Thursday 1 December 2005

It's not Mr Gates's fault.

Look at this. I mean, just bloody look at this:

Microsoft Outlook includes a feature ...

A what?

Microsoft Outlook includes a feature that blocks attachments that are considered unsafe.

... Although Outlook blocks access to the attachment, the attachment still exists in the e-mail message.

This article discusses the methods to use if you have to open an attachment that has been blocked in Outlook.

Oh, OK. As long as there's a way around it. What do I have to do? Just change a setting in the options or something, like with opening Excel macros?

Use one of the following recommended methods to open an attachment that was blocked in Outlook:
  • Request that the sender post or save the attachment to a file share and then send you the link to that file share.

In other words, don't use Outlook; use some other software. Not ideal.

  • Request that the sender use a file compression utility that changes the file name extension.

In other words, Outlook can't do this very simple task; you need to use a workaround to compensate for Outlook's uselessness.

  • Request that the sender rename the file name extension and then resend the attachment to you. After you receive the renamed attachment, you can rename the file with the original file name extension.

In other words, here's another, slightly different workaround, again used to compensate for the fact that Outlook can't perform this very simple task. I'm beginning to spot a theme here. The two choices offered so far are: don't use Outlook, 'cause it doesn't work; or trick Outlook, 'cause it doesn't work. Remember, this is a "feature".

If the previously recommended methods do not meet your requirements ...

Frankly, I'm astonished that they meet Microsoft's requirements.

... use one of the following methods:
  • If you are in a Microsoft Exchange environment and your administrator has configured the Outlook Security settings, ask the administrator to modify the security settings for your mailbox.

Well, I am in an "Exchange environment" (why can't they just say "using Microsoft Exhange"?), and I'm working for a software firm: we obviously don't block programs in emails, since we are programmers. I know the problem here isn't Exchange, because I could receive attachments a couple of weeks ago, before I "upgraded". The problem here is Outlook's bloody defaults.

  • If you are not in an Exchange environment, modify the Windows Registry to customize the attachment security settings.

Modify the Windows Registry? Are you bloody kidding? That's the solution? Jesus wept.

For anyone who doesn't understand the full implications of this, Microsoft helpfully spell it out, repeatedly:

Warning Serious problems might occur if you modify the registry incorrectly by using Registry Editor or by using another method. These problems might require that you reinstall your operating system. Microsoft cannot guarantee that these problems can be solved. Modify the registry at your own risk.

In other words, there now follow some instructions on the only way to get Outlook to work properly. If you follow these instructions, which we are providing to you, you might break your whole operating system. If you do break the operating system that we designed and built by following the instructions that we're giving you, don't come crying to us. It's nothing to do with us. We weren't even here. We know notheeeeng. La la la, we can't hear you.

Now, don't get me wrong: Outlook's a brilliant bit of software. But every upgrade is a downgrade. Outlook used to do this; now it doesn't, and it's been deliberately engineered so that the only people likely to turn the feature back on are programmers and other IT-savvy types. It used to work for everyone, in the way that good software should. Now it's been crippled for the ignorant. And we all know why.

Because someone gets an email from someone they have never even slightly heard of which says

hi their !!  heres the file we discused  !!!!!!

and they think, "Well, I'd better double-click on this attachment as soon as I possibly can." When the warning pops up that tells them that, hey, this attachment might be a virus — you'd better be damn sure you know the person who sent it, they just click all the "Don't worry; of course I know what I'm doing" buttons. Then, when it turns out, quite astonishingly, to be a virus, they blame Microsoft.

I'm not one of those IT snobs who looks down on people who don't understand computers. I don't blame anyone for failing to spot, for instance, that an email attachment has two extensions. The problem isn't people who don't understand IT. The problem is people who simply abandon every last bit of common sense they ever had the moment they sit in front of a keyboard. If a total stranger walks up to them in the street, says "Hey, nice to see you again! Here's that package you wanted," and tries to give them a bag, they get the hell out of there and call the police. But when the same thing happens by email, it sets off zero alarm bells.

I always remember, a few years ago, listening to Radio 4's Today program the morning after that ridiculous anti-Microsoft verdict was announced. They read out some listeners' opinions, and one woman said

If this means I no longer have to use that awful Microsoft Word, then I'm all for it.

And people really think like that. Despite Microsoft hinting very heavily that use of Office is not compulsory by charging people a hundred quid for it, lots of users still think that they have to use it. This woman — and she's not atypical — thought that Microsoft had to be broken up into a group of smaller, separate companies by legal fiat in order for her not to buy a particular piece of their software. In much the same way, since Rover went under, I no longer have to buy and drive their cars. Which is handy.

I can understand Microsoft's exasperation with these idiots and their unfortunate need to cripple their own software to avoid bad PR. But I wish they'd bring out two versions of all their software: the current version, or perhaps one even more crippled and useless, and one that comes with a disclaimer you have to agree to that says "When I ignore sensible warning messages, the results are entirely my fault" and that does stuff.

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