Software Mysteries (or: the rants and raves of a tech blogger)


I have installed and tested many hundreds of software titles since (and before) I started publishing this blog more than five years ago, and have a few observations that puzzle me that I wanted to share.

For example, I see an excellent, polished program that talented developers have spent many hours working on, but that nonetheless lacks a feature that seems obvious or even essential. What is stranger, however, is that it frequently happens that most of the similar titles in the same genre will miss the same feature as well.

And although this post might seem like a whiny list of complaints (guilty as charged); to my defense I will claim, and those of you who frequent this blog can probably confirm, that generally speaking I try to be upbeat and to emphasize the positive features of the software I write about. My main goal here is merely to present an interesting list of observations.

1- Why so many video converters don’t stick to correct aspect ratio resolutions

For example, in most video conversion program you will find resolutions in a dropdown that offer the following sizes: 640*480, 640*360, and 640*XXX, etc. Assuming that one of these corresponds to the correct aspect ratio of your video (which is in itself a leap of faith), the others would produce a converted video that is unnaturally altered and unwatchable. (You see these wrong aspect ratio videos all over YouTube).

So the question is why don’t these programs offer a single 640 entry that automatically calculates the other dimension and doesn’t bother the user with it. Who in their right mind would want to use such programs in a way that alters a video’s aspect ratio anyway?

2- Why so many video converters don’t automatically calculate bitrate based on desired file size

Most video converters ask you what your desired bit rate is, but how many people can come up with an answer to that question?, especially when bit rate means absolutely zero to 99.99% of the population. Many video converters now avoid that question in favor of a quality slider, but fail to relate quality to file size or (less importantly) to encoding speed. Some recent “ minimalistic” converters make a virtue of not asking anything, which to me is not a solution at all.

The more relevant question to most people is the size that the converted program will be once it is done converting. Every video conversion program should either (a) ask users in some way what the file size is they want to end up with, and calculate quality and bitrate settings accordingly, or (b) directly relate bitrate and quality issues to a visible file size calculation or slider.

Oh, and btw offering a calculator somewhere in your program where users can calculate bitrate on their own does not quality as a solution.

3- Why I cannot find a program that lets the user determine the frame used for a video thumbnail.

Surely this exists. Many video files I have feature a black screen or similar crappy thumbnail, but how to tell Windows to use another frame instead? If you know how to fix this please let me know.

4- Why despite the fact that there are 1,00,000 “Youtube” and other video downloaders out there, a new one seems to come up every day

Who are these people who are downloading YouTube videos like crazy? Why would you download from YouTube when you can simply share a link with other people, link to a video on Facebook, embed the video in your blog, etc? Moreover, YouTube now includes download links to various versions of a video, so why are these programs so popular?

Which is not to say that I will not review more of these types of programs in the future, but only if they can download any kind of video from anywhere, including encrypted videos, and only if they are really nice.

If you want to download videos from the internet I have one word for you: BitTorrent. If you want a Torrent Client, I recommend this one.

5- Why so few freeware screenshot capture programs offer a “redo last capture” option. This is an option that I really need and use, but is consistently missing from most screenshot programs.

This has become the first thing I look for in a screenshot taking program, and, if missing, I move on. The only free programs that do this that I know of are PicPick, Screenpresso, and Screenshot Captor.

6- Why the ubiquitous “add transparency to windows” function that so many Windows tweaking apps offer?

I am guilty of writing up software that does this on this blog, but aside from the novelty of it, does anyone need to make a window transparent? Yes, semitransparent windows can look cool for the first 5 minutes; but in practice I find few things more annoying.

7- With so many tabbed launchers and docks out there; why don’t some of these offer the option to link to a folder and automatically grab/display its contents within the tab.

The paid version of Objectdock does this, but doesn’t do it too well. It seems like a good challenge for all those programmers releasing yet another dock to differentiate their software.

8- Why don’t any clipboard managers have an option to “switch off in application x”

In my previous job I worked with huge amounts of data (think hundreds of thousands of rows across many columns), mainly within MS Excel and SQL Server Management Studio. I also liked to use clipboard management programs, but invariably what would happen when I copied and pasted massive amounts of data either (a) the clipboard management software would cause my computer to freeze up and become unresponsive, and/or (b) a huge amount of data would unnecessarily be written to the hard drive, unnecessarily cluttering my then small and space-challenged hard drive.

The solution would typically involve my disabling the clipboard manager before working with these programs, except that I was working with them virtually all the time. Which begs the question above: why can’t I just tell the clipboard manager to not deal with data when it is being clipped from certain programs, to completely switch itself off only for those programs that the user can specify.

Note that I have seen clipboard managers which cap the data clipped at a certain user-specified size in megabytes; this went around the disk space problem, but strangely this did not seem to completely solve the lagging performance problem.

9- Why 95% of free virtual desktop apps do not let you to sort your icons into different desktops.

The only one that has support for different icons on different desktops is Dexpot, but even in that one it feels as if that function were added later on as an afterthought.

It is a mystery to me who more virtual desktop apps set out to do this as an integral part of the program, with, say, context menu entries that can be used to shuffle icons/files to different desktops, etc.

10- Why more local search engines aren’t like “Everything”

There’s a reason why “Everything” is the first entry in my “Freeware Top 30”. This program for local file search is simply awesome, and a good part of why that is the case is the fact that it does not scan the hard drive to build its database, but rather uses the raw Master File Table for NTFS drives, which logs all changes made on the partition.

But I’m always on the lookout for other, similar search programs that might use the same technology, but may may be prettier and/or offer more features (such as file deduping), but they never seem to come. What gives?

11- Why people still believe “Registry Cleaners” can help improve their PC’s performance

Actually, it’s not that registry cleaners cannot improve performance; its just that the potential improvement, if there is one, is likely too be extremely small, and comes coupled with a very big likelihood that the registry interventions will mess up the PC in ways that aren’t immediately apparent and that aren’t easily reversed.

I know I have reviewed a number of freeware registry cleaners on this blog, but I have avoided these in recent years. I would be very interested in a tight, scientific comparison of these performed on a number of different problematic PC’s

12- Why the GTD (‘Getting things done’) methodology remains so hot

Despite writing reviews of many, many, GTD “inspired” task management type programs, and despite reading up on the subject and being able to talk about it in a seemingly intelligent way, I have not seen GTD make a difference in my life, and the GTD inspired apps I wrote about did not end up “sticking” for me.

I am still looking for a way to organize myself and help me be more productive, and still use the ‘lists’ concepts from GTD; heck, I’ll probably even jump up to review the next GTD influenced app. But I harbor no illusions that it will change my life (in that respect, let me share this article, which is the best thing that I’ve read lately that is helping me be more productive).

But the answer to this question is a single word: Lifehacker. They more than anything else have made it uncool to be a geek if you don’t at least insert GTD every so often in your speech. As a geek myself two words come to mind: enough already!

13- Why “1- click system optimization” tools are so popular

I go to CNET or and invariably one or two of these tools is high up the popularity charts. Occasionally, I will get an email asking why I don’t have program x featured on my blog. Here are are reasons: (1) I don’t know what these programs do exactly, and (2) I do not have an objective way to measure the results.

I suspect, in any case, that what the do is a little bit of hard drive cleaning, a bit of tweaking of Windows settings to make it seem like things open faster, and a bit of registry cleaning (of varying quality). In short, a bunch of B.S that can mostly be done with CCleaner. Personally, I’d rather do each one of these things individually, so I know what’s going on.

14- Why so many Web 2.0 music services are concerned about the “mood” of a music track.

For example this one and this one. But does ANYONE really say: “I want to hear some sad music now, now I want to her some happy music, now I want to hear ‘just woke up’ music”? No. They don’t. People like certain kinds of music, and gravitate towards certain individual songs or artists, and they don’t think about it much.

Ok, I guess 14 is enough for now. I will now start collecting more observations like these for the next post Winking smile.