VMWare 3: Good Product, Terrible Ordering Process

Here is an example of a confusing, muddled online purchasing experience.

It began well enough. I decided to upgrade to the latest version of VMWare Fusion 3 prior to installing Windows 7 on my Mac. I had heard that VMWare’s virtualization offered faster boot times, better integration with the Mac OS, and best-in-class support for the 64-bit version of Windows 7. I started my journey by reading up on the new features on the VMWare site. Then I read about what would be included with my purchase:

VMWare Fusion step 2

I hesitated. Did I really need to pay $20 more? Was this indicating that VMWare intends to release version 4.0 within the next 12 months? Are they saying that, with the basic $40 upgrade fee, I can expect to pay $40 again within a year for version 4? And that paying $20 now will save me $20 down the road? That might be worth it, but I didn’t have enough information to make the decision. Who knows? They aren’t telling. They just throw it out there that it may be a good idea to ‘protect your investment.’ Nothing explicit is stated. In the absence of clarity, I decided to go with the simple $40 upgrade. I reasoned that the last point upgrade occurred more than 12 months ago, so I’m probably OK with the basic upgrade. I imagine many a consumer will opt for the ‘protect your investment’ path. I hope it works out for them. VMWare should more explicitly state what this ‘protection’ offers. As is, it seems like a cheesy ploy to make some extra cash.

On to the next step. Next, I’m presented with options to ‘add functionality’ to my selection.

VMWare Fusion step 3

This step in the ordering process is particularly frustrating. It’s also devious. For $30 more, I could choose per-incident email support for one incident per year. By clicking on the link for this option, I received an explanatory pop-up message indicating that this would afford me email/phone support from a Technical Support Engineer. I would also get ‘documentation, Knowledge Base articles and discussion forums through the VMware web site.’

Do I need this? I don’t think so. I had just read on the previous page that my $40 upgrade fee comes with 18 months of free email support. And documentation, forums, and Knowledge Base articles are complimentary for all registered users of VMWare Fusion. So what does this ‘added functionality’ get you? Nothing that you probably couldn’t figure out from the forums. And if you do need to send an email to VMWare to get help, you can do so without spending extra money. They claim target response times within 24 hours for all severity of problems. That’s pretty good free support.

I say this step in the ordering process is devious because it’s poorly explained, and I think deliberately so. The explanatory pop-up window is vague, and there’s no link anywhere to the VMWare Support Options page, where all of this is explained in much greater detail (I tried to get there by choosing a ‘Support’ link located at the top of the ‘Customize Your Order’ page, but I was taken to a page entitled ‘Buy VMWare Support.’ Here, I was presented with yet another offer to purchase per-incident support).

Last point: the design of this page is such that the ‘Add to Cart’ button is clear and obvious, but the ‘No Thanks – Proceed to Checkout’ link is small and unobtrusive. I’ve seen this sort of thing in many places around the Web, as I’m sure you have. It’s a subtlety designed to get people to spend more money, simply because many people aren’t paying attention. This sort of thing is not customer friendly. It’s customer hostile.

At any rate, I moved on. After I made my purchase, I was directed to a download page. Here, I was presented with yet another confusing choice: do I want to download the full or the light version?

VMWare Fusion step 6

Aha. It turns out the the light version only comes with VMWare tools to support the Windows and Mac OS. The full version includes support for a wide variety of operating systems. Why wasn’t this important point mentioned in the first place?

I don’t want to sound like an Apple snob here, but I don’t have experiences like this when purchasing third-party software for the Mac. When I buy software, I expect high-quality software. And my expectations extend to the online presence of the developer: I expect the design and messages on the developer’s Web site to focus on generating a positive customer experience through the entire process (to include purchasing and upgrading). I don’t expect what I used to experience all the time when buying software online in my Windows days: vague descriptions, bundled ‘complimentary’ subscriptions, shifty designs to encourage click-through on money-making bits, and other clever marketing ploys that emphasize making money over concern for the customer.

Message to VMWare: this kind of nonsense does not inspire customer loyalty. I could pack up and move to Parallels. You should really treat me better.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’m happy to report that the new version of VMWare works quite well. I’m happy with it.

If you do buy VMWare Fusion 3.0, be sure to download the free Take Control of VMWare 3 from TidBits. It’s free thanks to sponsorship from VMWare. The Take Control e-books are great, by the way — I’ve purchased several and find them to be excellent references. They usually cost between $10 to $12 bucks a pop, so this is an exceptional offer.

On Dvorak and the future of the keyboard

1. Dvorak-Qwerty redux

I decided to test out Tweetdeck, a new Twitter application in Beta developed on the Adobe Air platform. I like it. But when I attempted to hide the app with the shortcut ?-H … it didn’t work. Then it hit me. It’s an Adobe app. Of course it doesn’t work. That’s because I type using a keyboard layout called Dvorak.

It’s a common enough layout that it’s included as an international keyboard option for both the Mac and PC. The Mac also has a unique keyboard layout called ‘Dvorak-Qwerty,’ which I use. This allows one to type using the Dvorak layout, but use Qwerty key combos. It’s a thoughtful tip of the hat to Dvorak users who know and rely on standard Qwerty keyboard shortcuts.

Most of the applications on my Mac respect this convention and work very well with the D-Q layout. The glaring exceptions are Microsoft Office and Adobe products. I’ve given up on Microsoft ever fixing this problem, seeing as the OS still doesn’t include a D-Q option (and likely never will). But Adobe? Come on. I can’t imagine that fixing this little glitch would take much time. Correct me if I’m wrong, Adobe.

I’ve written about this on Adobe forums, I’ve sent in suggestions, I’ve posted on this topic here and on other blogs. Nothing has changed. While I’m sure that there are not many Dvorak typists using Adobe creative suites who rely on Qwerty key combos, I’m surely not the only one! And, hey, we’re paying customers. And those suites are expensive.

Someday, I hope that Adobe will fix this relatively simple thing. Adobe: take heed that Smile on my Mac fixed this same problem with TextExpander with one simple update. I wrote to them about the problem. And it was fixed with their next update a few weeks later. Now that’s service.

2. This Dvorak post rocks

So, I got an email a while back from Francis Siefken from the Netherlands, a fellow Dvorak user. He put forward a convincing case that switching the U and the I on the Dvorak keyboard would lead to even greater efficiencies. I love this kind of analysis.

Check out his post even if you don’t use Dvorak, if only to appreciate the time and thought he clearly put into this. It seems that his blog may have went into hiatus after this one post (something that I can certainly appreciate!), but it’s worth the read nonetheless. As is how he named his son, which also appears on this page. I hope we’ll see more posts on his blog someday soon.

My view: why not switch the U and I keys? The point is that the keyboard—our primary interface to the digital realm—must continue to evolve. Dvorak, while imperfect, is arguably an evolutionary leap forward from Qwerty. But why stop there? I say let’s continue to perfect the layout of keys to meet our needs.

Note that Siefken emphasizes that the primary benefit of Dvorak isn’t necessarily speed. It’s comfort. If you’re someone who types a lot (as in all day, every day) it may be worth your time to learn Dvorak if you’re not already heavily invested in Qwerty. Let the keyboard evolve, and let repetitive stress be damned!

The careful reader might now ask why I don’t use Dvorak keyboard shortcuts, preferring instead to keep using Qwerty shortcuts. The answer? The most-used shortcut keys are largely grouped down by the ? key, so it’s easier and faster. D-Q is a great combo.

3. On the evolution of the keyboard

And speaking of the evolution of keyboards, check out the Optimus Maximus. It’s expensive as hell, but wow. It’s the future of keyboards.

And what’s Apple doing on this front? Perhaps making an Organic Light Emitting Diode (OLED) keyboard of their own. Will it be cheaper than the Optimus Maximus? Probably. Will Art.Lebedev Studios, creator of the Optimus and other wonderful and expensive design goodies, sue Apple? This might be a story we hear more about next year.

Dvorak-Qwerty support for Adobe CS

So, here’s my latest Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard support rant.

I received a very odd ‘personal’ response from an Adobe customer support representative regarding my request for Dvorak-Qwerty support for Adobe’s Creative Suite applications.

My complaint: Dvorak-Qwerty does not properly work with Adobe products.

(See my previous post for background on DQ if you have no idea what I’m talking about)

Here’s a snippet from what I wrote to Adobe about this annoying problem:

I must toggle to the QWERTY layout to use my shortcuts, then toggle back to Dvorak when I need to type. This is very annoying. Would Adobe consider posting a relatively minor update to address those users who rely on the Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard layout in Mac OS X?

They wrote back to me today (within 24 hours, as promised on their website):

I understand that you would like Adobe to post a minor update for Macintosh users who rely on Dvorak-Qwerty keyboard, as you have to continually toggle between these two keyboards in order to use it to type text and use short cut keys respectively.

I apologize for the inconvenience this has caused.

We need to inform you that AdobeĀ® Systems continually develops new applications and improves existing products, but cannot comment on unreleased products until a press release is posted. When new releases become available, the details regarding new features and purchasing information will be posted on the Adobe Web site at the following URL: http://www.adobe.com

Ok. So they seem to grasp the issue, but then again … the response mimicked the phrases from my complaint so closely that it left me with the distinct impression that some sort of AI compiled and regurgitated a customized automated response based on my input. The part that annoys me most is that the automated response tries too hard to appear like it came from a real human. Or perhaps what annoys me is that it doesn’t seem like it came from a real human, but Adobe would like me to feel as if it did.

I can’t say that I expect to see a software update from Adobe that addresses my issue anytime soon. I’m guessing there aren’t too many users out there who suffer from lousy DQ support (and it’s not just Adobe products that lack DQ support), and I’m assuming that the Adobe user base is so massive and the number of suggestions to improve their software are so many that my little complaint may be backlogged until Adobe CS 10.

It’s nice that Adobe has a system in place to so quickly respond to a customer input. I bet a lot of R&D went into this auto-rapid-super-friendly-personalized response system. Still, it raises a larger philosophical question about automated, rapid customer support. Is a quick reply better than a delayed reply (or no reply at all) if it is canned and impersonal? Is it actually worse if it’s canned and impersonal and it attempts to be personalized in a very fake way?

In addition to the mimicry of my original complaint, the ‘personal’ message also included my name at awkward intervals throughout the response. Here’s an example:

Troy, also, please visit the following URL on the Adobe Web site for the latest customer service and technical information: http://www.adobe.com/support/main.html

And later on in the (relatively short) message:

Troy, the Web Support Portal Representatives are available from Monday to Friday.

I’m convinced that a human would not reference my first name repeatedly in such an awkward manner.

The Adobe response was signed by ‘Victor M.’ of Adobe Customer Service. I’m sure that Victor M. exists, but he surely would not have typed out such a weird response to a customer. I really wouldn’t expect a human to type out a detailed response within 24 hours from such a massive company. It had to be a generated response. So what’s my point? If Adobe is committed to a personalized, rapid customer response, I would rather receive a message that said:

Hi Troy, we get a bazillion comments and suggestions every week. We got your message. A real human will read it. We will consider your input.

A week or two later, perhaps I would get a message that said:

Hey Troy, We read your input. We understand that you’ve submitted a feature request about our support for Dvorak-Qwerty. It may be part of a future Adobe release, but we can’t make any promises. We’ll do our best. We’re considering it. Really. Please understand that we have a bazillion other feature requests already in the queue, so your input will be addressed in the order it was received since we’ve determined that it’s not a critical application error.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’d rather see a response like that. To be fair, perhaps the response I received wasn’t automated. Perhaps Victor M. used creative cut-n-paste to respond to my query. Still, it seemed disingenuous; it seemed like a cookie-cutter response cloaked in a ‘personalized’ message. It seemed, in other words, automated in the worst way.

If any of you reading this are Dvorak typists who use QWERTY shortcuts (and use Adobe apps), please consider dropping them a note. Maybe all ten of us will get them to consider updating their software…