirely a cultural thing. Don't improve anything unless there is a wolf waiting at the door. It's not as if MSofties are fat and contended. They seem to put in 14 - 18 hour days when required. Again, I think it is a mindset problem: either you are committed to excellence or not. And MS clearly isn't.

Anyway, thanks for dialoguing.


Venkat C said...

I had brought up the usb interface on one of the boards with linux 2.4 kernel and belive its very simle. As soon as I connect the usb device, the device is recognized as a scsi device and a directory is mounted. User can copy over files to this dir like to any other dir. Then, when the usb is removed (hot plugging/unpluggin) the dir is unmounted. thats it. As simple as that. Absolutely no user interface needed.
why do these big companies screw up on such small things. funny world this.:)

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