Wednesday, July 7, 2010

An Observation about relying on 'Feature Comparison' lists.

One of the things you receive when joining the eCraft forums on Yahoo is an excel spreadsheet that compares various software programs with the two programs to be offered by Craftwell for the eCraft cutting machines.

While these lists can be useful, it can also be misleading to rely on them too much.

Many years ago, I was with the National Head Start Data Project. It was an effort to help local Head Start centers computerize their record keeping and communication.   Among the things with which we were tasked was to provide a means by which Head Start leaders could compare the various offerings to select the one that best met their needs.  It didn't take long for politics to trump reason and truth.

If we made any value judgements at all in terms of the true ease of use and other real considerations one should use in determining the best software package, we soon had some congressman breathing down our backs.  So, it was decided that the only way to keep the vendors from running to their congressman was to simply provide a huge list of features and check those features addressed by each software package.

Vendors aren't dumb.  Since this was a multi-year effort, they soon learned to include as many features as possible even if it virtually destroyed any real usefulness or ease of use for their product!  The feature check trumped easy use and good design.  It was, at least in my opinion, a disaster.

By the way, the added useless complexity had a perverse benefit to the vendors.  They made more money on training people to use their software than they did on the software itself.   One even bragged to me personally that he would never make his software package easier because he'd lose training money!

When choosing a software package, complexity (the most features) is usually not the best criteria on which to base decisions.  If the software package meets your basic needs and does so reliably and simply then that is the most important consideration.  Usually, the daily routine of using even the most comprehensive and complex software packages can be boiled down into doing just a few simple things. 

My goal is to help you find those few simple things in Inkscape and at least one or two software packages dedicated to computer controlled die cutting machines.  So, don't always look at what a software package lacks.  Look at what is has and make a determination if this subset of possible features is adequate for your needs right now.  Then push the vendor to add those features that you KNOW you need; but, that they do not now provide.  Updates based on true need are the real way to grow great software.

Of course, there is one feature that all of us should insistently push all manufacturers and die cut software makers to embrace. And, that is directly importing SVG files for cross compatibility between higher end graphics tools and the cutting software.

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