Rant: The Indirect Whiner

Here’s an oddity: a Rant about Geeks. More specifically about some of my would-be users. Let me preface this by saying two things: first, the majority of my users have been not only great sources of new features for my products, but they are also pretty understanding when one of my applications occasionally hiccups – the people are great to work with. Next, let me also say that at least 65% of all software problems occur between a monitor and a computer chair: I’m a firm believer that most errors in software come from users. There two things at odds? Not really. Let me explain…

Over the last decade I’ve been a software tester and coder. I’ve worked for corporations of all sizes that make internally used software, shrink-wrapped software, mobile software, embedded software, shareware software, freeware software, and more recently, donation-funded software. I’ve been all over the industry and while I find that I like making shrink-wrapped software the best – and yes, I’ve been able to go to CompUSA and see my software there! – I think donation-ware has its uses too. I don’t much care for shareware because it almost never makes money, so I don’t really see the point of it. I do like the notion of working on a project/product that has no real commitments: you don’t expect to make money with it and there’s no fixed milestones or deadlines for deliverables. It’s a bit of a college programming mindset but on a much larger (and more real) level.

When I started working on SharpMT, it came out of a need that I had for as an offline Blog writer. This site had caught on and actually developed an international following – trust me, no one is more surprised than me – and because I wrote most of my entries offline, I needed a tool. After writing one I figured “Why not let other people share” so viola! a donation-ware project was born.

For the most part working on SharpMT has been great. My users have great new ideas, they look forward to new releases, and they usually stay to read the other stuff here. For the most part. You see, there is a group of would be users that are very irksome. It’s not the people that post in the comments that there’s a problem with the software or the users that gripe about certain features that I refused to code; I want to know about stuff like that. It’s not even the people that email me and tell me that w.Blogger or Zempt are much better than SharpMT; the fact is that I’ve told people that find that SharpMT doesn’t do enough or what they want it to do, to check out the other packages. I’m not in competition with either application – what would be the point? A fight for more market share of free market? hah! No, I’m talking about the worst sort of user: the not-so-silent unhappy user.

We’ve all downloaded shareware or freeware only to discover, once it was installed, that it sucked. We’ve all done it. The mini-application or a new XP-theme that was not only ugly or pointless, but was also unusable. What I usually do is uninstall the app and go on with my day. For example, I found a taskbar-like weather plug-in that has been crashing. I’ve uninstalled and if a new version comes out I’ll try again: it’s that simple. If it was an application that I really liked to use, I might take the time to email the company or developer and get some help. One thing that I wouldn’t do is post all about how “bad” the application is on my website without first having found out what went wrong.

Ah! Finally, a point! Yes, there is a point to this. Over the last couple of months I’ve seen other Blog authors trying out SharpMT. Obviously, I don’t know who downloads the application; it’s available to all! The problem I have is that I don’t know when people have problems with the application, if they don’t tell me. So there I am, blissfully reading Blogs from all over the world and I see comments like “It crashed when I launched it – it sucks”. That’s a useful comment for me to know about because I want to know if the application has bugs! However, I won’t ever find out about it unless I happen to randomly read someone’s site or I’m a mind reader. These people take the time to bash an application on their site, yet can’t email or leave a comment for the author about it… I just don’t understand.

When I first started seeing these comments, I would email the user with the problem and find out what was wrong, but I’m not going to bother anymore. What do I care if they can’t be bother to report a problem? If anything, one less bug for me to fix right? I just don’t understand how you can trash an application if you don’t know what the problem is – how do you know that you, the user, didn’t do something wrong? I guess I’m not that irresponsible. I mean I’ve tried a couple of applications before writing SharpMT: I just didn’t like them. I didn’t bash them here nor will I.

Oh and for the record. For most of the users that I did talk to, that crashed when they launched SharpMT? They didn’t have the required .NET Framework installed, which the first and last install page, as well as the FAQ, told them they had to have…

Just another example of User Error trashing a perfectly good application.

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