Compulsive Customizer

One who thrills at every flexibility offered. Not content with desktop imagery, the CompulsiveCustomizer re-arranges all the ConfigurableUserInterfaces - the entire Start menu contents, designs her own icons for system files, associates a Teletubby sound for every possible event, rotates the mouse axis by 90 degrees for personal comfort, remaps all punctuation keys, and generally makes it an infuriating nuisance for anyone else to accomplish even the simplest tasks on the customized setup.

PetPeeve of many, and poor candidate for PairProgramming.


War stories, anyone?

Ever lost your ~/.emacs file?

Losing your config file was a good cure for compulsive customizing. However the virus has mutated to defeat this cure, at first by offering networked home directories by NFS, and later by encouraging customizations to be synchronized across the world by rsync, USB sticks and more sophisticated synchronisation tools such as unison. By 2005 it had moved to networked applications, and was defending itself by encouraging its victims to customize the Wikipedia with obscure templates and javascript.


Offtopic plus dissenting discussion moved to CustomizationProductivityTradeoffs.

At work we have a standard image for developers. It contains an IDE, a compiler, libraries and a bunch of "user" programs (like Outlook and IE). Although individual developers can customize their workstation to a certain extent (one guy really likes Opera) they all have the same base set of software. This means any one of us can switch to anybody else's workstation and find familiar tools in familiar places. I don't think that it's necessary to be too restrictive with customization: we have several different kinds of chair at work, each person chooses the kind of chair they like best. MIS puts our towers on our desks. Some developers move theirs onto the floor for extra space, others leave them where they are.

A certain amount of customization helps people feel comfortable. If the ducts are broken and nobody fixes them then for sure I'm going to fix them. It's one thing to hate the practice of the compulsive customizer, it's another to ban reasonable customization. Each person should make sure that any customization they perform will not hinder others. Another example if I may: we used to work in our own isolated space. We brought a set of speakers and decided to play music. What we found was that at certain points in time we would all have to listen to music that we didn't like (since we are PairProgramming we can't just use our standard-issue headphones). So we all agreed that we would play only classical music, which was the only kind that we could all enjoy. When we found that our comfort was making others uncomfortable we figured out a way to increase everybody's comfort.


Is RemapCapsLock a reasonable customization?

I wouldn't like it, but I could probably live with it. It depends on how many all-uppercase words I need to type: if we were pairing on some MFC or ATL programming, I'd call it unreasonable. --KrisJohnson

That is crying out for another customization. Make a macro to remap the keyboard with one keystroke when you hand over the keyboard to your pair partner. Remapped caps lock for root may get you in trouble when you need help doing system admin without sudo.


I'm guilty of using a very small font (8pt) for all text editor and web browser windows. I like the additional information and context that comes from using a small font. But many of my coworkers have trouble reading my screen, so I have to change the settings when working with someone else. Another frustration is that the default font sizes on web browsers are so large that most commercial web sites compensate by using small fonts on their pages--these become unreadable with my even smaller settings. --KrisJohnson


Perhaps one shouldn't customize compulsively. However, there are some things that really should be customized. The default toolbar in MicrosoftWord includes buttons to change the number of columns in a document. For most of us, that is a waste of screen space. --EricJablow


Whenever I install [insert recent Microsoft OS here] on a new machine, I zip through all the Explorer, IE and desktop dialogs and change everything to the way I like it. The process takes 5 minutes and I know exactly what checkboxes to click even though I only do it two or three times a year. Am I a CompulsiveCustomizer? Maybe. But in my defense, the default settings in [whichever OS] are not very good settings for me. My settings are much better. For example, by default, Explorer windows open in some kind of Icon view with about one third of the space in the window (the left side) wasted with some sort of "friendly interface" thing from Microsoft. That icon view is useless for me. With my settings, I can see 30 or 40 files, sorted alphabetically, with sizes and dates and types and other useful information, in a default-size window. With the default settings I can see maybe 12 giant icons with fragments of file names below them. I also find about three quarters of the services that are enabled by default in recent Microsoft OSes to be nearly or totally useless, so spend the next 5 minutes disabling those. I think it is legitimate for users to customize software if (a) the user base is so broad that no single set of settings can meet their needs, or (b) a single set of settings COULD meet their needs but the developer failed to discover what these settings were and program them in as the defaults.


"Am I a CompulsiveCustomizer?"

If the first thing you do when you install a new application is test all the ways to customize it, the answer is yes. If the first thing you do when you reinstall an application is customize it to your personal One True Way, the answer is likely no.


What about people customizing once and taking their config files with them in their home directory so the programs behave the way they like without extra work on all machines? The amount of work is much lower than GUI-customizing over and over again and pays off much quicker when the customized version is really easier/faster/better to use for this specific person.

Now (2014) you can even carry a portable version of the software that you use on a USB stick everywhere with you, so you always have the version and settings you are used to, without even working with home dir!


See also MultipleSkins

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