Sunday, January 04, 2009

MS outlook as Alarm Clock: Is this a bug?

[Background in the beginning … those who are interested in reading about bug I am talking about, skip first few paragraphs and go straight to Bug]

There is a saying that "Software users, most of the time, do not use the software as perceived by the designers or analyst". I happen to deploy Microsoft outlook as an alarm clock for me to help with a wake-up call. I am away from home, not carrying a cell phone, ipod is not a good tool for this purpose, buying an alarm clock for short duration would be a waste … hence zeroed in on Outlook meeting reminder feature as a software solution to help me to give wake up call.

I set up a recurring meeting of 0 minutes at say 7:00 AM everyday in the morning with reminder zero minutes. I thought this would work. I needed another hack … a sound alarm long enough for me to wake up. Most of small sound files shipped with windows/MS office were not helping me with this purpose. I had Yahoo messenger on my machine with an audio file that plays for few seconds. I decided to use that as reminder sound file. Even there was a problem. I thought 2-3 secs of Yahoo sound file might not be long enough to wake me up. So I needed to play this one file repeatedly say 7-8 times and record the whole thing so that I can get a sound file that plays for 8-10 seconds.

I went live with this setup, thinking that my next day's worries of waking up at specified time were over. It seems that UAT was not proper … first morning the alarm did not wake me up at all… when I investigated, I discovered that previous night before sleeping, I had muted the audio of the laptop … so far so good. I was waiting for next day to see if it works … Bingo … it did … exactly the way I wanted. No big deal I thought. However, I was happy to discover a low cost (zero indeed) technology to a problem in hand … software alarm clock.

I am sure there might be better ways … one could have written a small program in VB or Perl or Python to do this … with even snooze feature …. But, I think my solution worked for me … only to fail next day …. What ..? Yes, next day, the important day where I had some important meetings to attend… Outlook alarm failed … Is that a bug … Looks like I accidently stumbled on this bug …

[BUG] I think few hours before the scheduled appointment – alarm to kick off, a pop-up message about (Junk Email alert) came up prompting the user to take action. This is a modal window. Hence before dismissing this dialog box, outlook cannot proceed with any other pop-up windows like meeting reminders. So, my wake-up alarm did not get activated as there was a modal window waiting to be acted upon.

Is this a bug? May be or may not be …. Some might argue that this is not a bug as outlook is not supposed to be used this way. A developer may say that Junk email feature was required to be implemented as modal dialog box, it was assumed that people will act upon it … as they do for any other modal dialog box. Others may say it is too small problem to worry about …Some may even point out a work around for me … check on "Please do not show this dialog again"… so that my alarms will work without any problem. The Fix might be simple … (superficially) just make it as non modal window…. Or there can be other implications. I do not know... What if I had missed the flight back to India due to this software problem? What if I was delayed to all important meeting due to this software problem leading to huge financial loss?

What do you think?



Michael said...

My opinion is that any use of a modal window is a bug. Yes, I know that's not a very context-driven thing to say... ;)

---Michael B.

Ravisuriya said...

User begins to use the product or system differently, once she/he keeps gaining the information how to use that product or system.

As we all know, Quality is a value to the person for whom so ever it is concerned -- the person who makes use of the system or product for the desired purpose.

If some thing has been objecting the needs of the user, it is the time to look over what it is and why it is by giving back the value to the user.


Alan said...

I have to agree with Michael on the modal window thing - except if it weren't modal, someone *else* would complain that they didn't know they received junk mail.

I think as soon as you start using any tool for something it wasn't designed, you can't count on good performance. A screwdriver, for example, can work as a chisel in a pinch, but when it breaks or gouges out too much wood, I wouln't say that the screwdriver was defective.

Interestingly, I too look for cheap alarm clocks when I travel. I usually use my mobile phone, but I've also built quick alarm clocks using a local web page and java script. The Windows Task Scheduler also makes a much better alarm clock than outlook

Anonymous said...

"except if it weren't modal, someone *else* would complain that they didn't know they received junk mail."

I totally agree with Alan

"What if I had missed the flight back to India due to this software problem? What if I was delayed to all important meeting due to this software problem leading to huge financial loss?"

How can you ever think of flight reminder / big ( Financial ) meeting on a MS Outlook!!??!!

CS said...

Modal windows are designed for users to interact with it before returning to the parent application, its a bug in context to your requirement of using MS outlook as alarm clock, I won't call it a bug, you should call it a trivial irritant if you do a impact analysis.

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