Category Archives: Software in General

Our thoughts on software and usability

Dangerous Marketing

Marketing is a tricky business, and one wrong move can set you back twice as far as a good campaign can move you forward. We recently posted an article entitled “Windows has left the building!”, talking about an ill-conceived marketing tag-line that appeared at the Microsoft website. The reason this caught our eye wasn’t just a chance to laugh at Microsoft. We happen to like Microsoft a LOT over here at Ilium Software. Instead, it was a chance to see how even a company like Microsoft, with all of its resources, can miss something simple and end up hurt by it.

First impressions are a huge part of marketing. It isn’t about what the customer thinks after they’ve taken time to dig into your message and really understand it. The sad reality is that most customers never bother. Rather, it is the immediate, visceral response your message generates.

Using the “Windows has left the building!” tag-line as an example, the phrase is (obviously for many folks) based off the famous “Elvis has left the building!” line. Using a well known and familiar line and tweaking it is a great way to strike a familiar chord in your audience. Unfortunately, the original line was about the King leaving the stage. The show was over. Everyone could go home. It wasn’t about Elvis hitting the street to do a show for the crowd out there. He was done. Finis.

So, when Microsoft uses this line they are accidentally saying, “Show’s over folks! The King is done and has left the stage!” Someone at the Microsoft PR firm deserves a swift kick for this snafu. I mean yeah, when you think it through you can figure out what they mean, but unfortunately by then it is too late. They’ve made their impression.

I’ll leave you with a great, simple example of this that I learned in a fantastic marketing class at University of Michigan. A professor said, “Unless you are an exterminator, never get a flyswatter with your company name on it. Having your product directly associated with bug guts does not create a positive impression in the minds of the customer.”

“Windows Has Left the Building”

No, I’m not quoting one of the Microsoft-bashing sites. It’s not from one of the articles that says Microsoft’s lost their vision, is years behind Apple, or will never catch up with Google. It’s from Microsoft’s site – in fact, it’s from the biggest graphic on Microsoft.com’s top page today.

Here’s a screenshot of the page, in case it goes away by the time I finish writing this. The top graphic says:

Ladies and gentlemen, Windows has left the building.

I’m delighted that Windows Mobile is being featured by Microsoft. Really I am. But that headline – even with pictures of Windows Mobile devices and screens behind it – just doesn’t seem to me like the right approach.

I may be wrong. I’m a marketing professional only in the broadest definition (I get paid for it), but I’m not an expert, or even close. And I’m sure that the Microsoft spot has was made by very highly trained, experienced, knowledgeable people, who know way more than I do.

But I still don’t think it’s a good idea. Anyone else? I’d be very interested in hearing what other people think.

Mobile Software in an Always Connected World

earth_128.pngNo matter how badly some folks hate them, the terms “Web 2.0″ and “Web OS” just won’t go away. For many, these are the holy grail of software development…a multi-platform single language environment that allows instant upgrades with no downloads, making software available to the customer from any connected device. For others, the terms are empty promises or overused marketing phrases that never seem to live up to expectations.

But consider this. A recent survey discovered the following:

“The survey, which polled 2,062 adults in July and October, found that 79 percent of adults — about 178 million — go online, spending an average 11 hours a week on the Internet.”
- Reuters

With numbers like these, the old argument that “not everyone has access” no longer applies. The internet is now an ever present, vital part of American society. And with the proliferation of affordable all-you-can-download data plans, the mobile world is latching onto the web like never before.

As the Senior Product Manager here at Ilium Software, I need to look at things like this and ask myself “What does this mean for us?”, “What is the future for ‘on device’ applications?”, and “How can we keep doing what we do best…helping our customers to stay organized?”

Fortunately, Ilium Software has answers to these and many more questions. We’re excited and very optimistic about the future of our market. What I’d love to hear, however, is what YOU think. What do you see in the future for Mobile Device Software? How are you using the web with your mobile device? What can we offer or do that will help you to stay organized as the world of mobile devices evolves?

Alex’s Letter to Warez Sites

Probably everyone who reads this blog has already seen this elsewhere, but in case not:

Our good friend and fellow mobile developer, Alex Kac, has written an Open Letter to Warez Sites in his forum, and asked some other developers to help publicize it. Of course I agree with what he wrote (or most of it – maybe not the “have a great day” part), and while I’m not at all convinced that this will change anything (do people really go to warez sites without realizing they’re stealing the content?) I’m completely behind any efforts to do anything to stop software (or any intellectual property) piracy, and happy to do whatever I can to help publicize the problem.

Confusing Names!

I’ve written posts about naming products before and I gotta say, it’s a tough job. You search and search for just the right name, think you’ve found something really cool, and then…well then you usually realize it’s taken…so you search and search for ANOTHER name, think it’s really cool, go with it and find out later that it confuses the heck out of everyone!

A great example (and my current naming challenge) are our Professional Editions. Our Professional Editions are just a bundle that includes the product for a PDA AND Desktop for one price. Unfortunately people constantly get the impression that there is some sort of feature difference. Maybe the “Professional” version has more bells and whistles? Better encryption?

Unfortunately I can’t blame them. Often a “Professional” version of something IS a version with a number of different features not present in the “standard” edition. Well, it’s time to clear things up.

We’re getting ready to select a new name for our Professional editions bundles. So far we aren’t happy with the results. The biggest problem is the names just end up really long. Then it struck me…just ask the world! Someone is bound to have a great solution to this problem. So anyone have any ideas, insights, or comments?

Getting the Word Out

wallet120.jpgOne of the toughest things to do as a (relatively) small software developer is to get the word out about your product. We don’t have a multi-million dollar ad budget or a marketing department filled with people thinking up clever new ways to let people know how badly they need our software. At the same time we have some great products that people get really hooked on once they start using them.

Eric Sink, a person in our industry who I have a ton of respect for, wrote a blog post today about a near disaster with his laptop. It no longer recognized his fingerprint and he couldn’t remember the ultra secure password he’d selected for it! I read articles like this one quite often and all I can think is “We have the solution! Why doesn’t everyone know about it??”

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Caching vs Copyright

news2.jpgOne of the top requests we get for NewsBreak is that we download and cache the web pages that the “Read More” links go to. The reason people want this is that many news feeds don’t provide the full story. They just give you a teaser. If you’re off line this means you can’t read the entire story without going back online. Annoying, I know, especially for those feeds that only give you like one line of the story.

So why don’t we do it? I’m glad you asked! Read on for the full story…
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Opera, eWallet and Me

Opera, eWallet, MeI recently installed IE7, and for a lot of reasons, didn’t like it much. I’ve never managed to get along well with Firefox, but after spending some time with Opera, found that it worked pretty well for me. There’s a lot it doesn’t do – I do keep IE7 and Firefox both available as well, but I decided to use Opera as my primary browser. Given that Opera imported my IE bookmarks and that I only ever let IE save the passwords I didn’t care much about (things that I don’t really consider very secret, like my logins to sites where I have to register just to read an article), I figured the hardest part about converting would be retraining my fingers.

It turned out I had let IE save a lot more passwords than I’d thought. I haven’t been keeping formal count, but I’m pretty sure I’ve found over 30 so far, and I know I haven’t hit them all. Fortunately, I’d also recorded all the passwords in eWallet (in the Category I call “junk regs”), so it was just a matter of re-entering them all into Opera. But I was surprised – I would have thought I would have saved maybe 10 in IE. eWallet really saved me a lot of trouble on this one.

Why I like Opera – it seems to me a lot faster than IE7 and Firefox. I like tabbed browsing, and the built-in newsreader and RSS reader, but most of all, I like being able to search in my bookmarks, being able to pick “author mode” when I don’t like a page’s fonts and colors, and how configurable it is.

Why I don’t like it – it doesn’t support Web 2.0 very well, resized graphics look pretty awful, and I still end up surprised (at best) or puzzled (at worst) about where a window went or how to get back to one. But overall, it’s my current favorite. If you’re not happy with your current browser option, it’s definitely worth a look. Be sure you’ve got all your passwords, though!

(And, on an almost completely unrelated side-note, this preview is the funniest thing I’ve seen in a long time. The reason it’s slightly related is that probably only people who are familiar with the kind of opera that involves singing, classical music, and live performers will find it funny.)

And, yes, we will be fixing our site so it looks better in the newer browsers. And I’m hoping that we’ll be able to extend eWallet’s AutoPass feature to work in other browsers as well as the IE ones.

eWallet Open Beta: The Results Are In!

beta.pngWhen I announced our open beta I promised that I’d let everyone know how it went. I mean this is a ‘behind the scenes at Ilium Software’ blog after all! I’ll start by saying that overall, this was a great experience. We got some really excellent insights into how people reacted to changes, caught a number of bugs, and found out how folks liked the new features. Without question I plan to run additional Open Betas in the future.

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