Picking good software-2

In January I began sharing some of my opinions and prejudices about qualities a good computer program should have.

Kenneth R. Wade, ministerial secretary, Southeast Asia Union Mission, Singapore, and former associate editor of Ministry.

In January I began sharing some of my opinions and prejudices about qualities a good computer pro gram should have. Here are a few more:

7. User support: There ought to be someone really knowledgeable to whom you can turn when the program does something odd that the manual doesn't refer to. Recently a friend asked for help figuring out what was going wrong with a program. I couldn't figure it out, and when we turned to the page listed in the table of contents for user support, it was blank! Nothing can make a program worthless much faster.

8. Language: I don't care what language a program was written in, it ought to communicate with you in the language you speak. On-screen messages should not require you to continually refer to a glossary.

9. Definable keys: Almost every computer application requires you to do repetitive multi-stroke activities. It is nice to be able to define one key to input all those strokes for you, saving time and eliminating errors. This is sometimes called macro definition. There are pro grams available that allow you to define individual keys to carry out these multi-stroke functions in whatever program is running. But my preference is for pro grams that allow me to define keys right within the program so that my definitions won't interfere with the operation of other programs.

10. Copyable program disk: Sooner or later (a) your program disk will crash, or (b) you'll want to copy it onto a hard disk. Software companies face a big problem with people copying and using their programs without paying for them. But copy-protected disks are not the solution. Like locks on doors they keep only honest people honest. And they can cause honest people some real problems.

11. Variable output format: You should be able to tell the program to generate a straight ASCII file so that you can use its data in other programs. In other words its data should not be readable only by the program itself. You should be able to output data to a file that your word processor can work with.

Those are my 11 priority considerations when selecting good software. Here are some other details that I like to see the kind of little added things that make the program more of a joy to use.

It ought to be easy to back up in pro gram functions. I often get myself to a place I don't want to be while experimenting, and I love to be able to just hit the Escape key and escape back to the previous level. One very expensive well-known program recently informed me that I had asked it to do something impossible and gave me only one possible response: "OK." Choosing OK sent it into an endless loop and I had to reboot the computer and lose some recent input.

Also, when a program is doing a task it knows will take a long time, it ought to tell me what it is doing instead of just letting me worry that I've sent it into an endless loop.

A program ought also to take full advantage of whatever RAM you have instead of spinning disks all the time.

I hope what I've shared will help you avoid some bad programs, and find some good ones!

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Kenneth R. Wade, ministerial secretary, Southeast Asia Union Mission, Singapore, and former associate editor of Ministry.

March 1988

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