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Who's been changing your preferences while your back was turned?

Complex software offers many preferences that can be set and saved. But if a computer has several users, will someone else mess up your settings?

If you invest in software for your own personal recording system, one of the first things you will do is set the preferences the way you like them. This will take a deep investigation of pages of the manual that will probably never be looked at again.

It may take a while, and a little trial and error, but eventually you will have the system set up exactly the way you want, and you'll never have to change those preferences again.

But how does this work in a multi-user environment? Everyone will have their own preferences, with the result that unless the software or operating system specifically supports multiple users (some do, but not fully), then you'll never know what to expect each time you sit down to work at the system.

And worse still, even though you might be expert in every other aspect of the system, the preferences are something that are normally dealt with once. You don't expect to have to remember all the options and possibilities.

The problem with preferences is worst in an educational environment, where dozens of students are using the same equipment. And they will undoubtedly explore the preference pages.

Some students will know what they are doing and set preferences appropriate to their needs. Others will be playing hit and miss, still others will be messing things up on purpose!

Operating systems such as Windows XP and Mac OS X handle multiple users quite well. But this doesn't always extend to all the preferences of applications. And there might easily be the situation where a single user doesn't always want the same preferences; they might want a different set according to their task in hand.

So what we need is savable preference files so that a library of preferences can be created for different users and for different applications.

That way you could sit down, load up the preference set you want, and the application will perform exactly the way you expect it to. Makes sense, doesn't it?

By David Mellor Monday November 27, 2006