Jan 01 2009

I Hate Keys

I really, really hate keys.  I guess it’s really the locks I hate, but the keys draw most of my ire.  They’re like stoplights: necessary in a town of more than a few hundred people, but still inefficient and annoying.  (When I lived in the country, I didn’t even have house keys.)

Photo from Flickr

Photo from Flickr

I wish I had a nickel for every time I was headed out the door and realized I didn’t have my keys, and had to go searching through pockets and other places for them.  Or every time I got into my truck and realized my keys were still in my jeans pocket, and had to go digging for them.  Or every time I go out to the garage, thinking it’s still open from the last time I went out there, and have to come back for my keys.  I don’t cuss very much, but I bet 80% of the cussing I do is key-related.  (The other 20% is from stubbing my toe, or when I sit down at the table to eat and realize I forgot to get a fork.)

I suspect most engineering and programming types feel similarly about locks and keys.  Whether we’re talking about physical keys or software keys, they only stop the casual burglar; a serious thief will break the window or the copy protection.  But they always slow down your own access to your stuff, slowing the flow of information or people, even when they work well.  When they don’t work well—when a key sticks or a lock is frozen, or it’s too dark to see which key is which, or you lose your keys—they’re a pain.

In the software world, when you get used to working with open-source software like I do, dealing with key-licensed software seems like a ridiculous dance.  If I want to install an open-source e-commerce package like OS Commerce, for example, I download it, install it, configure it, and start using it.  When upgrades come out, I download and install them.  Simple.  If I want to use a licensed package like X-Cart, I have to buy it and wait for them to supply me with the correct package and license key.  I may have to register the key and wait for confirmation, although that’s faster than it used to be.  Then when I need to upgrade, I’ll need my purchase information again to get the upgrade packages from them.  When they rollover to a new major version someday, I’ll probably have to start the whole process over.

Luckily I don’t have to deal with that mess very often—only when someone else picked the software.  I still have to deal with my house and truck keys, though.  It’s really about time we had cheap and reliable retina or fingerprint scanners to replace our primitive key locks.  There will be ways to circumvent those too, but they’ll still slow down the casual snooper and help us feel safe.  Most importantly, I’ll cuss a lot less.

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