Tag Archives: user interface

another way that EULAs/TOS/etc can suck

2:45 to 4:55 a.m.

So I was up too late at night (or too early in the morning) writing out my thoughts and ideas and plans and investigating various and sundry burning questions, as one does at 3 in the morning, and I found myself signing up to Zune. Really, I found myself doing it, because I had just randomly clicked through someone’s profile to their zune account, and without fully registering zune = microsoft, I thought oh yes, another media sharing site, zune — so familiar, I must have heard of it before. (I was a tiny bit sleep-addled, and yes, my family owns mp3 players of at least two non-Microsoft varieties. Zune, like Kindle, is one of those interesting devices that arouse my professional curiosity but not enough to spend money on them, and so over time the details, and apparently even the name, get filed to some lower-level-of-detail storage in my brain.)

And, because I have been spending a little time logging onto various media sharing / social networks and examining their properties and features (all without much if any media to share, I might add, so don’t bother checking out my stuff on these various accounts), I started the account creation process at zune. I had a moment of suspicion as I realized they used Microsoft’s Live ID (Who uses that?), and then was like, Oh, Zune, and I cancelled out but then thought, well, what the hell, and started the account creation process again.

Which was at live.com, by the way, so it’s not just zune, you’re signing your whole life over to Microsoft. But it’s okay, because in addition to the “service agreement” Microsoft makes you sign, privacy is very important to Microsoft so you have to agree to a privacy agreement, too. As is my wont, I decided to save copies of the things they made me agree to. In this case, it was “Microsoft Service Agreement Last Updated: October 2007” (this was the document’s actual title, with no linebreaks where you might think they would be) and Privacy Statement (whose actual title I don’t quite recall for reasons to be described later). So I opened up both those documents to separate tabs, rather than just clicking “I agree”. Firefox helpfully informed me that both documents wanted to save cookies on my hard drive, because I have Firefox set to that high privacy notification standard although it gets pretty annoying sometimes. Why do these documents need to set cookies, I wondered, annoyed. For example.

Rather than actually reading the whole Service Agreement right then, I decided to save a copy of it. It was in one of those inset frames — a scrolling window — which I hate, but Microsoft conveniently had a “print” icon for the document. Huh, I thought, clicking the print icon and saving a PDF (because I save PDFs instead of printing, to save trees and to permit better searching and personal mark-up and so on), maybe Microsoft has learned something about privacy, and EULA usability. Maybe the constant scrutiny by their critics makes them improve and be responsive. Maybe I’m wrong about giant corporations. Maybe Microsoft will become the new App— and then I opened up the PDF of the license, just to see what it looked like.

And realized that it only had one page, page one, through point six of the agreement (“6. If You Are an Associated Account User. If you are the user of an associated account, then the holder of the service account has full control over your associated account. …”). Dawning suspicion. But, still, maybe I, without realizing it, clicked to just print one page. So I went back, hit the print icon again, up popped the print window, I did not do any page selection, I saved the PDF, opened the PDF, and voilá — still just one page, the first page.

Well, now I’m really irritated, because it’s hard as hell to save the contents of those little scrolling windows, especially if you want formatting. You either have to get the browser to open up the frame in a separate window of its own, which they don’t always want to do (there’s probably some proprietary anti-open-up-separate-window code or script that can be applied), or you have to do multiple screenshots which of course doesn’t preserve the editable text, or you have to try to save the HTML separately which requires a browser to render it, or you can try to select-copy just the text out of the iframe but then you don’t get any of the italics or bolds — etc.

I decide to blog about this, because I think it’s really deceptive. Screw my personal annoyance; this is a vital political issue and it must be blogged! People save a copy of the agreement and then only have one page! So, these license agreements which are basically impossible to read onscreen because of the fine print, boring legaleze, long paragraphs, and difficult-to-read formatting, can’t be easily printed or saved for later reading or even to have one’s own copy of putatively legally-binding agreements. This particular document took fourteen screenshots to save it, I kid you not. And when I wanted to save the text for searching purposes I had to deal with the inset frame again, because if you select-all it selects ALL, as in all the contents on the master page, so one has to go through that process and then remember, oh yeah I have to click in the goddamned inset frame.

So I pop open wordpress, start this post and describe the events up until that moment. Then I command-tab back from Preview to the Firefox window to do whatever it takes to save a copy of the Microsoft document so that I can actually read it. (I really hate those inset frames.)

And Firefox crashes.Yes, once again Microsoft has managed to crash something on my computer. Usually it’s just MS Word or Excel or PowerPoint but since I compulsively command-S my work like, literally, after every sentence or two or at most after a paragraph if I’m really on a roll, I rarely lose much work. Except in Excel or PowerPoint, if I’m mucking about with graphs or graphics or whatever. But it’s wordpress, through a browser, so cmd-S doesn’t work. So I had probably several paragraphs of brilliant prose written without being saved.

So, I began the tedious process of recreating everything, and finishing my Zune application. This was helped because Firefox stores your sessions when your browser crashes, although it doesn’t save one’s precious prose or anything else temporarily stored in HTML form elements. It also can’t or won’t permit you to go back in form submissions from a resurrected session after a browser crash, so I could never get back to the Zune/Live/Microsoft sign-on page two from whence I clicked the “Privacy Agreement/Statement” link, and so I could never verify the actual text of that original link.

The story continues for a while with various misadventures of WordPress formatting (WordPress! Why does your code view always lose my paragraphing, in firefox and safari, at least? SO annoying.), browser crashing, session timeouts, pondering the mysterious user interface design issues of Microsoft’s live.com website (why does the service agreement include, outside of the frame inset on the left side of the page, a “FAQ” that links to the same service agreement? Why is there a “Table of Contents” link at the bottom, which, when clicked, switches the word “FAQ” to the bottom and the phrase “Table of Contents” to the top, but leaves the exact same link to the exact same service agreement in place?), laughing sardonically at the other tab, the privacy statement/agreement which you may have forgotten about and which, it turns out, actually just drops you on “Microsoft’s Online Privacy Notice Highlights”, also “last updated October 2007”, which then further links to “fullnotice.aspx”, aka “Microsoft Online Privacy Statement”. And more user agreements, like the Zune terms of service, which actually is in its own, user-friendly browser window, without inset frames.

But the rest of it was pretty boring, and it’s almost 5 am, and I think my demons are laid to rest and I might be able to get back to sleep. So, the take-home: Don’t just save copies of agreements; open them up to make sure they are the full monty. Because otherwise you’re still at the mercy of the company not just for what you agreed to, but for what they said you agreed to when you clicked “I agree” without reading it.