Free PDF splitters, and other crippleware

Yesterday I downloaded a PDF splitter to use on my MS computer at work. And I got bitten, hard. I wouldn’t exactly call it crippleware; most people expect even crippleware to be minimally useful. This piece was not.

I shall quote the message that I sent to their support email addy:

I am writing to let you know that your free trial download for the PDF splitter is not a useful piece of software at all, for the simple reason that it intentionally and flagrantly renders the split documents useless by inserting the “watermark” — a large message spanning the diagonal of the page, in cherry red characters, saying “in order to remove this message please visit our website” — across every page of the document.


Were it to put a far more discreet message along the top or bottom, this might be tolerable however ugly it would be; however, it is hardly of any value to anyone wishing to take advantage of the “15 free uses” or somesuch in order to evaluate the software before deciding to purchase it; in fact, I expect that most people downloading the evaluation copies are immediately turned off by this malfunction.

Obviously, I don’t expect a response from them, at least not a useful response. Obviously, I would never have bought the software to begin with were I to have had a good experience using the software — I admit it, I’m cheap.

And sure, I should have thought things through a bit better and (as I mention below) install Ghostscript to do the job. Sure, I was in a bind and embarrassed myself and my employer in front of the client.

So of course, the following reactions come to mind:

– What, the programmer(s) wanted to show off their skill at insering “watermarks”, and that are ugly to boot?
– Or did the programmer or company put more thought into the dollar signs floating in front of their eyes than, oh, I don’t know, producing a piece of software that someone may actually wish to buy?
– Or did the Marketing Department convince the programmer’s supervisor that the watermark had to be put in?

And on a personal level:

– I should install ghostscript and run:
“gswin32c -sDEVICE=pdfwrite -dNOPAUSE -dQUIET -dBATCH -dFirstPage=m -dLastPage=n -sOutputFile=out.pdf in.pdf”
– I should stop trying to delude myself that there won’t be an ever increasing number of useless PDF tools out there that require you to buy the product before getting a true evaluation copy;
– When using my work computer, stop using a Windows mentality, and apply a thing or two that I know how to do under linux.

Of course in the short term, what I did was speak with the secretary very nicely, who has Adobe Professional to split the file, and she did.

My point should be clear: If you want to sell your software, go right ahead; I won’t be buying it anyway. And if you want to give away a trial period during which people can, well, try the software, go right ahead; I may try your product during the trial period. But why give a free trial period (in the case above, 15 operations) that reflects poorly on the company and actually annoys your potential customers?

Handheld computer Apps

Here’s a blog entry I meant to post last June, 2009, but for whatever reason I never got around to it. I’m doing it now to set the scene for my next entry. 🙂

*****

I just saw a commercial for Nationwide Insurance. And I was blown away.

They have this several times mentioned “accident app” for the unnamed but clearly identifiable iPhone / iPod Touch. It brings you through the process of what you need to do if you have a car accident — take photos of the damage, the area, the other car, the street, where the cars are relative to everything, then the address, the license of the insured car, your details, the other car’s and driver’s details … of course all this just from the commercial.

And I’m thinking … that’s the kind of thing a handheld with an integrated camera is for, not just taking pictures of Fluffy, Rover or the kids every five minutes and sending them to friends, or playing some inane game. I was thinking that the Apple App Store, without having checked it out myself, was probably full of useless apps like tip calculators and calorie counters.

I used to have a Palm Pilot. I still have it, in fact, but I don’t use it. You looked all around the net for little apps, and there’d be plenty of useless ones, and you get tired when the one or two useful apps just don’t cut it anymore and in the process required so much effort to find what was (usually) a second-rate app.

Or maybe I am glimpsing at why Ubuntu is doing so well.

I think I’ve been so high on my horse about open source that I’ve missed something.

Or, maybe one of the open source drawbacks is that there isn’t an open-source Linux “App Store” out there, creating the buzz that “you need this, it’s a killer app” or “it’s a killer appliance” creating the desire for the product (and then of course the apps would follow) or whatever (March 2010: Hello Android!)

(addition in March, 2010) Now of course this of course is a really bad observation on a technical level; the Apple “App Store” is a kind of repository for the IPhone and IPod Touch, and there are plenty of linux repositories; and, despite the completely different paradigms between a desktop (and even laptop and netbook) and a handheld device, of course there are plenty of little programs that would be apps for your computer available. Despite its convenience, I wouldn’t want to use my Acer notebook to fill out all the details of my latest car crash, even though it has a web cam in it and wi-fi, and I suppose I could get a 3G dongle for it. My meaning was more along the lines of when I was responding to a survey about a tax program, which asked why I used the version I used, in my case, the web version: I said I used it because I use linux and they don’t have a linux version, and that in order to have a linux version, the best way would be to push it through the repositories or have their own repository, in order to maintain bug fixes and updates in tax laws, meaning that the afore-mentioned buzz is no longer there surrounding a computer (or more) in every house, and the fact is what makes handheld devices so buzz-worthy is the combination of small convenient size and processing power. See next.

(back to June, 2009) My brother, who has an iPod touch, says the big difference between handheld computers today and those of five and ten years ago — aside memory and processing power and the like — is the presence of wifi abilities and hotspots; the inclusion of a camera was implicit to his comments. And nowadays, gps antennas, motion detectors, and the like. Things “that could be done” five and ten years ago just weren’t there of because, well, the instant connectivity — and the integration of connectivity into the applications and related software — suddenly makes it seem like an obvious thing, not just loading the handheld into a dock and syncing it with your desktop.