David Brown
runs Word Of Mouth Ltd, a language consultancy working with politicians and the media. He also works as a journalist, recently covering stories in Azerbaijan and Georgia. He has lived in Finland for seven years.

Everyone buying a new computer these days likely experiences the same thrill of a new toy, closely followed by the dawning horror that everything he once knew about computers is now redundant. At times it seems as if Microsoft take a perverse pleasure in pulling the rug out from under the users’ feet, a kind of “this will screw them up for months!” delight.

I have no doubt that Microsoft do not actively set out to ensure users can not access their email, but on the other hand I suggest they give insultingly little consideration to normal users. Tried importing an address book or records of your old emails from one account to another recently? It is theoretically possible, and given three days of sweat and tears you may be able to get it done, but more in spite of the tools available than because of them.

Local net operators are often worse - particularly when dealing with foreigners. Any and all enquiries are met with the same two simple responses – firstly, that your phone call costs €428 per minute; secondly, that you can check our website for answers.

Three weeks after buying a new computer, I am still being plagued by email problems. Windows Live Mail is a simply appalling program, a garbled mess of incoherent and contradictory functions.

I would have preferred to have continued to use Outlook Express, but Microsoft refuse to allow this. So instead, I have dumped Live Mail in favour of Mozilla Thunderbird, which looks simple enough to use if I can get the settings right.

Using the Elisa walk-through slides online should make this simple enough, were their screenshots accurate. Needless to say, they aren’t.

Years after mp3 players and camera manufacturers learned that their products need to be intuitive and, most importantly, idiot-proof, software manufacturers still release products which are childishly baffling to set up. Is it really reasonable to expect that the average user of email understands the difference between IMAP and POP3? Is it really assumed that I know that my port is 143 and not 100? Well, I don’t know. And I don’t care that I don’t know. To be perfectly honest, I don’t want to know.

I regard my email port as about as relevant to my use of email as the species of carrot I’m eating or the names of the chemicals in my laundry soap. I’m just terribly relieved Microsoft don’t have a monopoly on them too, or my washing machine would simply refuse to open until I’d fed it the correct SMTPA server information.

The internet is supposed to be democratic. It is supposed to be something anyone can use. But actually it isn’t. It is a tool for the tech-savvy and those who know what questions to ask and who to ask them from. It is not a tool for the elderly (that isn‘t me), the technically illiterate (that is me) or those unwilling to pay Elisa €428 per minute for inaccurate information.

The final word in all of this must go to a customer service representative from Sonera. A while back I phoned to say I’d had no internet connection for two days and asked what was going on. The answer, I suppose, was predictable: “That information is available on our web site.“

David Brown