Eh! Steve! Podcast: Control

By Shamus Posted Sunday Nov 24, 2019

Filed under: Notices 50 comments

Are you looking for some extra podcast this week? If so, then you’re in luck. I was a guest on the Eh! Steve! podcast and we talked about Control. You might remember I did an analysis of Control a few months ago, but here we have a discussion and talk about a lot of stuff I didn’t cover in my series.

If you follow the comments on this site, then you might recognize one of the show hosts. Chris sometimes comments under the ccesarano moniker.

Note that this isn’t a replacement for the Diecast, which will still go up on Monday morning according to the ancient traditions.

While we’re here, I might as well do a rant about…


Microsoft makes me crazy. Skype, Games for Windows, and the Windows 10 StoreSpecifically, the gaming part of the store. are all awful. That’s not surprising. Sometimes bad software gets made.

What baffles me is that when Microsoft makes bad software, they don’t seem to be aware that they’ve made bad software. The company will try to cajole or coerce people into adopting some garbage system. They’ll spend millions on marketing, but they never stop and fix the incredibly obvious design / interface flaws that makes consumers reluctant in the first place.

It’s like they design software without ever looking at what the competition is doing and without doing any testing to see what user expectations might be. It always feels like the interface was made by aliens and QA tested by Bethesda.

All we wanted to do was record a conversation. We’d talk live over Skype, and then each of us would record our own audio in Audacity so we’d have clean audio to work with. Chris also recorded the Skype conversation as a backup, just in case someone’s recording failed for whatever reason.

Skype is a madhouse of anti-usability. About a half hour before the scheduled meeting time, I clicked on Chris’ name so I could see if he was online and maybe send a text message to make sure we were on schedule. Instead of bringing up his profile, the system immediately “called” him, launching an audio session.

This is contrary to how all other platforms work: Discord, Steam, Epic, Google Hangouts, and even my actual phone all show the profile info when you click on someone’s name, and then offer an additional button to initiate a call. But Skype launches a call, and it doesn’t even make it obvious that it has done so.

This sounds like a small annoyance, but the entire interface is like this. Nothing does what you’d expect. None of the buttons appear where you’d expect. Everything is weird and off-kilter.

The punchline is that once we finally navigated the Microsoft UI maze and got about 10 minutes into the show, Skype crashed and took my computer with it. I got a cascade of modal error boxes saying “The specified device is not available”. The dialogs didn’t identify what program created them, didn’t specify what device wasn’t available, and they couldn’t be clicked on. I couldn’t even open task manager. Whenever I clicked, the system would BONK at me as if I was trying to interact outside of a modal window.

I can’t prove that Skype caused this problem or created this popup prison, but I’ve never had this problem before and Skype was the only unfamiliar program running.

The result is that this killed the clean recording I was making for myselfNot to mention wasted a bunch of time, caused confusion, and disrupted the show., which obliged us to rely on the low-quality direct-from-the-internet Skype recording.

INT Microsoft Office (The building, not the software suite) – DAY

A PLUCKY ENGINEER and a CRUSTY MANAGER are sitting at a small table in the computer lab. There’s an array of monitors on the far wall. All of the screens are showing the Windows BLUE SCREEN OF DEATH, except for the last one, which is caught in an endless Windows reboot cycle.

Manager: How is the Skype userbase doing?

Engineer: Terrible. We packaged Skype with every copy of Windows 10 even though nobody asked for it. Everyone has a copy of it now, but nobody uses it.

Manager: Why wouldn’t they use it?

Engineer: I have no idea.

Manager: Could they be using something else to communicate? Are there any competing platforms out there?

Engineer: Maybe. I dunno. How am I supposed to know?

Manager: Hm. Good point. So how can we encourage more people to use our software?

Engineer: Maybe they don’t know about it. We can add reminders to the system tray so that people will realize it exists.

Manager: Sounds like a plan. Message me on Skype later and we’ll hammer out the details.

Engineer: Can I just email you instead?

Thanks to Chris and Steve for having me on.



[1] Specifically, the gaming part of the store.

[2] Not to mention wasted a bunch of time, caused confusion, and disrupted the show.

From The Archives:

50 thoughts on “Eh! Steve! Podcast: Control

  1. Tektotherriggen says:

    I’m still bitter that Microsoft ruined the Start menu in the name of making a unified experience across PC and smartphones… and then cancelled Windows for phones.

    The company will try to cajole or coerce people into adopting some garbage system.
    Such as when Windows forgets that I want to open images in the old photo viewer, and reverts to using the newer (slower, less featured, generally worse) Windows 8/10 viewer. Or how my work Outlook toolbar is clogged up with things like Insights and Salesforce that I don’t want to use (I don’t think I’m even licensed for Salesforce), but can’t remove.

    Ultimately, I think they know that they can do whatever they want, and “Windows users” will stick with it. They could also make Windows ten times better, and they still won’t win over many Mac users (who are too cool for Windows) or Linux users (who use Free software on principle).

    1. John says:

      Hey! If Windows somehow magically improved in dramatic fashion, I’d probably still use Linux on systems I built myself because it’s free and Windows is $150 or more. (Is cheapness a principle? I always figured it was a character flaw.) But I probably wouldn’t rush to replace Windows on any pre-built systems I bought. So there’s that, I guess.

      1. The Puzzler says:

        If you Google “Windows 10 Key”, they’re on sale for under $15 all over the place.
        (Anyone know if those things are likely to be legal?)

    2. boz says:

      They didn’t ruin start menu for “unified experience”. They changed it to have an advertisement board that you can’t turn off (hence the ghost of candy crush invading your start menu ever since that menu is a thing).

      1. You can right-click on the stuff you don’t want and remove it, you know. It’s not even hidden.

        1. Lino says:

          HOLY SHIT, YOU CAN REMOVE THEM?!?! THANK YOU!!!!! We use Windows 10 at work, and I generally don’t mess with it all that much. Most of the times I’ve tried to remove some annoyance, I’ve failed, because it was either locked behind an admin password or by the capricious designs of Great All-Father Microsoft.
          I had grown so accustomed to these intrusive icons that they had become one of those permanent annoyances of everyday life that blend into the background our tortured existence.
          And now that they’re gone, I feel somewhat liberated. However, I’m still not very keen on updating my personal PC from Windows 7.

          1. parkenf says:

            You can remove them from the menu, but you can’t remove them from your computer – there’s about a gigabyte of king software and minecraft in your windows directory, which if you’re trying to reduce space there is a bit of a red flag. And yes I googled what to do and tried several approaches using powershell and could not eliminate them. In the end I updated to a new computer with a bigger drive.

    3. tmtvl says:

      I’m a devoted Linux user because it’s just the better option for me.
      I can play any game I care for either natively or through Steam Play, KDE Plasma allows me to theme my desktop to look really nice, LibreOffice and Pinta work well enough that I don’t need MSO or PS, and I like being able to let a full system update (including all my applications) run in the background while I do something else on my computer.

      The only problem I have is that printer/scanner manufacturers don’t support the libre side of life, but taking a picture with my phone is often enough sufficient.

      1. pseudonym says:

        They care. Linux is a first-class customer, just like Windows users. The supported devices list is huge. I am a Debian user and it only took apt install hplip to get all the functionality working. Printing over the network included. For scanning I recommend gnome-scan, which has an intuitive GUI.

        Needless to say I am very very happy that there is a manufacturer that supports my preferred OS as a first-class citizen.

        1. tmtvl says:

          Yeah, HP is great, I can really respect those guys. Canon is a carrion crawler from the Athkatla sewers.

    4. Philadelphus says:

      Microsoft’d have to improve it a lot more than ten times to get me to switch back from Linux.

      1. Philadelphus says:

        Just to clarify, I don’t use Linux because of some high-falutin’ principles about free software*, but because I find it a more enjoyable experience than using Windows. Is Linux perfect? No, of course not, I run into problems with it from time to time as well. But on the whole, I generally find it to be less hassle.

        *I have no problems paying for games, after all.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          All the operating systems have hassles…but Linux is the only one I’ve used that has fewer hassles on the things I consider *core*. User interface lets you *search* for things, without needing to memorize everything. No touchscreen-oriented UI on a non-touchscreen device. Programs communicate through simple mechanisms (command-line, text, pipes) so that building software doesn’t require proprietary tools, and doesn’t force you to structure your code in very specific ways. I’m sure there’s more, but I’m drawing a blank.

    5. Moridin says:

      This kind of thinking is exactly why Linux keeps gaining marketshare.

      1. tmtvl says:

        Well… we’re only 0.12% on Steam, so there’s room for improvement.

        1. Echo Tango says:

          Today, the hardware survey says 0.83%. :|

          I’m pretty bummed out that so many dev kits, engines, etc, all support all the operating systems, but devs only think of Linux as an afterthought. The usual comment is something like “Linux is only a small portion of the userbase, so we can’t afford to spend dev effort on Linux”, but if there’s no games that work (without bugs) on Linux, then… These chickens and eggs keep arguing over which came first, man. ^^;

          1. Lino says:

            I still think the main problem for Linux is the fact that it requires a great amount of fiddling and technical competency on the part of the user. Windows, on the other hand, is a turn-key solution – you buy it, install it and you’re good to go. Yes, it comes with hassles on its own but the upfront cost in work needed and technical literacy is monumentally lower for Windows.
            Even if developers get a lot of games working for it, if they’re also available for Windows, almost no one will bother to switch to Linux.

  2. King Marth says:

    Skype was on its way to becoming the verb for ‘video call’, too. Oh well. Fortunately, the alternatives do exist; unfortunately, they fragment the user base, where you need half a dozen applications on hand to reach different people.

    Communication is hard, and then you have to talk to people.

    1. Xeorm says:

      Yea, I’m still surprised at how badly it’s become. I remember using it and thinking it was a great program. Handled our group calls fantastically, no issues. Generally good look and all around good program. 10/10 would recommend. Then Microsoft gets its hands on it and suddenly everything goes bad. I don’t touch the thing now, and cringe any time someone asks me to use it. It’s terrible. How does something go from hero to zero like that? I just don’t understand the process behind that.

    2. Scerro says:

      Discord has replaced Skype/TS3 for online gaming things. Facetime has replaced the video call thing.

      Skype really could have done better, but MS had a completely different vision for Skype, to the point where they shouldn’t have even bought it. The name is dead now, discord came along and displaced it for all my voice chat needs. It was already in a slow downwards spiral even before discord, though.

  3. Tohron says:

    As a Microsoft employee, we’ve just used Microsoft Teams for our video communication needs. I’m not sure who works on Skype.

    1. Benden says:

      This explains a lot about why Microsoft has seemed to have dug a grave for Skype and tried to push it in.

      To answer the question: people who don’t want to use Teams, I think.

  4. Thomas Adamson says:

    Microsoft has *1* current goal, increasing Azure cloud-compute marketshare. All of their good talented people are on that.

    I signed up to the “Microsoft Insider Program – Fast Ring” because I wanted access to Window Subsystem Linux 2 (containerized linux kernal instead of WSL1 linux emulation) and most of the headline features seem to be better integrating containerization and virtualization so to minimize friction with Azure.

    Consumer level UX (aside from making sure people’s peripherals work) is not a huge priority.

    So the Windows store sucks because who cares about a store when you’re fighting with Amazon for control of all the worlds data.

    And Skype sucks because it’s abandoned legacy software. MS Teams is Microsoft’s half-hearted attempt to catch Slack and Discord.

    1. Paul Spooner says:

      The upside of the company I work for adopting MS Teams is I’m already familiar with the interface from using Slack. The downside is everyone else is like “how do you interact with this madness?” and I’m like “Oh it’s just like Slack” and they’re all “What is a slack? Like, formal pants?”

      1. Benden says:

        Maybe to them: Slack is like Teams but good? Or pant. One pant.

  5. ngthagg says:

    My family does an annual Skype call around Christmas. Because various people travel each year, is usually a three way call, sometimes four way. Every year this marvelous software helps us keep some annual traditions.

    1) The Update – no one uses Skype for anything else, so everyone is out of date. We communicate by text while we do this.

    2) The Forgetting of Passwords – again, no one uses Skype for anything else, so everyone has to figure out their password. Occasionally, some will just create a new account for the occasion.

    3) Finding Contacts – next we try to get everyone on one call. This can be challenging as people may still be updating and signing in. The fact that some of us have multiple accounts that have been added to the address books of everyone else’s multiple accounts makes it even more complicated.

    4) The Disconnect – there’s always at least one.

    Maybe one of these years we’ll use a different option.

    1. Tuck says:

      If it’s a once-a-year thing, will probably suit your needs better! Really simple browser-based video calling. It can occasionally be awkward getting sound and mic working, but still easier than Skype’s nonsense.

  6. ccesarano says:

    I discovered in this process that MP3 Skype Recorder’s FAQ is also from 2012, indicating that the original developers have likely abandoned it and thus why it wouldn’t work.

    On the plus side, I figured out a way we could probably record off of Discord next time.

    On the other side, I also realized I probably should have just asked how you and Paul handle the Diecast. As we covered, however, it’s been a long time since Steve and I have actually recorded using the Internet, what with actually being friends in real physical “it’s like I can touch you” space.

    Regardless, it was an enjoyable time, and I’m glad you agreed to be on the podcast with us. Hopefully others give it a listen and have fun taking in our discourse and banter.

    Really, though, is there any other product that Microsoft crashed and burned so severely so swiftly upon acquiring it? Can we stand in shock and amazement that Minecraft has not been mangled in such a manner?

  7. MechaCrash says:

    I briefly reinstalled Skype for various reasons. It had banner ads then, and probably does now. As soon as “move to Discord” became a thing we could do, we did, because I am not particularly interested in having a direct ad pipeline running on my computer. When I got this current computer, uninstalling as many traces of Skype as I could was one of the early day priorities.

  8. miroz says:

    I use Zoom. It works reliably and just one user has to install it. He can send the invitation, which is just a URL, to others by email or some other chat program. Other users can use browser if they don’t want to install the program. The free version is limited to 40 minutes though.

    It’s more logical because you create a conference call first and then you invite others to it, while on Skype you call someone first. I don’t know, for some reason I find Zoom intuitive.

    1. Benden says:

      Zoom is very good. I’m surprised more podcasters don’t use it for remote team recording. Although I suspect the sound recording isn’t great.

  9. Lino says:

    I think Microsoft’s focus has shifted from Skype to Teams, which is far superior. It’s got a lot of formatting options, including code snippets, and it can integrate with a host of other apps. It even has stickers and GIFs, similar to other chatting apps (if you’re into that sort of thing). I haven’t used Discord, but colleagues who have say Teams a very adequate competitor.

  10. GargamelLenoir says:

    This is even worse than you’re describing, they bought Skype and THEN made it terrible! Skype was great at launch 18 years ago, intuitive, lightweight and efficient. And then Microsoft bought it and fixed it.

    The Xbox store on PC is acceptable for me though. I had no problem acquiring The Outer Worlds on it.

  11. General Karthos says:

    I use Skype two to three times a month for a regular international call with a friend who is living in Japan. I’m sure there are other options that are free, but we haven’t had any problems with Skype in a long time (we used to have problems where one or the other of us would lose our connection, but I don’t think that’s a Skype issue, and we both have more reliable wifi now). We’re also both on Macs, so maybe the experience is different. *Shrugs* The point is that I use it so infrequently that investigating what’s out there and learning how to use it would cost me more time in the long run than I would save. And I’d have to convince her to adopt it as well.

    So I keep using Skype through apathy.

    1. Lino says:

      I’ve never used a Mac, but doesn’t Apple have a Skype equivalent? They have their own app equivalent for everything – browsing, Maps, Music. It would be a pretty big oversight if they don’t have one like Skype…

      1. Benden says:

        Not really. Slack is multi platform.

  12. Zaxares says:

    What saddens me the most is that Skype actually used to be pretty good, before Microsoft bought them over. Then I had a bad user experience which I won’t go into detail over (but long story short, it involved a credit card scam and then some TERRIBLE support on Microsoft’s side when they refused to refund me the stolen funds) which made me vow NEVER to use Skype again. That was almost a decade ago, and I’ve kept that oath. :P

  13. Thomas says:

    The king of bad usability is Google Hangouts however, where the hang-up button doesn’t always hang up the call!

    If you have a bad internet connection, Google will refuse to let you hang-up. Even if you switch out of the app it doesn’t shut. Even if you swipe up to dismiss the app on your phone it doesn’t hang-up.

    And then if you run into good internet connection, it will sometimes continue with the phone call – often with no real UI notification.

    I had a secret outed, because I was talking to someone, hung up the call and then discussed it with my partner when Hangouts hadn’t actually ended the call.

    1. Thomas says:

      Oh – Hangouts also sometimes also lets the other person hear you even if you didn’t pick up the call.

      Impressively, for some people they’ve rebooted their phones and Hangouts still continues the call. That would be a difficult feature to program!

    2. tmtvl says:

      It’s a bug in the NSA backdoor.

  14. Ninety-Three says:

    This article’s title refers to it as “Ah! Steve!” but the opening paragraph uses “Eh! Steve!” I assume one of those is a typo.

    1. Shamus says:

      That’s an interesting typo to make. “Eh!” is correct.

      Thanks for catching that.

  15. Steve C says:

    I could not stand to listen to this with the background music.

    1. Lino says:

      Yes, it gets very distracting after a while. I didn’t listen to the entire podcast, because I didn’t want to get spoiled on the game, but when I tried listening to another episode, halfway through the music just got too distracting, and I switched it off.

      1. ccesarano says:

        I’m sorry to hear you guys are not fans of that addition. Would music that’s more chill be preferable? Or a lower volume? Or is the music on the whole just always going to distract you, you think?

        One of the reasons I chose to add music in the background for Eh! Steve! was that I found I preferred it after listening to some podcasts that included it, and it especially makes it more tolerable to have some of those natural gaps in the discourse, which ultimately take far, far longer to edit out than the inclusion and volume adjustment of the background music. It’s surprising to find that it ended up being such a distracting turn-off.

        1. Paul Spooner says:

          For what it’s worth, I enjoyed the music in the background. And the conversation in the foreground!

        2. Lino says:

          If you like it, then keep it as it is. I don’t think you should change your entire podcast structure just because of some dissenting opinions. I’m sure there are people who like/don’t mind the music. I usually listen to music while working on something, and I tune into podcasts when I want something that sounds less intense which is why the music was distracting for me.
          But again, the most important thing is what works for you and your target audience.

          1. ccesarano says:

            True, but being a small podcast I don’t get a lot of feedback. The majority of it, oddly enough, has been from friends that don’t regularly play video games. This is the first time I’ve received real feedback on it outside of my circle of acquaintances, so if the background music is proving to be a bit of a problem then I’d like to see if there’s anything I can do to improve the experience.

            Reading Ninety-Three’s response, though, I guess part of it is just how one responds to it. I’ve gone back and listened to old episodes on occasion, and also listened to other podcasts with music, and never found it a problem. The idea that the music adds something to distract is curious to me. I wonder if, again, it’s a matter of song selection, as I have a tendency to insert chill music and more intense stuff together, as I like intense stuff even for background (as was discussed last week in Shamus’ comments on his music class post).

            It might help to have additional comments, particularly positive ones, to balance it out, but it’s always easier to mention what you don’t like than it is to mention what you do. :D Needless to say, I may try and work on increasing the quantity of chill tunes and see if that possibly helps.

    2. Ninety-Three says:

      Thirding complaints about the music. I like to listen to podcasts in the background while doing something else, and adding background audio to the podcast that’s already my background audio forces me to spend extra mental energy focusing enough to follow the conversation.

  16. Agammamon says:

    It always feels like the interface was made by aliens and QA tested by Bethesda.

    I think you mean made and QA tested by Bethesda.

    I mean, have you seen how the implemented their mod repository? How they attached Creation Club as a direct part of the FO4/Skyrim .exe so that any changes to it – and there are a lot, and they’re all exclusively bugfixes for the store – screw over mod users? Or how they didn’t think PTT was important. Or text. Or how there are two keys to open the in-game map in FO76 but no dedicated ESC menu key? How FO76 shipped with no CSR tools. Or how even now there’s still no PTR?

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