November, 2000 | Readers and vendors alike want
to know about how we elite editors determine when and if
a product gets an Editor's Choice award. One of the jobs
that a reviewer enjoys most is opening a box of some new
hardware. Honest. It's like Christmas every week of the
year when the FedEx truck arrives. I start out wanting to
give every product an Editor's Choice award as I cut into
the packing tape. Naturally, I always hope to find the next
Palm Pilot, Snap Server, or NSM jukebox in the container.
So what will keep me wanting to give a product an award?
Here are the secrets of successful award-contention.
what's not in a name?
First, use a plain ordinary name for the product. What is
a Vaio anyway? Do I really want to get a Parago? If I told
my mother I'd just gotten a case of Cidera, she'd tell me
I'd better rush to the doctor for some ointment. Why can't
companies see that successful products use human names: Palm,
Apple Macintosh, Compact Disc, Snap Server?
Second, watch out for poor descriptive language. I received
an LCD monitor from a vendor who will remain nameless. The
PR rep assured me that her product reached "a new low" in
product pricing for monitors. Honest. Okay, so the colors
don't quite match across the screen. So what if the lack
of a driver for this monitor causes my Windows to blow up
with a perpetual error loop ("The monitor or display adapter
is improperly configured. Please reboot." Reboot and the
error message reappears.) It required a reinstall of Windows
to fix. But hey! At least her promise of "a new low" gave
me my lead.
Here's a little gem I got from another vendor--a 52X CD-ROM
drive guaranteed to blast data onto the screen. Any sonic
by-products of that blasting, they promised, would be absorbed
by my computer casing if the internal drive was properly
installed. Never mind that the sound of the drive in full
swing resembled the roar of an airplane propeller at about
always the first to know
Secret number three is to use your product before you give
me the chance to broadcast its failings to the world. The
company that sold me my desktop PC told me that the add-on
speakers would also "blast" me out of the office with my test
CD titles. These four-inch jewels provide all the roar of
an aging gnat. Crank them up and they squawk with distortion.
At least I have my 52X CD-ROM drive to drown them out.
Then there's this cutting-edge, high-speed CD-RW unit
I received. Its vendor's promise: "It will end your need
for bigger drives." I imagine someone at that company actually
used one of the prototype drives since it installed easily
enough. It even read my CDs just fine. Only problem is,
as soon as I put in a CD-RW, my system locked up. Take the
CD-RW out, and it worked fine. CD-RW drive, CD-RW disc.
Same thing for one delightful network-attached device
from a lesser-known manufacturer. It promised to support
Mac, Windows, and NetWare clients. Good thing I've got plenty
of Mac files to archive. None of the other clients can see
Oh, and then there's these anonymous, low-priced mainboards
beckoning to me from Taiwan or Malaysia. Sure, on the drawing
board these puppies should provide me with a full 133mHz
of throughput to my gHz processor. But at the price they
sell for, who cares about the quality of traces and PCI
bus compliance? Power them up, and half the time the system
freezes even before the Windows icon appears.
Or what about the frozen motherboard where the culprit
was the CPU fan? Did the vendor get a wonderful buy on these
486-style fans and just had to pass one on to me? It's about
as big a fan base as the Spice Girls have these days and
no, I am not interested in providing Mr. CPU with a quiet,
comfortable breeze. Give him hurricane winds and keep him
Secret number four is to Read Your Fabulous Manual (like
RTFM, get it?). It would be nice if senior management would
be forced to open one of their own products and actually
install and use it, based on the manual. Apparently, once
a manual gets written it becomes sacred.
That's why instead of actual revisions, all we get are
the blue, green, yellow, and orange sheets tucked into the
box screaming "Read me first!" five or six times. These
added pages seem to have come from tech support after they
discovered the manual wasn't quite accurate about setup
or procedures. I think if your product requires more than
one sheet to alert users to changes, you need to do a new
The final secret to courting a reviewer's good graces
is to stop shipping products with lousy, crippled software.
One product I got sent was hamstrung thus: you can install
and use the jukebox for recording, but only one disc at
a time (a $5000 single-disc recorder! Am I dreaming?). And
as for administrative features, all the useful ones--like
logging--were reserved for the "full-featured" version.
Sure, I get it. You want the license fee for the upgraded
version. But since I have never used your product before,
how about converting me first to all the wonders of your
software, making me a lifelong friend, and then worrying
about selling me on updates?
I hope vendors understand that when they send us review
units, we might actually test them, and assess them based
on--dare I say it--how they perform. At least I have my
column to strike back at these failed products. I wonder
what real users do...