Nikon, Digidesign and Garmin have several things in common.  They all produce products that I’ve personally shelled out cash for.  They all produce high quality hardware that is as good, or better, than their direct competitors.  But yet I’m reluctant to purchase product from them again because, to be blunt, their software sucks.

My primary SLR has been a Nikon for many years, and while I used Nikon View (RAW image software) for a year or so, I’ll admit my first reaction to Adobe Lightroom was that it *had* to be better than Nikon View.  When I wanted a 35mm slide/negative scanner, I bought a Nikon LS4000.  It certainly wasn’t the cheapest, but hey, it was Nikon, and they knew something about achieving good image quality.

While the hardware lived up to my expectations, it took Nikon over a year to produce stable software.  In the interim, customers had to put up with nonsensical support recommendations like, “Don’t run any other software while scanning” – as if if was the customer’s fault that Nikon released software chock full of bugs. Now time has marched on, and Nikon has abandoned those of us who have upgraded to 64-bit operating systems.  It’s easy to understand why photographers would want to use a full 4 MB of RAM (or more) – but Nikon refuses to release 64-bit drivers. Ed Hamrick can do it, but not Nikon.

Digidesign is another example.  Their mbox and subsequent products were a huge hit with home recording enthusiasts, and their software worked reasonably well, other than the fact that they hobbled mobile users with a 3-inch long USB key. (The software only worked with their hardware, yet they felt it necessary to waste money and frustrate users with silly USB keys.)

Digidesign also abandoned users who dared to upgrade their operating system.  For the longest time Vista drivers were not provided, and then, grudgingly, 32-bit Vista drivers. If anyone needs lots of RAM in their PC, it’s someone doing multi-track audio recording.  But Digidesign steadfastly refuses to compile up 64-bit drivers.  My mbox has  become a book-end – and a reminder that Digidesign (owned by Avid) doesn’t stand behind their products.

Finally there’s my love-hate relationship with Garmin.  I have owned several Garmin GPSs.  One currently can be found on the dash of my vehicle, the other in my backpack.  I love Garmin’s rock-solid hardware, but when I start shopping for my next GPS I’ll probably look elsewhere — because their software sucks.

I recently needed to reinstall on my Vista PC, and doing so required that I begin with 4 or 5 year-old software.  Apparently Garmin takes the concept of an “upgrade” literally.  Until you install the old, you can’t install the new.  And since the uninstall doesn’t properly clean up the registry, it’s a painful process that includes installs failing with vague errors, Googling error messages, and ultimately uninstalling every piece of Garmin software on the PC and manually cleaning the registry.  A few hours later and some additional fighting with “unlock codes” and it finally works under Vista 64, putting it somewhat ahead of the Digidesign and Nikon software.

But usability?  Despite the cool new splash screens, Garmin MapSource looks like a high school visual basic project gone bad.  The GPS in my car can perform auto-routing.  I can type an address on the touch screen and it will give me directions. You’d think that I could easily plan routes for a multi-day trip on my PC and upload it to the GPS.  For example, the start and end addresses.  And I sort of can – by either making each destination a waypoint and invoking auto-routing on the GPS when required or letting MapSource build a route (collection of waypoints for the trip. You’d think that Garmin would understand that a trip has a start, end, and intermediate points.  Or that users might want to change the route displayed on the screen by perhaps dragging it to another road.  But the sad fact is that Google Maps is easier to work with, even if I have to print it and take a paper map with me instead.

It’s much harder to earn a new customer than keep an existing one. In these economic times it is unfortunate that some vendors still don’t get it. Having excellent hardware isn’t enough.  Customers also want great software and the ability to upgrade their operating system without loosing the use of your product.  If you don’t provide it, they’ll be looking at your competitors that do, and they won’t be back.

4 Responses to Your software sucks

  1. Evolving Squid
    Dec 06, 2009

    wait until you buy a new GPS and Garmin makes you buy your software all over again.

  2. Glenn
    Dec 12, 2009

    I know a lot of software sucks [Sigh]. Developers work hard to make code that WORKS, they don’t necessarily stop in the middle of that process to ask if it’ll be EASY TO USE. Many marketers fail to speak to developers about these topics, for fear they’ll be insulted for not understanding technology. Think this whole situation could be improved if everyone on a product team practiced mutual respect. Besides, technical or non-technical, everyone can understand how their job will be impacted when, to quote you, “[buyers will] be looking at your competitors that do, and they won’t be back.”

  3. Eric Jacksch
    Dec 13, 2009

    I think the underlying issue is that hardware manufacturers often make the bare minimum investment in software and fail to consider how much doing so damages their overall product.

  4. Nick
    Feb 12, 2010

    I agree. I got effed by Digidesign AND Guitar Center.

    I’m a guitarist, and I’ve wanted to record my own music with decent to professional recording software for a while. So I go to Guitar Center, ask around a bit, and the guy recommends that I purchase Pro Tools LE. I tell him that I have Windows Vista, and he assures me that it’ll work.

    Oopsies, the weasel neglected to tell me that it doesn’t work for Vista 64-bit, which I conveniently had. And also convenient is Guitar Center’s policy of not refunding opened recording software. So I have a $299 paperweight. So I upgrade to Windows 7 (I got a free one since I bought my laptop at Best Buy). There’s a beta version that’s supposedly to work for Windows 7. I try to install the software again, to no avail. I get a message that says “Cyclic Redundancy Check”, which I now realize means that I have a bad disc. So after all this, I have a bad freaking disc from Digidesign. I contact them, and the guy tells me that he’s sending a new disc, and he’s sending me a download link that gives me the software plus the beta version and audio drivers. I think my problem is solved… and then I start to download this 4GB beast, only to find that it estimates to take over 48 hours to download. It fails once on me. I restart the download and leave my computer on overnight. I wake up to find that it’s failed again…

    I’m absolutely livid at Guitar Center and Digidesign… if you were to cut my throat right now, you’d get sprayed in the face with piping hot angry blood.

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