BOFH: Time to put the Pretty Dumb F in PDF reader

Thanks for the support. Oh … that's us, is it?

BOFH logo telephone with devil's hornsEpisode 22 Nggggggggaaargh!

The Boss has decided that because ONE user "had really good results" with a particular PDF viewer we should roll it out company-wide – "because there's bound to be someone else who'll want to use it."

And the software is rubbish. It's a turd in a water tank and everyone can taste it, but the Boss likes it because (a) it's free, and (b) it allows the user to "edit" PDFs plagiarised from the web. And by "edit" I mean crudely – the way you can "edit" your house with an axe.

My technical opinion of the software is sought.

"It's rubbish," I opine technically. "It crashes all the time and drops temp files all over the place."

"Yes, but I think we still want to trial it anyway," The Boss responds, no doubt considering the positives noted above. "For everyone," he adds.

Because trials always work best when you just roll them out to everyone.

And that is why I got into the IT game – so a halfwit who talked the company into paying for his Executive MBA can then experiment on that same company to support his viewpoint that free software is better than "the expensive stuff".

Now don't get me wrong – I like free software as much as the next person who's never pirated anything in his life. But there's free software and there's free software. You commonly either get (a) the bomb-proof stuff that's made by a crack team of like-minded people with a laser focus and clear development road map, or (b) the stuff slapped together by a disintegrating group of people with ADHD which is buggier than a bullfrog's breakfast.

And this particular software has the heady aroma of semi-digested Diptera all over it.

So now we've got to roll out rubbish software which will no doubt drop crap all over the place like a tourist after a bad curry.

The beauty of this approach for the Boss is there are no support issues… for him. He'll just bang away, completing his EMBA Individual Project about the benefits of free software whilst cherry-picking the results he wants from the septic morass of our user outcomes.

The PFY and I, on the other hand, will be cleaning up this mess for months.

"Sure," I respond. "Maybe just send me an email to that effect."

"No problem," he replies.

Moments later an email arrives as promised, telling us to install AN alternative PDF reader.

"Just need to clarify," I say, popping back to his office. "That software you wanted installed?"

"The one we were talking about," he says.

"Yes, but in your email you just said AN alternative PDF reader – not which one."

"Did I? Well, you know which one it is, so just go ahead with that."

It would seem that one of his first lessons in the EMBA program was one on avoiding blame.

Again, don't get me wrong – I'm all for formal qualifications. And if you can't trust a degree whose academic prerequisite involves paying a lot of cash, what can you trust?

I fire a quick email back to the Boss asking him to identify the software.


A day later he's back because nothing's been installed.

"I can't remember which one you said," I lie, knowing full well that only one of us has an academic deadline to meet.

The Boss scratches down the name of the software in question and I make a point of picking up the paper with some tweezers from my drawer and popping it in a ziplock bag labelled "Exhibit A".

Another day later he's back – a little bit agitated – as his Project report is one day closer to being late.

"Oh, you know what?" I say. "I saw that bit of paper, but I just couldn't remember what I was supposed to do with it."

"FINE!" he says calmly, storming off to his office.

Moments later he emails the mandate to us. It reads a little like a manifesto, outlining the importance of free software to the huddled business masses, along with words of encouragement to the PFY and myself to take the initiative to embrace free software solutions as the future of IT.

We could be heroes!

But just for one day.

"No chance," the PFY says, reading the latter part of that message. "Should I take a cloud snapshot?"

"You bet!" I say.

The next day the software is rolled out, and all the alternatives are silently removed. True, the Boss didn't explicitly ask us to remove everyone's PDF readers – but we want this trial to be representative after all. There's crucial research depending on it.

"How is everyone finding it?" the Boss asks.

"Well, only a few of the users dislike it," I say.

"Excellent," the Boss chirps.

"Yeah, the rest of them hate it and want your head on a pole," I add. "I think the lack of persistence of user settings is unpopular, as is the way it opens files for write and locks them."

"I think the straw that breaks the camel's back, though, is the convert-to-PDF function," the PFY chimes in, "which should actually be called convert-to-PDF-which-can-only-be-read-by-this-reader function."


"Oh yes. Were you aware the conversion process was one-way? Like, if you drop a Word document on it and choose convert-to-PDF the only way someone else can read or edit it is with this software?"

"I … uh …"

"You didn't by any chance happen to edit your Project and do a convert-to-PDF on it to mail it, did you?" the PFY asks knowingly.

"I …"

"Don't worry. We took a backup. Would you like us to use free software to do the recovery?"

"I … no."

"So you want the other stuff?"


"The stuff that costs money?"

"Uh … yes."

"Well, you'd better give us some of that, then. Actually, just chuck your wallet over …"

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