Neurotic Products

Over the last few years I have attempted to incorporate a number of system administration applications into my environment (from a certain major vendor). But in every case, after a few weeks or months of frustration, I pulled it out. What I found was that in my small environment the constant demand for attention to remedy this or that perceived problem simply consumed me — so instead of being a benefit I was net worse off. And the wreckage left behind after product removal was almost too depressing for words. Oh, sure, the agents would uninstall from the console. But the registry changes left behind would block future reinstalls and interfere with other, related products that I played with later. Ouch.

To be sure what these tools purport to be doing is non-trivial and require a deep knowledge of this vendors own components. But when a problem was encountered the universal response was to flag an error, quit and wait for the human to realize that the problem was a transient one and manually restart. So constant attention was required to keep humoring the products along. And of course, many of the complaints were undocumented, and the vendor support sites only casually reviewed, so one was left trolling around in the dark — and often the only solution was to just restart.

What I found so interesting was that doing these things manually, like backups, one simply did not encounter these constant problems. So concluded that the real fault was in the vendor software and not the environment — but the approach was always to blame the user and make it as obscure as possible to sort out the real issues.

In this day of ‘smart’ products one of the most depressing things was the endless repeat of software inventories. Every day, if I wanted to get a summary of the state of my environment I would get a very long email listing the software configuration of every device — everything, not changes, everything. Problem is that any real changes were buried in the endless detail — so I would have to save them all and compare side by side. No way to tell the software to do it, guess that was too hard. And to be sure, the overhead of doing this inventory hit the user device when they were logging on and trying to start work. So once again we were all net worse off.

Closely related was the issue of continuous availability for user devices. If the user device was not left on continuously and connected to the network, things failed and once again it was the messy manual restarts. Has not anyone heard of the energy crisis? Any smart business turned their gear off when it is not in use to reduce costs — not tripling them as an added cost of hosting this neurotic software system administrator.

I have started to call these products neurotic because they constantly clamor for attention like an insecure child instead of just doing their jobs. Probably reflects the personalities of the over-enthusiastic but inexperienced software engineers who write them. A pity, because the one thing any small business needs is more help so the people can concentrate on running the business. But with these products they get more demands for attention so in the end the business has to choose — feed the neurosis or stay in business.


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