Sure, you're all jazzed about Barack Obama and looking forward to a brighter 2009, but what about the catastrophes of 2008? I'm not talking about the financial meltdown, Sarah Palin, or The Love Guru, I'm talking about the worst downloads of the year.
Every three months, Tom Merritt (of CNET TV renown) and I collaborate on a lighthearted tribute to the software failures that stick out among the many excellent programs on Download.com worse than John McCain supporters at the Inauguration Day gala.
To qualify, these downloads have to meet the minimum requirements specified by Download.com in our software policies. That excludes all spyware, adware, and rogue software--which disqualifies public enemy No. 1, the notoriously annoying Antivirus XP 2008 and its many variants, which continue to plague Google ads.
Without any further introduction, here are my picks for the most inept, most impractical, and outright goofiest Windows software downloads of last year. If you missed them all the first time, consider yourself lucky.
No. 5. SKAT
In all honestly, this unusually unappealing card game makes my top five worst of 2008 mostly because it's German and named "SKAT." Are you kidding me! That sort of "blue" material might be golden for bawdy comedians, but what about the casual gamer? Unless you're well versed in German and enjoy human-size mice sitting around a photo of an old-timey saloon, you're best passing this diversion by.
The basic card game pits you against Speedy and Jerry, two suspicious and ill-drawn rodents. The rules conveniently list topics in English like "Game Introduction" and "The Deck and The Suits." However, clicking on any topic only gets you more explanations in German. You can pick up on the rules of the game by playing a few with Speedy and Jerry, but if the lame graphics and retro (yet very polite) rodents don't scare you off, the tedium of the action should put you to sleep in a few minutes.
No. 4. MB Free Psychic Color Test
It's one thing to exploit users' belief in their own supernatural abilities, but why does pseudoscience have to be so doggone boring?
The free psychic "game" MB Free Psychic Color Test is based on using your psychic abilities to select the color secretly chosen by the computer. The Beginner level starts with five colors; Intermediate brings 10 colors to the mix; and Expert kicks up the fun to 20 colors.
Close your eyes, take a deep breath, and think hard. Then open your eyes and select a color. If you're right, you'll get a "correct" message; an errant response receives an uplifting "incorrect" salvo: "Don't lose hope! Relax, take a deep breath, keep a calm mind, and guess again." Wait a minute...guess? There's no guessing involved in psychic color testing. I call shenanigans!
To top if all off, exiting the test brings up a shameless donate page from mysticboard.com, the publishers of this crock of software. Mystic Board keeps skirting the very lowest level of our quality threshold, with a number of ridiculously simple programs related to astrology, the occult, and the supernatural.
No. 3. Alien Communicator
While I must give this ridiculous program props for winning the unofficial contest for most mind-boggling software program of 2008, it also doesn't do very much of anything remotely useful, aside from randomly generate letters and numbers.
According to "The Story" that comes with this download, the Alien Communicator "translates alien psycho-kinetic control of the random number generation capability of a PC computer into readable letters." Apparently, thoughts travel much faster than the speed of light in spatial dimensions that are scaled smaller than "the four we are familiar with."
If you actually believe that aliens are trying to communicate with us via random numerals sent through the fifth dimension, I might suggest that you undergo some psychiatric analysis. However, what I wouldn't recommend would be the next piece of software on the list.
No. 2. Psychiatric Diagnosis Suite
When you or someone you care about may have a serious psychiatric problem, the last thing you likely need is a poorly programmed set of canned questions in an interface that's horrible enough to push you over the edge, but that's exactly what you get from Psychiatric Diagnosis Suite. While much of the information in this program is accurate and semicurrent, it's nearly impossible for anyone to use it.
After you are done answering a set of seemingly random psychiatric questions in the standard screen, a series of pop-up windows suggest possible diagnoses: "Please consider Panic Disorder," "Please consider Agoraphobia," "Please consider Alcohol/Drug Abuse" (that popped up twice for me, uh-oh!), "Please consider Generalized Anxiety Disorder," "Error on line 6933 ... Object Required," perhaps we should "Please consider another software program."
Constant spelling mistakes only reinforce the amateur presentation, and to top it all off the program costs $100 and only allows one trial use. If you ever end up with a psychiatrist who uses this ridiculous software, run away!
No. 1. Automatic Print Email
In a year of "change" where many scientists and concerned citizens believe that our environment is reaching the tipping point when it comes to natural resources, there's no reason to waste paper unnecessarily, yet that's exactly what this software does. For the low, low price of $50, this program will print all of the e-mail from your in-box, creating pages after pages of YouTube links, Viagra spam, Evite invitations, and other minutiae from your friends, relatives, and random strangers.
In my option, you're much better off using an actual e-mail program to, you know, read your messages, and then print out the images and letters for which you want hard copies after your preview your messages. For those responsible members of Spaceship Earth, a free program called GreenPrint takes on the notion of paper waste from an opposite approach. It lets you remove items from computer printouts to avoid wasting paper unnecessarily. Now there's an idea for 2009!