Help Desk World
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computers were invented and software problems began, we’ve started every
problem solving dialogue between user and expert with the question “What
version are you running?” That the user usually responds with the enlightening
“I dunno…” is the reason support staff, still have jobs.
makes a living at the fine art of fixing computer problems has learned that
verifying version numbers is the most crucial step towards finding a solution.
This learning was neither speedy nor easy. The certificate of learning hanging
on the walls of computer problem solvers are printed on skins of hundreds if not
thousands, of wasted hours solving problems already fixed in the latest release.
solvers who live by the big picture understand the following. If a problem
happens once, it’s a problem. If it happens twice, then it’s annoying. If it
happens three times, it’s a pattern... Fix the pattern.
version question first, is a good solution to the problem of varied versions in
the user community, but it isn’t the best solution. The best solution is to
make sure that only one version is in use.
Internet was pervasive, this solution was only a pipedream, but now that it’s
almost ubiquitous, it is time to stop messing about with multiple versions.
the entertainment industry leads the way. Magic the Gathering™ is a trading
card game and Wizards of the Coast Inc. is the company who created and
distributes it. They are in beta test of a facility which will allow players
from around the world to play the game online. They currently have more than
ninety thousand play testers registered in the system and at any instant in time, close
to a thousand players are active.
explaining how the game works in too great a detail, suffice it to say that
there are about 10,000 unique cards, each with its own attributes and rules of
play. All these cards interact with each other across about two dozen areas of
influence important to game play.
mix, add in the ability to trade cards, a central repository of approximately 1
billon cards, the ability to re-establish an active game if one of the players
is disconnected from the system for a few minutes, several different versions of
multi-player games and a tournament structure. What you have is a nightmarish
project. One where asking ‘what version are you on’ isn’t the right
approach to problem solving.
solution they’ve come up with is very simple. Each time you log onto the
system, your version of the client application is automatically updated.
You’re not given a choice. You’re always on the most active version of the
software. There is no longer a need to ask ‘What version are you using?’
for those applications where access to the Internet is not a mandatory
requirement of the software, this would obviously be more of a hindrance than a
solution. I should not have to login to the internet to use a graphics or
spreadsheet application, but other products would appear to be missing an
opportunity to reduce the workload at their call centers.
products I use on a daily basis come to mind. E-mail and Browser applications.
Personally, I’d prefer it if these products maintained themselves without
getting me involved, essentially I’m bone idle and believe in letting the
computer work so I have more time to think. Unfortunately nothing is ever
simple, automatic updates pose some problems.
updates for a game seems to work, because the user and developer have a fairly
well defined and agreed upon goal, ‘Make the game work.’ Business
applications on the other hand, aren’t so constrained in their scope.
example, if my e-mail application does not do anything about SPAM today, do I
want it to start deleting SPAM tomorrow without being involved in that decision?
What about coarse language censors? What if the application provider decides to
add a stock ticker tape to my browser? What if the upgrade adds nothing I value,
but chews up another megabyte of memory… forcing me to upgrade hardware for
the 17th time?
advance of technology has this annoying habit of introducing solutions in one
area that are totally inappropriate in another context.
Peter de Jager is a speaker, writer & consultant. Contact him via [email protected]
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