We wanted integrated packages; We have resolved apps • The Registry

Something for the weekend I have an app whose sole purpose is to launch another app.

Obviously I’m abusing it. You should set up the first app in such a way that it triggers not just one, but a whole range of app services at once. First I let all my apps start. Over time, I realized I didn’t need to run all of these apps at once, so I trimmed the list down to the essentials.

Then I reduced this list to those most significant. More cuts followed, as I found it silly to launch apps that, while most important, aren’t Absolutely indispensable every day.

Now I’ve refined it so that my app launcher launches an app. It might not be a huge time saver, but the license isn’t expiring for nine months and I want to get my money’s worth.

Also, the one app that it does launch is already connected to my other apps and uses them as needed. In fact, I have an app that launches an app… that launches apps.

If that’s not a metaphor for modernism, then I don’t know what is.

But then I don’t have much of a choice. Every little app is a jack of all trades, so you have to tie them into complicated chains just to complete a task.

I’m pretty sure when I started in this field we had software programs that did the whole thing. For example, you would have a word processor that not only records the text you type, but also formats and prints it, not to mention the magical automated features like built-in mail merge. And that was at a time when the level of sophistication in everyday desktop automation was customizing your own autoexec.bat.

I still remember my surprise when I discovered that I could use Lotus 1-2-3 as a simple database. It wasn’t just for manager accounts! You could make lists and type and search text entries! Unbelievable! My best buddy at the time was a Lotus Symphony developer, and it blew my mind that one package could be a word processor, spreadsheet, and database at the same time.

Admittedly, it got a bit silly. I’ve been working on a magazine for Lotus users, and we’ve regularly published hot tips from readers who have found clever new ways to use their favorite office software. We reached the pinnacle of @function when we released a page-long macro that convinced 1-2-3 to behave like a word processor—and a really crappy one at that. It basically made column A really wide and when you filled the cell it moved your cursor to the next cell below. Re-editing and repackaging was possible, but the macro code was so convoluted and intense that the office lights dimmed when you tried.

I left the magazine shortly thereafter. They then rumored to have run a reading macro designed to control the blinking of your Christmas tree lights, and another that allowed 1-2-3 to be used as a pair of socks. Apparently only one of these rumors is false.

But that was the zeitgeist. There has been a lot of talk about object-oriented programming and that in the future applications would be a collection of plug-ins. There was a feeling that integrated packages would be the future.

As we know, the future turned out to be one of decay. Nowadays it’s: apps, apps, apps. Sure, clap along if you feel like doing that, but I’m not sure it makes much sense.

Blame mobile computing, but apps on smartphones make sense, at least in principle. You don’t want a memory hog clogging up everything on your phone at once, so you have lots of small, single-task programs that we used to call “applets”. One to record some notes, another to calculate some numbers; one to convert documents to a PDF, another to view and print that PDF; etc.

The complexity of having to combine all these apps to do just one simple task is considered normal. Take the example of a smart bulb for the Internet of Things: you can turn on your light with your smartphone.

I can turn mine on by gently pressing my finger against a plastic rocker switch on the wall. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s easier than…

1. Reach for my phone

2. Wake it up

3. Find the right app and launch it

4. Sign in with my 256-character password

5. Enter the 2FA passcode that will arrive via SMS seven minutes later

6. Discard the cookie prompt

7. Wait for the 30 second ad to finish a crappy game

8. Tap a menu

9. Scroll down my list of smart bulbs

10. Scroll back up because I accelerated too much while scrolling down

11. Pick the right bulb set and slide that silly slide-style power switch that’s all the rage with brain-dead UX designers, but it keeps slipping back because it seems I’m supposed to tap it instead of sliding it all the way through obviously looks like you have to push the thing to the right

12. Slide, slide, slide, slide, come on, bastard, slide

13. Voila! Your lights come on!

If you think that plugging all of this stuff — not to mention the smart plugs, receivers, and various ridiculous interpretations of what constitutes “remote control” — into the tiny gap between your fingertip and a light switch is technology at its finest, i have a magic wand i want to sell you

None of this mobile app-style complexity should be required at the user level on a laptop or desktop computer. I wonder if we got sucked into the app ecosystem because we were told that if you want to get things done in the cloud, it’s a cruel necessity.

For example, my calendar app has the worst to-do reminders imaginable. How can a calendar not have a proper to-do feature? It would be like having a to-do app that didn’t have a full-featured calendar – which, of course, they don’t have. No they don’t. A list of dates is not a calendar.

So you end up with dozens of apps that only do one thing, but not enough to do an entire task, so you have to subscribe to more.

You can’t buy apps. You can only rent them.

If anything, apps seem keen to point out that you need to connect them to other apps to complete their missing features. Is that a selling point? It seems to me that they are extolling their own inadequacy. “Subscribe to us because we have huge gaps in our functionality that can only be filled by subscribing to other apps!”

Let’s try it, shall we? I properly allow a number of apps to connect to each other.

Now every time I have an appointment, half a dozen other apps burst to life and offer to do a variety of silly things. Not only is there no nuance, these apps can’t even differentiate between a household calendar and one for work-related events. Whether it’s a job interview, catch-up appointment, dentist appointment or booking a hairdresser, it puts you in a frenzy of unnecessary activities.

The sticking point came the other day when my late father’s birthday was coming up again. It’s still on my birthday calendar; why not?

My to-do app created a reminder task for it, although I’m not sure what gift to buy a dead parent. Evernote created a note for me to log the event and gave it the title Meeting: Dad’s birthday. Zoom set up a remote meeting for this – I trust Dad has updated his Zoom client in Heaven and accepted the T&Cs – and Otter tells me it’s ready to transcribe the seance.

Talk about feeling like a room without a roof. But like I said, clap along if you feel like doing this.

we are so excited

Youtube video

Alistair Dabbs

Alistair Dabbs is a freelance tech slut who juggles tech journalism, training and digital publishing. He would like a complete to-do app that not only reminds him what to do, but actually does it. Well, that’s automation. More SFTW here. Other stuff at Autosave is for wimps and @alidabbs.

https://www.theregister.com/2022/08/19/something_for_the_weekend/ We wanted integrated packages; We have resolved apps • The Registry

Laura Coffey

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