EA, HP, and user frustration

Posted Feb 6, 2007
Last Updated Feb 7, 2007

EA Link

EA Link is EA's answer to the success of Valve's Steam software distribution platform. EA Link allows you to purchase, download, install, and play EA Games. Other than being a tad bit slow downloading, it does these things reasonably well, although it lacks the automatic patching and friends network of Steam. (EA Games have individual friends list's while Steam's list is unified.) However, where it fails is user registration.

I was attempted to download Battlefield 2142. First, I had to register to download EA Link, and then repeat the process to be able to pay. It seems that even though the pay system does remember your username and password, it has a separate address and email database, which means you must provide this information twice. The problem occurred when I tried to use my email address which ends in ".net" and is perfectly valid. It would not accept it. The error message it gave made no sense; it claimed that I had not entered an email address at all. I tried closing and reopening EA Link -- I even rebooted the computer. Then it occurred to me to try another email address. Lo and behold, my gmail address worked!

This is probably a problem with a regular expression that is used to make sure the user enters a valid email address. I doubt that they willfully excluded ".net" domains, but it worries me. Does it only accept ".com?" What about ".edu" or ".ca" or the 100 so other top level domains? Another possibility is that it did a reverse dns and found that my domain name did not match. That would exclude hundreds of thousands of people who have domains on shared servers. Either way, EA gave me a half hour of frustration over entering my email address, and if I had been a less patient person, I may have decided it wasn't worth it just to buy a game.

Bottom line: It should be ridiculously easy to buy something. The harder you make it for me to give you my money, the less likely I will give it to you.

HP JetDirect and Windows XP

I recently bought a JetDirect Print Server card to install in my HP 2200D. I wanted a network print server so I wouldn't need to turn the downstairs computer on to print. Installation of the card was easy, but getting the computer to print to it was a journey of bad terminology. I went into the Windows Add Printer Wizard. I was presented with 2 choices here:

  • Local printer attached to this computer
  • A networked printer, or a printer attached to another computer

Which would you choose? I choose the obvious "networked printer." The next dialog gave me 3 choices:

  • Browse for a printer
  • Connect to this printer
  • Connect to a printer on the Internet or on a home or office network

I tried browsing for the printer, and did not find it. So I put in the IP address of the printer into the "connect to this printer" option. It did not work. So I tried the IP with the last option. I tried several variations of protocol also, all to no avail.

Turns out that the reason this didn't work is a comma. Look carefully at this fragment, "A networked printer, or a printer attached to another computer." The comma makes the second clause a definition. Microsoft defines a networked printer as a printer connected to another computer. A printer with an internal print server is not connected to another computer, therefore it is not a networked printer. Confused yet?

To connect to my printer which is connected to the network only by a network cable and in no way directly connected to my computer at all, the correct choice was "Local printer attached to this computer." The next screen wanted me to choose a port, which makes sense if you have a wire going from a parallel or usb port to your printer. I didn't, so I needed to "Create a new port." The type I created was a "Standard TCP/IP Port." From here another wizard appeared asking for the IP and then the type of printer. After completely this wizard, the printer printed correctly.

As a computer geek, I can see how this is technically correct. I created a type of virtual port and then virtually attached the printer to that port using an imaginary cable. Therefore, the printer is a "local printer attached to this computer." However, as a friend of usability, this process was a little bit offensive. (To be fair, HP has it's own installation wizard that will connect to the JetDirect printer in a more straightforward fashion. However, I don't appreciate downloading something if Windows can do it natively. Although HP is in the title, this was really Microsoft's fault.)

Bottom Line: Get someone else to follow your instructions, especially if it's a "wizard" style installation. If they think it's too hard, or that they way you phrase something is stupid, then change it.


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