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INCOMPREHENSIBLE ERROR MESSAGES AND OTHER IRRITATIONS

We all know the personal computer has improved our daily lives, but it sure can be frustrating.

Here are some random thoughts of a sometimes-frustrated computer user:

Is it just us, or does everybody else find the error messages in Windows 95 to be incomprehensible? Like this little gem, which popped up the other day: "CWASM386.DLL. The SYSTEM.INI file refers to this device file, but the device file no longer exists."

Just when we are cheering the return of Steve Jobs to Apple -- at last, a leader with vigor and vision who can save the Macintosh! -- he makes the same blunder that most of the other failed leaders of Apple made before him. Jobs has essentially pulled the plug on the makers of Macintosh clones by refusing to share new Mac technology with them. This dooms the Macintosh to an ever-smaller smidgin of the overall PC market, and it makes software companies less and less willing to write programs for the Mac operating system.

This is visionary new leadership?

Let's say you take your grandma's secret recipe and start a doughnut shop in a small shopping center. At first your only customers are the folks working in the nearby stores, who come by every morning to buy a half-dozen. Gradually, through hard work and financial investment, your shop gets a reputation; people come from all over town. Some days you can't make enough doughnuts to meet the demand, but of course, you still set aside a few dozen each morning for the neighbors who have been your best customers since the beginning. But by doing this, you get in trouble with the government.

That's what happened to Intel, the world's leading microprocessor company. Intel has announced it is under anti-trust investigation by the U.S. government. The chief charge seems to be that when Intel can't make enough chips to meet demand, it allocates its production for delivery to its oldest and most reliable customers -- big PC makers like Compaq and Dell. Reportedly, the feds are investigating whether this is legal.

This looks like another case of the government going after a company for the crime of being successful. There is lots of competition in microprocessors; if you don't want an Intel chip, there are many PCs on the market now with microprocessors made by AMD, Cyrix and other manufacturers, at considerably lower prices than the "Intel Inside" PCs. It's hard to see what benefit there will be for PC buyers if the government seeks to hobble Intel, the most innovative manufacturer in the business.

Not to mention the fact that Intel's global success has helped U.S. computer and software firms sell billions of dollars worth of American-made goods around the world. If Fujitsu, say, or Daewoo had become the dominant maker of microprocessors, much of that global business would have been won by foreign manufacturers.

Intel has been a solid-gold asset for American industry. In most countries, a firm like that would be getting awards from the government; here, it gets investigated.

Is it just us, or does everybody else find the Help messages in Windows 95 to be even worse than the error messages? When we tried to figure out that impenetrable error message about "the SYSTEM.INI file," Windows offered this helpful tip: "To turn off logging, change the NWEnableLogging setting (in the (386Enh) section of the SYSTEM.INI file) back to False."

It's bad enough that a new software company called Running With Scissors Inc. has brought out a computer game that features a crazed assailant running through a city with a machine gun, bombs and hand grenades. What's even worse is that the game is called "Postal." And when the player decides to kill a bunch of people, the game refers to this as "Going Postal."

A little attitude can be fun in a computer game. But when "attitude" turns out to mean something downright offensive, that's too much. Let's just all agree not to buy this game.

Is it just us, or does everybody else share our suspicion that there's a reason Microsoft provides ridiculously complicated error messages and Help screens with its programs? The reason: After you shell out the money for a Microsoft software product, they want you to shell out another $35 or so for one of those books from Microsoft Press that tells you in (reasonably) plain English how to use the program.

Why don't they put the plain-English version in the Help screens of the program itself, and leave the technical jargon for the big expensive guidebooks?

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