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Working with Vendors

When you think about it, a reviewer like me has a lot of effrontery. Fundamentally, I call up software vendors and ask them to send me a free copy of their software. Often the vendor does just that, while a few vendors suggest that I download the evaluation copy of their product from their Web site.

I explain to those vendors who point me at their evaluation copy that I'm uncomfortable with reviewing anything but the exact same bits that a real developer gets. I'm keenly interested in seeing what the "real" installation process is like and what, if any, issues are raised by the company's licensing strategy. In addition, I live in fear of criticizing some aspect of a product and have it turn out that I was looking at some limitation built into the "evaluation" version and not present in the "real" bits.

Most vendors are comfortable with providing a free version. After all, having me download software doesn't explicitly cost them anything and, at most, they are only losing the profit they might have made had I purchased the software myself.

Some vendors are not. For instance, we look at the latest versions of the InstallShield and Wise installation and deployment tools in the upcoming November issue of Visual Studio Magazine. InstallShield was steadfast in that they do not provide free software to anyone under any circumstances. If I wanted to review the product, I was going to have to review the evaluation version available on their Web site. I don't think that I've misled any readers as a result of doing that, but please let me know if there's something in the InstallShield review that isn't accurate because I was using an evaluation version.

I simply wasn't able to get a response from Wise despite several e-mails to the company and to their public relations firm. I mention this because (perhaps unfairly) I use this as a measure of how well the company responds to requests.

When I first started reviewing software in the late 80s, I would often test the company's technical support by asking a question. This was only a reasonable test if the person processing the request didn't realize that I was reviewing the software. That's not possible any more, so I usually measure a company's responsiveness by how quickly they get back to me from the start of the review process to the end. I recognize that these companies know that this review is part of their marketing process, so it's not a great measure of the organization's responsiveness. However, Wise is unique in simply not responding at all. I'm not sure what that tells me about the company.

Does anyone out there use the Wise installer? How has the company dealt with you when you've had an issue with their software?

Posted by Peter Vogel on 10/21/2010

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