Thursday, June 28, 2007

Clip Art Shouldn't Be This Difficult

I'm not a Microsoft hater. In fact, I like Microsoft quite a bit. I think Surface looks pretty cool, Excel isn't that bad of an app, and .NET is waaaaay fun to code in.

However, I can certainly understand why people get so frustrated with them. Whenever I do web work, for example, I discover some new bizarre behavior in IE 6. Sometimes the way something is implemented in .NET will make you scratch your head. It is frustrating that Office doesn't play that well with other products. Etc etc.

Earlier this week I was working on a presentation. This is not something I do that often these days, spending most of my time happy and content inside of a code window. But in past jobs I had to do this sort of thing on a regular basis so it doesn't bother me. I popped open good ol' Powerpoint and got cracking.

At one point I needed to insert a bit of clip art. I was putting together a diagram that required something to represent a client. I wanted a little guy in a suit, but all the prepackaged clip art was cheesy and lame and not at all what I was looking for.

Fortunately on the Microsoft Office website you can go download additional clip art for free! That's kind of cool, I thought to myself. It even had your standard "shopping cart" style interface where you pick and choose what you want. After finding a couple dozen pieces of clip art that were exactly what I was looking for, and I hit the download button.

That's where the trouble started.

Immediately the website wanted me to download an ActiveX component to handle my clip art download. Hmmm. Well, I suppose I can understand why Microsoft does this sort of thing. They want to be able to check if you have a legit copy of Office. But it is still extremely irritating.

Next it prompted me to open the downloaded "clip art collection" file with "Microsoft Clip Organizer". Um, okay. I guess I can see where a helper app like the "Clip Organizer" makes sense... I guess it handles indexing and what not for searches...

Attempting to open the file, however, yielded an unknown error with a helpful octal code. Great. All I wanted to do was download some clip art.

No problem, I'm supposed to be pretty handy with a computer. By which I mean pretty handy with Google. I went ahead and punched in that error code and eventually found my way to a Microsoft article explaining what can cause that problem.

Apparently the Clip Organizer requires the latest copy of Microsoft Data Access Components (MDAC).

Think about that for a second. It's a frakking CLIP ART ORGANIZER and it uses MDAC?!?!?!

So to review, in order to get clip art from the Microsoft Office website, you need an ActiveX component, a helper application built for the sole purpose of handling clip art, a set of proprietary Data Access libraries, and a partridge in a pear tree.

This goes way beyond over engineering into the realm of sheer stupidity. It's CLIP ART. It's a bunch of images in a folder. This is not rocket science. I could accomplish the same thing by making my own folder somewhere and saving a bunch of images in it.

An analogy: if I were to drive up to a Microsoft gas station, I wouldn't be able to just pump gas. I'd have to first talk to the fellow inside to get a special card, use that card at a nearby phone to dial corporate headquarters, who then may give me permission to pump the gas. Once I had the permission, I would have to attach the special "Microsoft Tank Access" pipe which connects to my gas tank, hook that up to the pump, and then, maybe, I could actually start filling the tank. Unless I had last year's version of the pipe which is square and doesn't connect to the new trapezoidal pump pipe, in which case I would need to go back inside, get another card for permission to talk to corporate headquarters, ask them for permission to get the latest helper pipe, and then try again.

All I want is some frakkin' gas.

The best part of this is even after jumping through all these hoops just so I could get the clip art I wanted, it still didn't work.

So now, instead of an actual image of a cartoony little guy, I will be using a box labeled "guy".

If I encounter any more problems, I'll get a stack of bar napkins and a pen and just run with that.


Anonymous said...

Hey, did you hear that Microsoft just put in a bid on Bic and Sharpie? I hear they're manifesting a hostile take-over of Scott Paper, too.

Better stock up on those legacy pens and napkins now, while you can.

And for the rest of the readers, I sit about 4 feet from RYS... watching him get disgusted and frustrated about this stuff is an odd mix of oddly satisfying (see, he *is* human after all) and borderline depressing (if *he* can get worked up over this, there's no hope for the rest of us). The dichotomy unsettling.

Jason Clark said...

"Excel isn't that bad of an app..."

You are dead to me. Dead.

Jason Clark said...

"if I were to drive up to a Microsoft gas station..."

Four words: Blue Fireball of Death

Gabriel said...

I didn't understand most of this post, but I still enjoyed reading it. Good writing always trumps reader ignorance.

p.s. Just use this guy:

Jeff said...

if you're willing to pay a small amount, PointClips has really great artwork.

Graz said...

As much as I love clip art, I would like to express my discontent with not knowing if the Nuevo American regime decided to build the Oracle quickly to ensure 1 free technology or not.

I demand:
update II.

I offer:
Clip art
World map

Smart Bunny said...

Glad I'm not the only one - I use a mac but have office and have always managed to download their clipart until recently. Now I can't get it at all - I just get some file with the .mpf extension (which apparently means my private files). I can't use these or import them into my LEGIT copy of office. Well they can go scr@£w themselves - I'll find the stuff elsewhere and continue thanking my lucky stars I only have to use their software some of the time!!

You post cheered me up - Thanks!!

Gia said...

That is a problem. There is an 'easier' way. If you have NoteTab there is a clip out there called MPF extract. Basically, it decodes the images from Base64. Download clip art as usual and run it through NoteTab. No MDAC or MS clip organizer needed.

Gia said...

This is a really great post...dead on! BTW...MPF is a "media package file"(like a zip)which requires an extractor.