A Little Courtesy, Please

eLABorations: Overbearing, intrusive programs sap system resources and user patience

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In my years of writing reviews, Ive used a lot of different criteria to judge products, from features to capability to performance. But when it comes to my personal use of software, one criterion is starting to outweigh all others. All I want is a program that doesnt annoy me.

You know what I mean. Im talking about applications that upon installation place icons all over your desktop, take away file associations, and insist on running at start-up. Im talking about applications that are constantly trying to upgrade themselves and are basically a constant annoyance on your system.

It has come to the point where I will choose a capable, courteous application over a potentially better but more annoying application.

Probably the biggest offenders in this area are the media players. Real Networks Real Player paved the way in this area, with its useless Start-up Center, its upgrade checker that cannot be turned off permanently, and its habit of changing file associations.

While Real is the worst offender, none of the competitors are much better, with QuickTime constantly bugging you to upgrade to the Pro version, and Windows Media itself a big file association stealer (and if youve upgraded to Version 9, forget about uninstalling it). Even the previously benign Winamp is becoming much more annoying—a clear result of its acquisition by AOL.

AOLs influence is also seen in the Netscape browser. While Netscape and Mozilla are functionally equivalent, Netscape is much more annoying, adding a whole slew of AOL-related icons and applications during a default installation.

Anti-virus software is another big offender. I have long been a user of Symantecs Norton Anti-Virus, but finally decided enough was enough. I tried my best to customize the installation so it installed only the way I wanted it to, but it still wound up taking over whole portions of my system and adding capabilities that I didnt want. I recently switched to the less functional but also less annoying F-Secure Anti-Virus, and have been very happy with the switch.

Most vendors will argue that these things improve usability for novices, making it easy for them to access features and keep their software up to date. If thats the case, why is it so hard for experienced users to customize the software the way they choose?

Many of these annoyances actually downgrade overall usability for users. How many times have you helped a friend who is complaining about poor performance on a new system, only to find that they have 20 or more update, quick start, spyware and other useless (or worse) programs that run automatically and eat up system resources?

What it breaks down to is that these companies want control of their product even when it is on your system. Im sorry, but from now on Im only letting software on my system if I can control it.

What do you do about annoying software? Let me know at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.