The Great Software Swindle : A Tale Of Engineered Obsolescence

There was a time, not too long ago, when software that was more than two years old was NOT considered obsolete. Over the last decade, as update cycles have gotten shorter and shorter, software publishers have become increasingly anxious to drop legacy software from their support programs. I’ve had numerous battles with software companies lately over various issues that needed (in my opinion) some minor attention; retrieval of a serial number or a challenge/response code for example. Unfortunately I found that these companies (Steinberg, GRM, Waves to name a few) were completely unwilling, and in their opinion unable, to offer any assistance.

My problem it seems was that I was using software that was up to five years old. My reasons for keeping the digital status quo on my workstation are not unreasonable, either. To the software publishers though, I have outstayed my welcome and am now invited to sod off on my merry way unless I want to part some of my hard-earned yet scarce Nelson Eddie’s.

As I said, I have my reasons for resisting the upgrade urge. The last major upgrade I did was to migrate from Mac OSX Leopard to Snow Leopard, and this was one of the most brutally painful and disruptive upgrades I have performed. Not since the move from OS9 to OSX did an operating system cause so much havoc and disharmony to my Applications folder and my workflow. That’s another story, suffice to say it took many months to get my workstation back to peak operation. With this in mind, I’ve been reluctant go through another upheaval, so it has been a decision to stay pat. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Apparently, that makes me a bad digital citizen.

Five years in tech circles is regarded an infinite lifetime. It’s not of course. Five years is five years, it’s how we choose to react and address the passing of time that matters. Take the car industry for example. Car manufacturers support their vehicles long after they have closed production on a given model. My car, a 2006 Dodge Magnum, is two years older than my Creative Suite; a dinsaur by software standards. Still, I can go to any Dogde dealer and get enough parts to rebuild the engine if need be. What if auto manufacturers decided to behave like software companies? How many Ford Mustangs would there be still on the highways? None from 2006, let alone the vintage year of 1966.

No, it’s a choice software companies have made to force their loyal, paying customers to spending more money with them. To spend more money on future obselete software they will eventually refuse to support. It’s a complete scam and one that is likely to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. How difficult is it really to keep a database of legacy serial numbers, operation manual PDF’s and the knowledgebase articles?

A Tale of Adobe Driving Away It’s Customers

My most recent dust-up came with software megalith Adobe. Now I love Adobe, for the most part, and have been a loyal customer for many, many years. Their programs have continued to improve in features and stability. They generally represent the benchmark for usable and reliable software applications. Of course, since the merger of Adobe and Macromedia, creative’s have had little (if any) alternatives, creating a veritable monopoly in the creative soft-tool market. Still, I have only had one reason to call Adobe customer or technical support in well over ten years. That in itself warrants loyalty in my opinion.

Last week, however, I encountered a major problem with a Creative Suite install that had me nervously scratching my head, and eventually pulling my hair out. In a bid to weed out some instability problems (that I’m certain were remnants of the Snow Leopard upgrade) I decided after five years my MacPro was due for some New Year maintenance. I chose the nuclear option; to ‘Nuke and Pave’ my system. Erase the hard drive, install fresh versions of the Operating System and my most-used applications. Adobe Production Premium being the most important install after the OS.

Anyone who has done this knows it can quite literally take days to de-authorise, back-up, erase, install, set-up, restore and optimize a workstation. Which is why I held off doing it for so long. It’s no trivial matter. Anyhow, with a sparkly clean install of Snow Leopard now in place I began the five-disc, three-hour process of installing Production Premium. Everything was progressing smoothly and I was excited to get back to work on a screamin’, streamlined system.

The excitement was short lived. At first launch of Photoshop, I was greeted with an ominous error message.

“Licensing for this product has stopped working. Reinstall the software or call Adobe Customer Support for help”

And so I called Adobe Customer Support, expecting a quick reset of an authorization token or something. It took almost 30 mins for me to describe in thorough detail my predicament; the procedures I followed, the exact text on the error message, my serial number, and so on and so on. After 10 mins on hold, the support rep, somewhere deep in the Punjab region of Asia, told me he could not help me and I had to be passed on to ‘concerns’. As I waited on-hold again I decided to simultaneously start a support chat session on the Adobe support page. Divide and conquer. Having typed out the lengthy description of my problem for the chat support rep, I was put on ‘chat-hold’. A solid 45 mins later I had to hang up the phone, leave absent the chat session and go collect my son from school. I tried again later that afternoon, this time I was on hold for another two hours, but not before I had explained my problem, in detail, once again to support. After two hours I gave up, again.

I tried again later that night. Predictably, support was closed for the night, but at least I was offered the option of a scheduled call back. And this is where it gets really good. The recorded message explaining the call-back scheduling process announces that call-backs can be scheduled from 5am to 7pm Pacific Standard Time. I’m in California so my time is their time, easy. I pressed the buttons on the phone to request a 5am call-back, early birds and worms and all that. Mr Telephone Voice tells me “I’m sorry, you have scheduled a time that is not recognized”. Two more attempts later and Mr Telephone Voice hangs up on me. I try again, adjusting my requested time in case I misheard the prompt, but no I heard right, 5am to 7pm were indeed scheduled call-back hours. Even so, I was hung up on for a second time. Defeated, I called again and this time managed to scheduled a call-back for 9am the following morning.

A Tale of Heated Multinational Ribaldry

The following morning, right on 9am I got a call as promised. I can’t say Adobe don’t keep their word at least. Another of India’s finest upstanding citizens drags me for a third time through the rigamarole of explaining in great detail the where’s and why-fore’s of my situation. Again he fumbles around looking for a suitable response. Not unexpectedly he informs me I will have to be passed on to ‘concerns’. I shuddered, and explained I had been on hold waiting for ‘concerns’ for two hours the day before. Was there anything else he could do, was there a direct number? No, but I could schedule another call-back, and at least this time Mr India had set up a case number for me. Great, at least I won’t have to repeat myself again, as I have a case number, with all my details entered into their support system. Right? That’s a reasonable expectation?

Well apparently that’s a bit much to expect of a megalith multi-national corporation with all it’s vast resources. I do indeed receive another call-back, but again have to explain for the fourth time now my problem in all it’s gritty detail. Losing my patience I ask the rep if he can fast-forward the part where I get some help. I have a case number after all, and I know with all certainty that after 30 mins of faffing around with Mr Level 1 Support Agent he will have to pass me on to ‘concerns’ anyway.

“Can we just cut to the chase, can you put me through to concerns directly. This is the fourth time I’ve been through this. I’ve already lost a week of work, time is wasting and I need to get a solution quickly” I appealed to what I hoped was his Indian better nature. Are they not an honourable breed after all?

After some minutes on hold Mr Level 1 Support Agent returns and drops the haymaker on me.

“I’ve been to the next level support, I’ve exhausted my resources. Your product is Creative Suite 3, we no longer support that product. I cannot help you”.

Well I just about lost it. I forget the exact stream of dialog that spewed from my lips, but I tore into him like Rush Limbaugh into a bag of cocaine.

“Why has it taken me a sum total of five hours of phone calls to be told this? Why was I not told this the first time I called? And why would your company not support it’s own products. Products I paid for with legitimate cash money? Is this Adobe’s business practice, to hang it’s loyal customers out to dry? I’ve been a loyal paying customer for decades having spent thousands of dollars on Adobe products. And this is how you treat your loyal customers? And you expect us to blindly upgrade to the next version? Why? And you wonder why piracy is a problem? Should I go and find myself a crack, download a pirate copy and never pay another cent to Adobe again, if this is the manner your company conducts it’s business. It’s disgusting and unethical….”

I caught my breath. In all fairness to Mr India, he let me complete my rant without interruption.

“I apologize for the inconvenience…” he started.

“Inconvenience!” I retorted, “This is not an inconvenience, this is my LIVELIHOOD”

“If you will calm down Mr. Mercado I will see what I can do.”

And here comes the punchline. Not 60 seconds later he returns with a URL for me to browse to. An official Adobe Knowledgebase Support article that deals with the EXACT word-for-word error message I was getting. The simple deletion of a preference folder. All this time, the answer was out in the wild for anyone with a Googlebot to find. All this time. Hours on hold with four different reps (five if you count the chat support agent). Not one of them had access to Google, or an internal database of KB articles. I find that very, very hard to believe.

A Tale of Cynicism and Suspicion

You know when you call the cable company and threaten to cancel your service and take your business to DirectTV (yeah, like anyone would ACTUALLY do that), and they offer you an ‘incentive’ to stay; lower rates, faster internet or whatever. No company will actually offer it’s loyal paying customers a good deal until their business is in jeopardy. And it seems Adobe is no less guilty of those tactics. Were they deliberately and systematically trying to grind me down, exhaust my patience until I caved and upgraded my products? It’s a cynical suggestion and I hate to go there. The whole process has left me with an undoubting conclusion that Adobe cares very little for it’s customer experience. The dreadful Indian call center support where language and accent is a real and obvious barrier, the inept support agents who could not (or would not) find the blatant and conclusive answer, and the business of no longer supporting older software products.

The whole affair has left me feeling like I’ve been played. This company on who’s back I have built my career has betrayed my trust.

The lesson I learned from all this is that despite the error message prompt, one is better off not calling the company direct and relying on the Googleverse to solve ones problem. Had I followed this tack I would have likely had my problem solved in less than an hour. Live and learn, as they say.

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