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.