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10 technologies that are just plain broken

Certain systems, software, and technologies simply don't work very well. In fact, some are barely usable. See if your biggest annoyances made this list.

Let's face it. There are bits and pieces of the IT world that are simply broken, and we rarely want to come out and admit it. Well, some don't. I, on the other hand, am not in the slightest bit afraid to step forward and point the finger of shame at the creators of technology and say, "What you produce is broken!" I tend to get a lot of backlash for this (and an equal amount of praise), but I do continue on. And with that said, I want to bring to you 10 pieces of technology that are just plain broken.

Photo copyright © iStockphoto.com/digihelion

1: QuickBooks

If ever I have met a technology that I love and hate equally, it's QuickBooks. Here's the thing: When QuickBooks works, it's great. But when QuickBooks doesn't work, it's a nightmare. There are few pieces software out there so finicky about their network connection. The slightest hiccup can cause QuickBooks to give up the ghost; and when QuickBooks gives up the ghost, bad things can happen. When bad things happen in QuickBooks, valuable data can be lost. And we all know how bad clients are about backing up data. It's a sad, scary circle of suffering that can spiral into a hefty bill for a client. The biggest problem with QuickBooks is that when it breaks, sometimes the only resolution is to reinstall. But even in the reinstalling, things go wrong. Did you do a CLEAN uninstall?

2: Acronis

Similar to QuickBooks, when Acronis works, it's great. When it doesn't work... it's a nightmare. And unlike QuickBooks, Acronis help is not so hot. The error codes rarely offer anything insightful. When it breaks, the logs tend to be too cryptic to help. And to make matters worse, ABR11 was a major step backward. Although Acronis tried to introduce new features, as well as roll in features from Echo into ABR10, the result had me uninstalling and going back to ABR10 on many clients.

3: Ubuntu Unity

This is a hot topic among the Linux crowd. Although the idea behind Unity was good, the execution of the idea fell flat. You can compare the release of GNOME 3 and Unity. Both were drastic changes to the desktop metaphor, but only one of those had any success: GNOME 3. The ideas were similar, but GNOME 3 enjoyed more stability and more flexibility (thanks to extensions). Ultimately, I believe Ubuntu needs to scrap Unity and either migrate fully to GNOME 3, give something else a go (such as Enlightenment),or make Kubuntu or Xubuntu the default.

4: Flash

Flash has always been a problem. It's been a security issue, a performance issue, a platform issue, and a headache in general. This really hit home when many of my clients began upgrading to Flash X. All of a sudden, crucial elements of their jobs no longer worked. In most instances, I had to roll those clients back to Flash 9. The issues with Flash go well beyond performance and features. For many, Flash is also an ideological nightmare. Be it performance, features, bloat, platform wars, monopolist grasp on Web content, or what have you, Flash has been, and will continue to be, a broken technology.

5: Pulse Audio

Pulse Audio is yet another broken Linux technology. Even on latest distribution releases, Pulse Audio is still problematic. On one machine I use I can either listen to music with Banshee or play Flash (see above) on the Web. Problem is, if I do one, I have to jump through hoops to get the other to work. The complaints regarding Pluse Audio are many and widespread. Do a search for "pulse audio sucks" and see what you come up with.

6: Web browsers

In general, Web browsers are horrible. One does one thing right, one does another thing right, and one is a security nightmare. But many Web developers seem to want to design for just one of these browsers! The Web browser is a critical piece of business software --- of that there can be no doubt. With so many Web-based tools, we must use browsers constantly. But when Web browsers are broken by design, it makes the simple act of working a real hassle. The problem with Web browsers today is that the developers are so busy trying to attract users with new features, they forget to fix the features that are broken. It's the same ol' song that has been playing since the 90s and it seems it will never change.

7: Outlook

Outlook is the standard by which the majority of corporations and companies judge their email. But truth be told, it's a standard full of broken. I should actually preface this by saying, "When used with Exchange." Although there are Exchange Ninjas who can certainly set up that magical box and have it running like a champ, they are few and far between. And when Exchange is set up poorly, Outlook has serious problems. On any given day, I am met with client after client whose Outlook can't connect to their Exchange server (set up by their internal IT).

8: Predictive typing

I don't care what mobile platform you are using, predictive typing is horrible and tends to cause mistakes than it prevents. There is even a site dedicated to funny predictive typing errors. Until this smart phone feature is fixed, I'll keep it disabled. Tanks yule verily mulch.

9: Consumer-grade antivirus

Some business-class antivirus tools actually work (Symantec Endpoint Protection being one). Outside of that, it's pretty much a crap shoot. AVG? No thanks. McAfee? Are you kidding me? It seems no matter which antivirus solution you have on a machine, something is going to get through. Most consumer-grade antivirus does more harm than good. One of the few exceptions I have found to that rule is Microsoft Security Essentials. Other than that, your best bet is to either use OS X or Linux or unplug that PC from a network.

10: Desktop multi-touch form factor

Multi-touch screen technology is fairly new. It works so-so on tablets, but when you try to move that technology to the desktop, it doesn't work. Why? Because of the human body. We are accustomed to (and have the technology for) standard monitors, which use a mouse and keyboard. Although this is not ideal for the human wrist, shoulders, and back, it's far better than reaching out to a monitor to use multi-touch. What we need is a desk with a built-in multi-touch display on a horizontal surface. This position would be far more natural and ergonomic than any other and would really help make multi-touch feasible and desirable. But for now, multi-touch on the desktop is nothing more than a gimmick.

More candidates?

None of the above broken technologies is going to bring the world to a halt (at least we hope). But each one can cause headaches, derail productivity, and stop work altogether. Are there other current technologies you think are broken and in need of serious (or even just moderate) repair? If so, share your thoughts.

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

361 comments
JAWoodward
JAWoodward

Windows 8 allows you to use the Metro GUI or the traditional Windows desktop as default if it's the users preference. I have no idea where this idea that people are going to be locked into using Metro comes from. The future is clearly going to be a shared OS across the different platforms, not just Microsoft but Apple too are going down this route.

conspiritech
conspiritech

unity (or perhaps all of ubuntu 11) was essentially unworkable for me. i don't know maybe it was the bluetooth mouse, but nothing else has had a problem with it. i never quite got around to getting zenwalk or arch up and running so i was using windows or mac laptops for a good six months, until i discovered bodhi linux, which has been excellent. and i rely on ubuntu discs for doing grub repair/reinstalls but that seems to have become unreliable after ubuntu 9 and broken completely in 11. it couldn't even install and run ubuntu on one dell (though windows still booted right). bodhi linux has worked flawlessly (almost, sometimes applications crash, but they crash clean and in predictable situations, like everytime logging out of gmail for midori). zenwalk works well and its grub installer detects the more popular linux types, and has better wireless in my experience than others bar ubuntu, only difficulty is the lack of (?) a system update function. i will never go back to plain ubuntu after my experience with 11.

neetathakre1234
neetathakre1234

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abdielt03
abdielt03

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bigceebin4
bigceebin4

QuickBooks is an accounting software, with many different variations. I myself am the CFO of a DoD contractor and we solely rely on QB for all of our accounting needs. Not just in our main offices, but also in a few retail locations we have on military post throughout the world. (In which case we use QBooks Point of Sale) The program(s) is easy to learn, easy to use, and very flexible in terms of backing up, transferring company files, handling large amounts of data input, ability to edit past entries, etc. As long as it is set up correctly the first time, the rest is a breeze. It all depends on the version one, or a company, runs for their needs. If you select QBooks Enterprise for a $1million company that repairs computers, odds are they are in over their head and will be a mess.

snookempookems
snookempookems

I have Windows Vista and IE9 and everything has slowed to a crawl (especially opening my email). What browser would work better? Please help me before I heave my laptop across the room!

technomom_z
technomom_z

How about just the ability to hear a crystal clear voice conversation over landlines and 3G/4G networks? It amazes me that in this day and age, about the only services from which I can hear a crystal clear conversation from both ends are those where the conversations take place 100% online on a proprietary system - Skype, Google+ Hangouts, or other 100% VOIP service. Compare conversations on those services to the voice service you PAY for from Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile or any of the big U.S. coast-to-coast voice providers. Why does voice service still stink?

Brian.Buydens
Brian.Buydens

I would like to humbly submit Microsoft Word to this list. I constantly find when I am writing documents that I must budget time for "Fighting with Word." During breakfast today I had a particularly aggrevating session fighing with numbered bullets. While searching for solutions I found a vitriolic diatribe describing my basic frustrations with Word. Only this diatribe was inspired by Word '98. Its been a long time since we had a decent word processor.

ScarF
ScarF

Extract from Wikipedia: "Technology is the making, usage, and knowledge of tools, machines, techniques, crafts, systems or methods of organization in order to solve a problem or perform a specific function. It can also refer to the collection of such tools, machinery, and procedures. The word technology comes from Greek (technologa); from (tchn), meaning "art, skill, craft", and - (-loga), meaning "study of-".[1] The term can either be applied generally or to specific areas: examples include construction technology, medical technology, and information technology." Is Quickbooks or Acronis a technology? I doubt so. They are tools. The technology is behind them - OOP, OOD, the know-how about accounting/financial applications etc. What about web browsers? Nah. Simple rendering applications for HTML and other stuff. Aaah, indeed, HTML is a technology but, the player isn't; same as the blu-ray being a technology but, not the player itself. It is like saying that the BD players are a broken technology while they are just products of that technology made in China by indolents without any care for QA. Outlook? Same. Just a client. Another application. Not to mention that - as an application - it is far less broken than, let's say, Thunderbird. Or, what about "consumer-grade antivirus". The name sounds pretty general to cover a technology but, no. It's rather too vague. Security-oriented architecture is a technology. An antivirus - any - is just a product; an application. My point? The title of this blog is too pompous. The article itself is just another one in a long series of articles that are saying nothing. Nothing to learn, nothing to new to find, just a bunch of personal opinions at the level of street gossip. Long time passed since Techrepublic really published tech info. One would have something to learn from that passed articles. Now? Marketing gargle or personal opinions about stuff the author doesn't always prove some real knowledge. Are these guys paid by the number of words? I don't know but, the general level of this site decreased spectacular especially in the recent years. Yeap. Nothing interesting to learn or find here. As for the present article's author himself? Hm. He really looks like an armchair IT expert.

bigjude
bigjude

I learnt to touch type 60 years ago using the qwerty keyboard and still find it a very fast system for traditional keyboard input. Qwerty was designed for people sitting at desks working on typewriters now only found in museums. It doesn't work as intended on small virtual keyboards. I'm writing this lying flat on my back in bed using a Toshiba Satellite and the qwerty keyboard is working just fine so I think its an issue of size rather than the position of the user. Give me qwerty as a virtual keyboard (on which I can't touch type)and it drives me mad. I think qwerty is broken technology when transfered to tablets or smartphones and that a straight forward alphabetical keyboard would probably be better. How many fingers do other people use when inputting into such a device?

post2base
post2base

Quite very strange to think outlook is broken, simply because some IT Guys do not know what they are doing. In my crowd, we make even Outlook 2003 talk to Exchange 2010. But if an instutition can afford exchange 2010, I think its silly not to consider updating the clients if you're still using Outlook 2003. Follow the exchange messaging rules, and the world is your. And I will trust anything running on Exchange before other junk. Long Live OUTLOOK..... AND MICROSOFT!!!

andreafuentes
andreafuentes

I just wanted to add, as a small business owner, it is very frustrating that a big company like QuickBooks has such a crappy limited Mac version. It doesn't have the features that even a 2 employee company needs. SO we are stuck with the expensive online version, but it's not scalable.

Dumblogic
Dumblogic

It's bulky give you a lot of script errors among other things plus they need to make it compatible with Mozilla products.

yb36007
yb36007

This has got to be the most user vicious software I have ever been forced to use.

Crash2100
Crash2100

For the most part, you can blame the broken web browser theory on Microsoft. Because Microsoft started this whole thing where anything developed with their stuff, for the most part, must only work on the latest version of IE.

sanjmeh
sanjmeh

1. Citrix or any remote desktop technology. 2. Cookies or any stored passwords in an environment of remote desktops. 3. Payment gateways, especially their performance and compatibility with various browsers.

HypnoToad72
HypnoToad72

How is Flash a monopoly? Silverlight exists... as does HTML5. Both have been hawked as being alternatives to Flash. (if the media and tech companies fudged facts, that's their problem.) Flash players exist for all major platforms, and the player is open source so anyone can port it. It is the fault of Adobe if low-end devices lack sufficient processing power? PCs in 2005 didn't have much in the way of problems... Open 20 browser windows, each with a Flash animation or three, and - yeah - you'll get problems. Even on my Macs, Flash 10 and higher have been VERY stable. Problems only occur if I overdo opening browser windows (to amounts that are incontrovertibly excessive), or if the ActionScript code was poorly created. Gee, poor programming in a ubiquitous package causing stability problems? Where have we heard that before? (Everywhere, for everything, at one time or another...) And Flash, as with Silverlight, were created because of point #6 that you mentioned: Problems with content across multiple browsers, and with HTML5 also being fragmented... with each provider saying how their experience is the best... new boss = old boss, they all try to "embrace and extend" and show "open standards" as a form of song singing siren...

jr3230
jr3230

I've never been a huge MS fan, however I must take issue with you having Outlook on the Broken List. Outlook is and has always been a rock-solid application, with or without Exchange. You shouldn't let the results of the actions of incompetent Exchange support staff reflect badly on good old Outlook. We use an Outsourced Exchange hosting company (MailStreet) and we've literally never had any trouble whatsoever. Not to mention the fact that I personally "push" Outlook to its limits, with six email accounts, including one Exchange account, 3 IMAPs, and 2 POP accounts. Never any issues.

mike
mike

Bending your neck to look down at a desktop display is FAR from ergonomic. For some, sure, it may have a "neato" factor, but a vertical display positioned around eye level (whether you're sitting or standing) remains the most natural, comfortable, and ergonomic of display solutions. Don't let the "new" get in the way of the "true."

seppo.sivula
seppo.sivula

You have compiled a good list.Outlook, flash and browsers top my list also. I'd like to add 1) video over the web (be it QT, avi or other proprietary format) and their need for plugins 2) authentication over the web (how to recognize someone enough to do a business transaction with them) 3) copyright protection of digital assets (if you happen to need it)

lewey04
lewey04

I agree with all of your picks except for Outlook. I do think that it's bloated but compared to other enterprise clients I have used or been forced to use I always go back to Outlook/Exchange. Cheers.

hadlow
hadlow

Why don't people stand up and tell Microsoft that this semi-automated crap that hardly ever works properly on a computer that's more than a day old is totally useless! Windows in general is fine if all you do is write Word documents and nothing much changes, but for those people that USE an OS as it's supposed to be (as a system that makes programs, tools and apps work together), then it's as full of holes as a colander... And no, I don't use Linux because it isn't a viable option yet - or maybe never.

reisen55
reisen55

I spent a few months on a contract job, supporting a medical plant and most of our problems were spent managing Acronis and not the real problems that occurred everywhere else. Something is wrong there when your system inventory and control utility is taking up all of your time controlling it. Outlook - let us not forget the flavors of it, 2002 was radically different from 2003 and that drove me to drink when updating a museum a few years ago. Active Directory - Microsoft's implementation of it is poor, yes it works because we all have to live with it but remember Novell did it first.

Jim Johnson
Jim Johnson

This is a product that COULD be great, but AT&T has screwed up. The powers that be assume everyone will love the Motorola NVG510 residential gateway as THE wireless router in their installation. It is a mediocre wireless router at best. There is no true way to make this device work ONLY as an interface between the U-verse version of DSL and end-user supplied networking equipment. If you are really technically savvy there is a kludge that sort of works at best. The NVG510 DHCP cannot be turned off, period. The end user can only turn off some of the firewall, so in spite of any speed increase going from AT&T's tradtional DSL to U-verse, web pages are no faster and frequently fail to load at first. When converting from DSL to U-verse, AT&T does not tell the local central office techs when the new modem will arrive or service be available, but they do send an order days ahead to cancel the existing DSL connection. This 'last mile on copper' U-verse technology COULD compete with cable - but AT&T has botched it.

Stajilov
Stajilov

What would you say about skype or icq? I remember being a fan of icq for a long time and I used to get a lot of errors like "connection failed", "file cannot be transfered" etc. Then everybody switched to Skype and it still doesn't work well, if you send a message in offline, your mate will not probably ever get it.

n7eoj
n7eoj

Like Flash, easy to learn/program, but tasks can be completed via HTML or the command line faster.

m@rcel
m@rcel

You did raise a storm here Jack :) Pulse Audio cripples linux . I've tried 3 big distro's the sound was crippled in all three. I'm back to windows now. I used to have trouble with wireless on Linux, that's ok now, and now this. It's a nightmare. Don't agree on you 9th though. I'm using Comodo, and I think it's ok. You never can be sure, but you can't on business class tools too. there are enough stories about slipping through 'business class' tools.

davbran
davbran

Most the time they are great! Sometimes you run across one that can get you into trouble. I have large hands. I don't mean fat, I mean LARGE. If I am using my standard keyboard at home, I don't have a problem, but put me in the office on a non-ergonomic keyboard and a couple browsers I know will hit me with CTRL + R. I don't understand why this combination hasn't disappeared by now, it's not like we have lost our F5 key, but the heel of my left hand will invariably be resting on CTRL when I strike R and refresh the form/ticket I am filling.

rahjr2006
rahjr2006

Hey, don't cut down a program or platform simply because the IT personnel don't have the knowledge, skill, or concern to run it properly. I have worked with Exchange/Outlook ever since Exchange existed and it is actually not that hard to make it run correctly (ninja?). If the people setting up any complex system do it incorrectly the system will not funtion properly. That doesn't mean the system is broken. Driving a car seems simple, yet plenty of people wreck them every day...

cdsmith_ags
cdsmith_ags

Send me a list of the companies who can't operate Exchange, I'd be glad to charge them for my Exchange ninja skills. Any SysAdmin worth their weight with knowledge of Active Directory and mail protocols should have no problem running an Exchange server - without issue.

The Weekly Geek
The Weekly Geek

So what do you really replace QuickBooks with? PeachTree? comeon... I would like ideas though. The same with Outlook and the coordinating all that vital info in one spot. And what about a real Acronis replacement? I do suggest ESET for the consumer grade anti-virus.

dogknees
dogknees

Given that Bullets and Numbering are different things, I'm not surprised you had trouble with numbered bullets.

dogknees
dogknees

My sentiments exactly. When I go to a site like this, or buy an industry magazine, I'm looking for factual information about new technologies and tools. Not someone's opinion about some companies management, about which they know nothing. Not some prognostication that is either so broad as to be meaningless, r is just wrong. And no acknowledgement when they are wrong. It happened with Byte (showing my age), in the late 70's, you learned something about some new technology from each issue, by the late 80's, all you learned was what new products had been released and what company was buying what other company. Same thing with any number of other magazines. Same with websites. They start out well, with lots of interesting information, then they get too big and the content starts to change to opinion pieces, fluff and top ten lists. Soon, you have to really dig to find anything with real technical content. Then the people that used to contribute the good content move on as they are no longer valued as the ones who make the site worthwhile. The subscribers then move on as there's nothing for them left, and the place dies. Is any of this sounding familiar?

psturge
psturge

So you prefer the US Postal Service, then? The fact that your comment reached this discussion is proof to the contrary.

psturge
psturge

That certainly used to be true, but most 'Power Surfers' don't use IE in favour of FireFox, Chrome, Opera or Dolphin (for Android). IE9 is actually, dare I say it, pretty darn good. It's a bit heavy, but it works better than any previous IE version, and is generally better than Opera and Chrome (at the moment).

psturge
psturge

Have a go on an Apple. You'll then think Windows is great! Don't get me wrong - Apple stuff is great - as long as you don't switch it on.

cbci
cbci

Spastic click-finger.

cbci
cbci

It's been 11 years since it was predicted to die "now that ad is here" and 5 years since it was actually declared dead, and it is still better than AD.

ScarF
ScarF

I have the feeling that Jack doesn't really know what he's talking about when he opens his mouth and says EXCHANGE. I installed Exchange for the different companies I worked for since 5.5. The most recently I migrated the entire AD from SBS 2003 to Server 2008 R2 and Exchange 2010 without even breaking the SBS previously - since MS discontinued that tool. Of course, all the new Exchange version were too new for having enough knowledge. So, I read everything I could find about the various steps involved and I didn't have any failure. Now, I can tell that Exchange is quite easy and safe to install and configure, and not so easy to break if the one who is installing/configuring it follows common sense. CDSMITH, thanks for the idea. I'll try to find the so many SysAdmins who broke their Exchange servers so that they are not even able to connect the clients, and make some extra moolah. Anyway, the generalization "set up by their internal IT" - even more minimized in Jack's contempt by putting it between brackets - is injuring, as I am one of these internal IT. Regretably is that (1) it isn't the first time when Jack shows this contempt toward the "local IT", and (2) TechRepublic allows this.

rperez
rperez

I have the same feeling. I have completed many installs of Exchange and have never experienced any serious issues with the install. Of course this was before I completed many hours of research. As long as you understand DNS, AD (yes, you have to prep it) and the way email works your install should go well. Maybe I can start a business repairing Exchange installs.

EricKei
EricKei

QuickBooks -- easier for most people to use Peachtree -- more powerful than QB, but notably more complex. Favored by old-school CPA's Free alternatives -- you REALLY get what you pay for The next step up -- Far better, but there's a reason why they cost exponentially more (expect $20K just to get it purchased and set up, plus maintenance and upgrades)

Brian.Buydens
Brian.Buydens

I realize I didn't express that very well. I was lumping bullets and numbering in my head because I think they are broken in similar ways. My main beef with Word is that when something goes wrong it is very hard to fix. And it is not just bullets and numbering. I have had problems with section breaks, page numbers, footers, headers, you name it.

Crash2100
Crash2100

For the most part "it used to be true". But, at least from my experience with SeaMonkey/Firefox, there's still a few websites around that work like that, and I've actually seen a few places that I can only get to work correctly inside of Windows 7.

john
john

They're absolutely useless. Out of tune etc. I can't make them do anything and I've been trying for 20 mins to make it play the four seasons!

psturge
psturge

Ah, patience my dear man - every violin is capable of playing the Four Seasons. By the time you've practiced it to perfection, iTunes may have finished downloading Nigel Kennedy's version.