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Why can't software play nice?

When CNET News.com's Ian Fried logs on, he soon lands in streaming media player hell. Why are the flames of cyberhell tormenting our intrepid reporter? Read on.

Some people are passionate about their streaming media players. I am not one of them. You won't find me saying "I love QuickTime!" or "RealPlayer rocks!"

But every now and then I need to play a video stream, and just about any of the players will do just fine. Nonetheless, I have all the major ones installed--Windows Media Player, RealOne and QuickTime. If some local TV station somewhere has a car chase going on online, I don't want to miss the part where the bad guy gets caught just because I had to stop and download the right player.

What I don't like is that my media players can't get along.

RealOne, the version of RealPlayer that I have installed, is always trying to play the other file types, and I can't seem to find the right words to tell it to stop. A day or so later, one of the other players pops up and starts complaining that Real is taking away its file types and wants me to do something about it.

I feel like the parent of toddlers.

For a long time, Windows has been associating certain file types with a particular program, and in general, that's a good thing. It's just that the battle for which program gets which file type has lately gotten out of hand. Once upon a time you could adjust the settings in one program without the others getting all huffy.

The battle for which program gets which file type has lately gotten out of hand.
I want to say: "Real, you get to play Real files; QuickTime, you get to play QuickTime streams...and if that doesn't work, well, maybe we just won't have any streaming media files."

RealOne is no better at sharing when it comes to playing stored music files like MP3. As soon as I start up my computer, before I can open a file, RealOne is at it again.

"The application listed below has repeatedly attempted to change your choice of RealOne Player as your default media player," Real proclaims, hoping I'll forget I never gave it such permission and instead delegated that task to MusicMatch Jukebox. "RealOne Player has been re-established as the default media player for the media types below."

In a slightly conciliatory move, RealOne adds, "For information on how to change those settings, click 'More Info'." Slightly encouraged, I click the box. To my dismay, nothing happens. RealOne again gets to bully the other kids out of their toys.

And don't even get me started on the instant messaging programs. None of them talk to each other. Plus, they've stopped listening to me--heaven forbid I try to quit an IM program entirely. Instead of obeying my simple command, it patronizes me. "Well, I'll hide so you think I've quit, but I'm just going to keep running in the background," is the gist of the message I get back.

It's at this point in my lament that I can't help but recall the good old days when software programs behaved.
It's at this point in my lament that I can't help but recall the good old days when software programs behaved. But just as I am in the middle of wistful reveries about my Kaypro II--a computer whose programs were far too simple to get up to any mischief--RealOne pipes up again.

A message at the bottom of my screen tells me that a new version is available. "No," I declare. "Not until you've shown me you can behave. Then we can talk about an upgrade."

"I can turn this computer right around," I think to myself, angry that my PC has made me sound exactly like my mother.

Lest anyone think I am too permissive, I have tried to lay down the law. Looking at the settings, I'm sure there is a command--hidden away under some innocuous-sounding name--that actually makes the programs behave.

Unfortunately, I'm still looking.