Friday, January 30, 2015

How a Minimum Viable Product can hurt you

The idea of the Minimum Viable Product has become very popular recently mostly due the "Lean Startup" book. Obviously a great idea, but you have to tread very carefully.

I'd bought a Truly Ergonomic keyboard a while back. A "revolution in typing" is their claim. I wasn't really expecting a revolution. I like gadgets and keyboards in particular. I was prepared for the learning curve.

I connected the keyboard and started typing - the backspace key positioning was irksome, but quickly fixed with the remapper. I happily spent a little time remapping away.The remapper seems to be an MVP by itself considering how cumbersome it is, but more on that later.

When I started to really type, the "V" key wouldn't work - I thought that maybe there's a problem with the switch, I just tapped on it a few times and a little harder. It works sporadically. I then noticed a similar problem with the "F" key. Also, many times the keys would appear multiple times. Looks like a common debounce problem, which is tweakable by the remapper. I played around with various debounce values and none of them would make this keyboard usable. A little googling indicated that this problem is extremely common with this keyboard and the company support is virtually non-existent.

Obviously this is a small company with an idea to revolutionize keyboards (their words). They've invested time, money and effort in to designing and engineering. And following (incorrectly) the MVP approach they launched the keyboard despite very obvious flaws. The keyboard is downright unusable. If your product is unusable it is not a viable product, minimum or otherwise. Not only that, it ticks off your customers and users, who will bad mouth it and probably never come back. And when it comes to niche products like this, it's even scarier because there aren't that many customers to begin with and the community is well connected.

The remapper tool involves going to their website to do the actual remapping, then downloading a file and installing it using the firmware upgrade tool. This tool fails 2 out of 3 times, but shows a failure message on the 3rd time even if it succeeded. The remapper tool might qualify as an MVP as it serves it's purpose, though it's ugly and crude. What's funny is, that Truly hasn't updated this tool in a long time. There's no native tool which works seamlessly. They have not gone beyond an MVP for the remapper utility.

They've released an updated keyboard, but I'm not going to try it. I've lost faith in the company. They could have mitigated the problem with outstanding customer service, but they chose not to.

A Minimum Viable Product needs to work - it can have some bugs as long as it serves it's primary purpose and is usable. It can lack features, which can be added later based on user demand and feedback. But, if it does not serve it's main purpose, it's doomed to fail.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Why I uninstalled Bitdefender and went with ESET NOD32

BitDefender has been my anti-virus for a few years now. I used to use Windows Defender before that, but it doesn't seem to have kept up, giving other manufacturers a chance. After reading many reviews and tests, I chose BitDefender as it seemed to have the best or near detection rate in multiple tests. I uninstalled it today. Here's why.

I've been using a utility called File Menu Tools (FMT) from Lopesoft for a long time, it's a Windows Explorer Context Menu that allows many file and folder operations within Windows Explorer without having to install a third party File Browser. One extremely useful feature it has is a file renamer tool that covers every scenario I need, including regular expressions. Today FMT requested an update. FMT doesn't update at all regularly, so I let it do it's thing. It seemed to make many calls and downloads which I thought a bit odd, but updates are rarely done as well as Chrome (completely silent and invisible to the user, which might have it's own disadvantages). BitDefender detected a virus and deleted it. Good, but a little upsetting that this little tool seems to have been the culprit. I semi-correctly guessed that FMT has decided to include advertising software along with it's update, but BitDefender took care of it. Unfortunately, it was worse.

I checked Task Manager and noticed a few new processes like bbqLeads and others. I'd been set up with a proxy and all my internet traffic was going through the proxy. I ran a scan with BitDefender which pickup NOTHING. I manually then hunted down the processes, and tried a few scans through VirusTotal, and hits were from ESET NOD32 every time and a few with TrendMicro-Housecall. After manually cleaning up the mess for about 2 hours, I uninstalled BitDefender and downloaded and installed ESET NOD32.

To make sure that ESET can live up to it's expectations, I went to the Lopesoft website and tried to download FMT. The big prominent download link was immediately blocked. I tried the mirror, which happens to be the actual download. The download started, but just before it completed, ESET warned me about a virus and blocked it. Awesome!

PC Magazine was one of the sources that highly recommends BitDefender, and I've had respect for them. They claim that ESET has poor malware blocking, but don't really mention BitDefender's blocking abilities. I don't know if this is a conspiracy or things have just changed since the publication. But, I'll just take their articles with a pinch of salt going forward.

It's really sad that software writers have to resort to this nasty habit of installing malware, often sneakily to make money. The Apple and Android app stores are great proof that charging reasonable prices can make you money. $1 - $5 is the sweet spot. When software costs about the price of a cup of coffee, it's a no-brainer. Mobile apps are no less complex than a windows or desktop app, the effort involved is comparable. There's no reason that you should try to charge more or tarnish your reputation by installing viruses with your software. Obviously, more complex and larger software should demand higher prices - but simpler and smaller ones that are obviously one-man jobs would greatly benefit from the mobile market model.