Monday, August 27, 2007

Don’t worry; we will fix it in Version 2.1

There is no lack of hype surrounding various new digital products helping to make our lives “easier.” The manufacturers ply us with promises of faster connections, easier communication, clearer pictures and the ability to carry in our pocket every song ever written. For sure the digital age has spawned a panoply of truly awesome products. Amid these developments, it is a shame that the same amount of energy used to develop, manufacture and market these products does not go into thoughtful customer support.
A few weeks ago my wife asked me to look at her computer since she was getting a strange error message informing her that the anti virus program was not working properly. With the myriad of bad things floating around the Internet waiting to find a home on an unprotected computer, such a warning gets serious attention.
Like millions of people, my wife uses a set of software tools from a company called McAfee®. It is a leading provider of software aimed at keeping viruses at bay and spam and other irritating email junk to a minimum. It was that software that was not working properly, or that is what we thought. After spending some time trying to fix the problem she gave up and asked me to see if I could help.
I won’t bore you with the ugly details but after trying to fix the problem according to the on line help provided by McAfee®, I gave up and reinstalled the software from scratch. This too was of course at the suggestion of the McAfee® online help messages. That did not help.
OK, let’s skip to the bottom line. It seems that McAfee® had automatically updated my wife’s software (something that is done all the time on line) but this time there was a bug in the update that generated the false error message regarding the vulnerability of her computer. As it turns out millions of customers in North America were getting that same error. But how were they to know that they didn’t have a ‘real” problem?
Well, buried in the McAfee® web site there was a message that reported that the error message could be ignored. I had gone to that web site several times in my attempt to fix the problem and did not see the message. Perhaps my addled brain function clouded my observation. Nevertheless, I have one question. Why didn’t McAfee® immediately send out an email informing customers of the problem? McAfee® and other hardware and software companies often use email to hype new products or service improvements. They did send out an email a few days later explaining that they had fixed the problem.
My wife, a most intelligent and practical person who has little patience for the pocket-protector set, suggests that all software and hardware developers after they release any new product, spend a week on the other side of the screen. Not a bad idea.

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