Java News from Friday, January 28, 2005

I remain amazed at the crap vendors expect us to pay for. I recently purchased some software to edit and burn DVDs. However, on my first attempt to use it refuses to work because I'm trying to combine video clips in both PAL and NTSC formats. The problem is:

  1. The software should convert between PAL and NTSC as necessary. This isn't rocket science, and software that advertises support for both formats should indeed support both formats.
  2. The error message doesn't actually tell me which clips are in which formats so I can't easily correct the problem.
  3. The manual and online help have nothing to say about this. The web site does, but its instructions do not reflect reality. They claim particular screens will show me content that is simply not present.

I've also found at least one significant bug in their product, user interface issues aside. I'd normally report it, but they can't be bothered to provide an e-mail address or a phone number (though they insist on getting both from me). I filled out the online form to ask them if there's a way around the PAL/NTSC problem, (the form itself has at least two major bugs) and perhaps they'll get back to me; but I tend to doubt it. I'm not going to mention the name of the company just yet, in case, miracle of miracles, tech support actually fixes the problem; but I kind of doubt that. It's fairly obvious the flaws are pretty deep in the product. I'm afraid this company fell off the clue train some years ago. (This isn't the only stupidity I've seen them committing lately.) Hiding support from your customers is a self-defeating strategy. If a company tries to reduce its support costs by making support hard to access (no e-mail, no phone number, insane registration requirements, web sites that require cookies, support links that end in 404s, extra charges for support, etc.) customers will reduce their cost by returning its products to the store. Somebody needs to pound it into these vendors' heads that the primary reason one pays money for software instead of just downloading the free stuff off the Net is for support. No support = no sales. Out of control support costs are a code smell that signals poor user-interface design and/or bugs. An intelligent company fixes the root problem rather than hiding from it.

Update: the company responded to my online form fairly quickly. However it appears to be an automated response that parrotted back the exact same factually incorrect misinformation I had already read on their web site. I guess I need to add using really stupid AI to respond to questions as yet another way companies try to avoid listening to customers. One more thing: the subject of the message was the not-so-helpful "RQST00003019439" that I came very close to deleting as spam without looking at it.

Update 2: A human finally responded. Though they weren't actually able to provide any useful assistance, they did confirm that the web site information is incorrect.