Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Fire Your Programmers!

Today's cheerful bulletin concerns two pieces of software that totally stink.

First, I would like to draw your attention to the "Quikorder" system at Pizza Hut dot Com. It does not compare favorably with Papa John's online ordering system. PJ's website is a fast-uploading, easy-to-use, friendly online alternative to ordering by phone. PH's, on the other hand, requires you to wait through numerous slow downloads. Its "store finder" feature doesn't work properly, forcing you to go in endless circles if you're trying to order for carry-out (which is $2.50 cheaper than ordering for delivery, by the way). And it is very difficult to do "price shopping" on a menu that hides the price tag on what you are ordering; trial and error is the only way to hit a target dollar amount.

One one page, if you leave out one vital piece of information while ordering, Quikorder arbitrarily deletes several of your entries before it sends you back to fill in what you missed - so that you tend to keep being sent back to fix something, over and over. The order form forces you to register at the end of placing your order, if you didn't log in to start with; which creates another endless cycle, until you realize that you're trying to use your existing username and password not to log in, but to create a new membership. If you try to go back and log in after starting to place an order, it erases your order and you have to start all over.

What with one glitch or another, I had to start over a good half-dozen times the other night - and finally I had to negotiate a special dispensation with the store where I picked up my order. Pizza Hut's IT people really need to work on this. As it currently functions, the Quikorder system seems custom-designed to discourage people from using it. That can't be good for business.

Another program I just tried to use today seems designed on similar principles. I attempted to use OpenOffice to create a database table. The process was so ridiculously complex, the user interface so hard to figure out, and troubleshooting was so completely out the window, that I eventually gave up and started my project over in Excel. I only regret the time I wasted before I came to that decision. I got so little done for the time I put into it, and even that had to be entirely done over because there did not seem to be a way to copy the contents of my table.

OpenOffice's "Help," typically, required you to know the precise way the programmer's mind was mapped. If I had known that, I wouldn't have needed the help. I was reduced to struggling with pointless little experiments as I tried to figure out how to do each little thing - any of which I could have done without a moment's thought in Excel. I never did find out how to make it possible to type a decimal, such as 3.14, into a record without having every single record showing two decimal places. Don't tell me if you know. I no longer care. I eventually got the message OpenOffice had been trying to send me all along: "Buzz off."

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