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When worlds collide

Check consumer feedback before spending. Diversions hed: When worlds collide dek: check consumer feedback before spending. by Michael Finley

I live in two journalistic realms, each dealing with the future. In one I write about management theory, and in the other I write about technology, as I do here. Sometimes these worlds crash into each other.

For instance, high-level management gurus describe a world in which “stuff” is commodified, all the same. If you’re buying a minivan, it doesn’t much matter which model you get, because everyone in the auto industry knows how to make cars now, and quality and price are pretty much assured by an informed marketplace and competitive companies.

And I’m listening, and I’m cheering. That’s right: The knowledge economy guarantees that most products will be pretty good. If they’re bad, they won’t sell.

From a technology standpoint, I know that’s goofy. Windows and Mac and Linux and UNIX systems are similar, sure, but they sure aren’t the same, and they are not equally loved-not by a long shot.

You may like to think the Age of Terrible Software is somewhere back there in our rear-view mirrors. But experience tells us that this is not so.

For instance: I like playing with my CD burner, and I like thinking that it doesn’t much matter which deck I use-Sony, Philips, Iomega, HP- all good, right? But woe unto you if you choose the wrong software to use with these drives.

I have been reasonably happy with the version of Adaptec Easy CD Creator 3 that came bundled with my Sony drive. It does the basic things, and it does them right. But I’ve had it nearly two years, and I now see displays at computer stores for the program’s latest version, Easy CD Creator 5 (now marketed by Roxio).

What would happen if I, having confidence in commodity-quality software, spent $100 on the new version?

The beautiful thing is, you can go to online retail outlets like Amazon and see just what paying customers think about a product. Here, for your edification, are the comments of just a few Easy CD Creator 5 customers:

“This was my worst-ever software purchase. It simply didn’t work on my Windows 2000 setup and caused serious problems that I’m still struggling to rectify. I spent an hour on long distance waiting for tech support from Roxio, who never answered.”

“This program trashed my registry, and would not run at all. I’ve tried all updates and recommendations on the Roxio site, and have had no luck.”

“This product is better than a virus for trashing your system. Unless you like testing software, don’t buy this product (and don’t let anyone give it to you for free).”

“Bloated, poorly tested software with clunky user interface. ECDC5 was disappointing enough that after one day, I uninstalled it and returned to my retailer who was good enough to give me a refund for this turkey.”

And so it goes, wave after wave of bitter users who couldn’t get the program to work, couldn’t get tech support to answer questions, and all else failing, couldn’t get a refund. There was a tiny handful of users (generally ones using an OS other than Windows 2000) who actually had OK experiences with Easy CD Creator 5. But the negative reports are overwhelming-and overwhelmingly negative.

I am glad services like Amazon allow users to bitch to one another. And I am even more glad things aren’t perfect yet, and any product is as good as any other. As for minivans, there’s a lot to be said for the Dodge Caravan.

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