Major vendors often brag about the way they use input from software users to improve their software. But sometimes, it doesn't seem that way.

We're not talking about the end of the earth, but as we await the new Microsoft operating system, formerly code-named Longhorn, now formally called Vista -- it's always a question of whether the new system will be simpler, or will it make life harder? And what is simple, anyway? Simpler is in the mind of the beholder. But it's puzzling that some things that seem easy to accomplish, aren't fixed.

For example, it would be simpler if the insert key, once pressed, stayed in insert mode instead of going into delete mode without any warning. You can go to "Tools - Options" and under the edit tab unselect, "Typing replaces selection." I guess. But for one, it's not all that obvious -- using Word help is never that obvious -- and anyway, my assumption is that if there is a key to turn something on, it should stay on until I turn it off. Do the light switches in your house frequently turn off without warning? Ah, I should have gone to the Options menu and deselected the box for, "Turn the lights off."

How about scrolling? Cut and paste is a wonderful feature for editors. But it's not so wonderful when you're trying to highlight text and the page zooms from the first page to the three-hundredth in a flash. Or perhaps, there may be a way to have laptops with touch controls in which the cursor doesn't suddenly jump to another line, typing over something previously written.

But maybe this is the future. Maybe it doesn't get simpler.

As our homes and appliances rely more on microprocessor controls, and Windows is the operating system for home enhancement solutions (let's get ahead of the Microsoft marketing department and formulate the buzzwords now), maybe this is the way we will soon interface with our homes. Can you imagine what that will be like in terms of user-friendliness?

After the home's operating system, Windows RE (for real estate), has been installed, the homeowner must go to the Options menu; select "Edit," and mark the box labeled, "Both hot and cold water."

Later, the light in the hallway burns out. An annoying animated light bulb appears on the lighting LCD, asking, "Hi, do you want me to help you learn how to use your lights?" After you type in "Change a bulb," the system responds with several related topics. "Would you like to change a light bulb? Turn on a light? Turn off a light? Find out how electricity is used?"

You find out that the maintenance agreement on your toilet has expired and now you have to pay for the upgrade to Flush-a-matic V.2.1. The microwave displays instructions about cooking your roast, but the words fly by. The refrigerator doesn't work and tech support thinks the input for the freezer is hogging a port needed by the vegetable crisper.

And maybe there will be a day in the sub-zero weather when the furnace LCD turns blue and reads, "Shutting down to prevent damage to your computer. Starting internal memory dump. Please restart your furnace. If you have seen this message before, it may be a sign of a serious problem."

Well, it could happen that way. And there will surely be someone there to say, "All you have to do is set that up in preferences."

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