I'm probably not the only person who suddenly wondered if my computer had gone funny a few weeks ago when the Windows Live sign-in page looked very different from the one I'm used to. It was only after tracking down the Windows Live team blog and reading the article about it that I realized what was going on. And it seems from the comments on that post that a lot of people are upset by the change.
According to the relevant blog post, the reason for the change is that the implementation of "tiles" that remember your email address was "causing confusion" amongst users (they obviously refrained from using the familiar excuse that perhaps people are just becoming more stupid). It seems that the workings of the blatantly obvious "Remember my password" checkbox were unclear. Now you have only two options: enter your email address and password in full every time, or click "Keep me signed in" so you never see the sign-in page again.
However, if you visit a non-affiliated site that accepts a Windows Live ID, you get redirected to the Windows Live sign-in page and you see the old "tile" format - though without the "Remember my password" checkbox and with a note to let you know that the site wants to use your Live ID for authentication. Obviously this will confuse the stupid people even more.
As an aside on the "stupid" topic, there's a delightful tale doing the rounds that concerns a well-known and supposedly non-intellectual football player here in England. When asked by his team manager about the cylindrical metallic object in his kitbag, the player replied "It's one of those new unbreakable vacuum flasks. My wife gave it to me as a birthday present. It's amazing - it keeps hot things hot and cold things cold". "Really?", replied the manager, "What have you got in it?" to which the footballer replied "Two cups of coffee and a choc-ice"...
But getting back to the topic in hand, now there are two issues. If I choose not to stay signed in (which is typically the case if you are as paranoid as I am), I have to enter my email address in full every time I visit Hotmail or a site that uses Live ID for authentication. And because I tend to spell "hotmail.com" as "homtail.com" most times, it takes three attempts to log in even though I got the password right. I can't help wondering why they didn't put a "Remember only my email address" checkbox on there as well, even if they need to add a stupid-people explanation popup such as "tick this box if you want us to automatically fill in your email address so that you won't spell 'hotmail' wrong every time".
Or even make it the same as in Outlook Web Access where you can specify if this is a public or a private computer to have it remember your email address in the login page. This is, of course, the second issue. After a few abortive attempts and the general annoyance at having to type their email address every time, how many users will just click "Keep me signed in"? And then let their kids, neighbours, friends, and everyone else in the Internet cafe access this email account?
Hopefully you noticed the new "Get a single use code to sign in with" link on the sign-in page that's designed for when you aren't on your own machine...
Mind you, this discovery and subsequent aggravation did prompt me into something I've been thinking for a while I should do. It's time that I sorted out my logons and passwords, and tried to figure out where I have accounts with the multitude of websites I've visited over the years. And either close unwanted accounts or make sure I'm using different passwords for each of them.
Most sites now offer a "Close my account" option, and I made use of this where I could. Though many of the sites I've used over the years are no longer there (I just hope they haven't sold my login details to anyone else). I even managed to slim the number of different accounts I have with Hotmail, Amazon, PayPal, and others down to a single account with each. Other sites where I couldn't locate a "Close my account" option I found I could simply change all of the personal details into meaningless strings of random characters, and then set a ridiculously long and complex password.
But there are some sites that seem to go out of their way to make life difficult. One prime example must be the Sony UK web store. I tried contacting the online assistant using their chat facility, but was firmly told that it was not possible to close my account and that they could not remove my personal details from the site. So I tried to update them to random stuff, and discovered that it's not actually possible to change them at all, even with fully valid entries in every textbox. Even if you open the details page and then just click "Save changes" it tells you that you must "Choose an appropriate form for your address".
Oh well, I though, I'll just change the password to something really long and complex instead. But the first attempt failed because I included an invalid character. And all subsequent attempts simply displayed an error message saying that you can only update your password once a day. Though I must have achieved something because today I can't log in at all, and the retrieve password feature doesn't even recognize my email address. I suppose that means I can never buy another of those glorious laptops they advertise...