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David Pogue: “Piss Off”

Tech columnist David Pogue takes the stage and sits down behind a concert grand piano and sings his version of “Sounds of Silence”, which begins:

hello voicemail my old friend
I’ve called for tech support again

It’s hardly a surprise that David used to be a Broadway performer…

As a columnist for the New York Times, David has a front seat to the frustrations of the world’s computer users. He wrote a column about trying to reach Dell tech support. It got 700 responses in 12 hours, mostly of the form David refers to as “software rage”.

Software rage is on the rise, ironically, because the software industry tries to make things easier to use. As we’ve moved from DOS and Macintosh 1.0, a broader audience has come into contact with computers. And this broader userbase gives some interesting tech support problems.

David got to sit in at the Apple customer support center for a day and made an interesting discovery: they tell you your call may be recorded for quality assurance purposes. But your call will be recorded so they can collect the funniest dumb user stories and pass them around on a CD. (He shares some. You’ve heard them, so I won’t blog them here.)

The problem with software is that it’s too powerful and has too many options. Companies have tried to sell simpler software – remember Microsoft Write? No one buys it – even if no one ever builds a database, but you MIGHT. It’s the SUV principle of software… He shows us Microsoft Office with all the toolbars turned on – you can barely see the text entry box.

He contrasts this to Palm, who have an engineer who “counts taps” – if anything takes more than three taps of the stylus, it needs to be re-engineered.

Taking swings at both Microsoft and Apple, David sings the Bill Gates song:

I write the code that makes the whole world run;
I’m gettin’ royalties from everyone.
Sometimes it’s garbage, but the press is snowed;
You buy the box, I sell the code.

And the Steve Jobs song:

Don’t cry for me, Cupertino!
I still have the drive and vision!
I still wear sandals in any weather–
It’s just that these days,
They’re Gucci leather.

(More songs on Pogue’s site…)

But he’s a big fan of the iPod and the “cult of simplicity”. Despite violating every rule of product design – going up against Microsoft, having fewer features, having a proprietary, closed format – it succeeded because people love simplicity. Simplicity sells – just look at Google.

He shows us Dragon, which he uses to answer email, using voice macros. Responding to hate mail, he says “piss off” and gets a polite paragraph responding to an angry mail. He points out that the most recent version of the software had NO new features – it just worked better, and he thanks Dragon for making it work, not adding more cruft.

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