By T.R. REID and BRIT HUME
The recent column in this space about our troubles with Broderbund's "Calendar Creator" program has brought in a tsunami of mail. Mostly, we heard from readers who sympathized because they have had similar woes. We also got one response that showed no sympathy at all and that one was from the maker of the program.
Finally, we got a letter that offered a simple and sensible piece of advice that would have avoided the problems in the first place.
As reported here, we've used "Calendar Creator" for years to print out personalized calendars, reminders and travel schedules. When Broderbund released a new version of the program (Calendar Creator Deluxe, version 6), we installed it immediately.
But this "upgrade" turned out to be much harder to use than earlier versions. Further, it messed up the basic settings on our computer. Its installation program deleted all the printer-driver programs we had installed in Windows, so we couldn't print anything.
We sent a frantic e-mail to the technical support staff as soon as this happened. When we wrote the earlier column, there still had been no reply. The other day, though, the technicians at The Learning Co. that's the firm that wrote Calendar Creator for Broderbund responded to our plea for assistance.
The tech staff told us, in a smirky message, that what had happened couldn't possibly happen.
"As intelligent as Calendar Creator is," the response said, "it is not intelligent enough to erase printer drivers."
We don't know how "intelligent" Calendar Creator is, but we do know this program devoured all our printer drivers. Two minutes before we installed the program, we were printing with no trouble. As soon as installation was finished, we couldn't print at all, because everything had been erased from the "Printers" directory.
That totally unhelpful "Help" message we got from technical support reflects an arrogance that is common in the software business. In most industries, manufacturers are apologetic when their products prove defective. But when software companies sell buggy programs, they blame the customer. The basic line is: If you encounter any problem using our product, it must be your fault.
Readers around the country who had problems with this and other programs reported the same kind of response from software companies.
Paula, a reader in Los Angeles who used version 5 of Calendar Creator, kept complaining to technical support about problems. She was told she had to go to the Internet and download various Broderbund "Service Paks" to make the program work.
"The tech person told me to install Service Pak 3 and also Service Pak 4. ... She asked me what printer I was using, and when I told her a HP Laserjet 5, she told me to install the printer driver for the HP Laserjet 3." None of these steps solved the problem, so tech support next advised that she go out and buy version 6 of the same program. That is: Since the last product you paid for didn't work, we recommend you pay us some more for another one.
Paula didn't take this advice. Given the trouble we had with version 6, she seems to have made the right decision.
Amid this flood of complaints, we also received a golden droplet of advice from M.C. Milligan of Little Rock, Ark. "I am curious," Mr. Milligan wrote, "why you bought and installed Calendar Creator 6.0 when you were so happy with the previous issue of the program?" When Mr. Milligan has a program that suits him, he just ignores new versions. He gets his work done, and avoids the upgrade hassle.
There's a lot of wisdom in that practice. As we've written for years in this column, you should have no qualms about sticking with a computer or a software program for 10 years or longer, so long as it does the job you need to have done.
The PC industry naturally focuses on the benefits of upgrading. And sometimes, there can be real gains in speed, power, or features when you buy the latest thing.
But upgrading is always a gamble, particularly in software programs. Sometimes, the upgrades don't work at all. Sometimes, the "improved" version turns out to be slower and more complicated than the earlier program it replaced. If you don't need the fancy new features offered, you will often do better to stick with what you've got.
T.R. Reid is London bureau chief of the Washington Post. Brit Hume is managing editor of Fox News in Washington. You can reach them in care of the Washington Post Writers Group, 1150 15th St., Washington D.C. 20071-9200, or you can e-mail T.R. Reid at firstname.lastname@example.org and Brit Hume at email@example.com.
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