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The Unusability Study

Richard Topping , Sky's [.tv]

Richard Topping presents Masterclass, a computer tutorial show on Sky's [.tv], the first and only technology channel in the UK dedicated entirely to new technology as an essential part of everyday life. [.tv] is is on air 7 days a week, and is currently available via satellite and Sky Digital, 6.00 - 8.00pm in analogue and noon to midnight in digital.



We are very fortunate this week to have with us Professor Francis Lebowitz, President of the International Institute of Software Unusability. It's thanks to the hard work of the Professor and his colleagues that we all enjoy some of the great unusability features of today's computer software. So tell us what it is that you do Professor exactly?

My name's Lebowitz, not Exactly. But that aside, we are a top secret research and development quango funded entirely by the software industry. Our job is to investigate and pioneer exciting and innovative cross-industry standards in unusability.

What do you mean by unusability precisely?

Look, my name's Lebowitz, not Precisely, alright? By unusability, I mean all of those features in software products that make it harder for you to do what you want to do. For example, all those little crosses and squares and lines in the top right corner of each 'window' on your PC. It's thanks to our research and brilliant thinking that they're so tiny and close to each other, so when you want to minimise something you actually make it bigger, or when you want to make it bigger you usually close it down.

That's very innovative!

Thankyou! But we don't just work on small, added-value features like that one. We do a great deal of research in core unusability issues. For instance, we're the ones who came up with the idea of putting the 'Windows' key on the keyboard right next to the Control button, so that when you're playing certain games and you go to fire, you press it accidentally and dump yourself out of the game.

What can I say Professor? Inspired!

Listen, it's Lebowitz OK, not Inspired.

Sorry. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?

Oh that's easy. It's General Protection Fault at 00001:0001000E8. This is a great feature that you see pretty much everywhere now. We tried it out in a few Windows products in the early Nineties, and it proved so popular we've bundled it free with most applications.

Doesn't that message mean your computer's crashed?

Oh goodness no. Ha ha ha.. Oh deary me no, ha! Ho hoo ha ha ha! Ah dear where was I? Oh yes. Computer crashing no, you see that message comes up completely randomly, at any time. There's absolutely nothing wrong with your PC - in the slightest. But you have to turn your machine off to get rid of it. Simple but so effective!

But isn't that the kind of thing a virus does?

Not technically, although you've raised a very important point. You see as well as developing unusability features, we also write all of the world's viruses- especially the really nasty ones. Problem is, there aren't enough good quality unemployed, socially embittered programmers to write all the viruses the industry needs. So the virus protection companies pay us to write their viruses for them. We sneak our little creations onto the Internet, scare everyone poopless and the world and his wife rushes out to buy the latest anti-virus software. Everyone's happy!

What are you working on at the moment?

Well Richard, right now I've got seven separate teams working on voice recognition software. We've created some great unusability features and we're very proud of them. Try one out! Read this card by speaking in a loud, clear voice into this microphone

OK. 'Welcome to Masterclass. My name's Richard Topping.'

Good. Now read what the screen on my laptop says.

'Hopeless. We come to miss the glass. Mine hay miss wretched hopping.' Wow. That's very impressive. Thanks Professor for coming in.

My name's not For Coming In.

Oh shut up. That's all we've got time for today, but if any of our listeners have ideas for unusability features, Professor Lebowitz would love to hear from you. His institute offers a sliding scale of fees, starting at a few pence for a feature which causes 'minor irritation' up to millions of pounds for anything that triggers 'a complete global economic meltdown'. Tell me Professor, who got your last big cheque?

Bill Gates.

Thankyou and goodnight.

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Last Updated on Thu Dec 16 13:33:16 GMT+03:30 1999.
Copyright © CERN 1999 -- European Laboratory for Particle Physics