Extensions (bait and switch)

puzzle_piecesYears ago, I was given the task of creating a new product catalog that would replace an old catalog used and loved by a lot of people.  No pressure.  The old catalog was 2-color, black and red (we don’t count white).  The images were all line-art drawings, and it had a lot (I mean A LOT) of information tables.  It was also many years out of date.  My job was to update it and keep the things that made it so useful and beloved – the technical information – intact.

I wasn’t given a budget.  As I sit here and think about it, I’ve never been given a budget for my projects.  Every time, someone in power has said something along the lines of, “Well, tell me what it will cost and I’ll tell you yes or no.”  This has happened with websites, contact management solutions, parties, events, and yes, print stuff like catalogs.

For the catalog project, the IT Department built me a Windows computer.  I still have that computer (long, different story).  They went with Windows because they wanted nothing whatsoever to do with Mac.  It’s been my experience that this is true for most corporate IT departments.  Mac’s are these strange things.  Can’t open one up and mess around, for example.  Can’t switch out a video card with one from the graveyard either, unless you have Macs in that graveyard, which most IT Depts don’t.  And the training to fix them is separate and different from the training most corporate IT people receive, so they don’t like Mac’s.  Which is why this IT Department built me a Windows box[1].  Now, I had to fill it with software.

When it came to desktop publishing software, which is what I needed to build a catalog, I had very few options.  Basically, it came down to QuarkXpress, Adobe/Aldus Pagemaker 7, or Corel Ventura Publisher.

Some folks might be saying, “But wait, Patrick – what about Microsoft Publisher?”

Awww.  That’s cute.  Now go sit in the corner while I continue talking to everyone else, okay?  Maybe we’ll get you a cookie.  If you’re good.  And quiet.

*To everyone else* Sorry about that.  Where was I?  Oh yeah – software.  So, those were my choices.  I’d used Aldus PageMaker for years at a previous job, so I was leaning towards it, but I’d also switched to Corel’s Draw and PhotoPaint [2]products for that old job to save some money.  I liked some of the Corel tools[3], and figured I’d need to do a decent comparison.  As for Xpress, well, I’d sort of wanted it for a long time.  I’d pined for it, looking at its ads in magazines and imagining what I could do with it.  It was different, and therefore, shiny.  And the price was decent.

PageMaker got eliminated early on simply because I’d heard some rumblings.  Adobe had bought Aldus awhile ago, and Quark appeared to be winning the desktop software war, such as it was[4].  I was worried that version 7 would be the last, and that Adobe might go away soon.  (Silly me![5])  So I looked at Quark and Ventura Publisher.  Ventura had a lot of out of the box features, including a publishing tool that bridged to your databases through ODBC, and I saw where that could be VERY HANDY building all those tables.  Quark had stuff, too, but it was all in the extensions.  The deeper I looked, the more I came to realize that what Ventura offered ‘out of the box’, required the purchase of hundreds of dollars worth of extensions for Quark.

Ventura_publisher_000From my point of view, this was a no brainer.  I told the IT Department to get me Corel Draw, PhotoPaint and Ventura Publisher.  I used these tools, saved a ton of money, and built that catalog.

I bring all of this up because I find myself in a situation at the new job where the product we’ve chosen – in this case, a website/cms/ecommerce solution – needs all of these extensions to do stuff.  Stuff I would consider ‘normal functions’, and it’s starting to grate just a little.  Want to ship via UPS and show UPS pricing?  $149 extension.  Want to be able to edit an order once it’s been placed?  $149 extension.  So you pay for the software only to find out it can’t do what you want without all of these extensions, the cost of which adds up pretty quick.

I get the extension culture.  Someone develops a piece of software – let’s take WordPress as an example – and it does all this cool stuff, except you want a widget that does [INSERT THING YOU THINK IS COOL].  WordPress doesn’t do that cool thing natively, and you know a little something about php, so you write a neat little extension.  Good on you.  You even share it, and five other people have downloaded it and are using it.  But WordPress now has a gazillion extensions.  And a lot of them do the exact same thing because even though your extension does the cool thing, someone else wanted it to do the cool thing in a different color.

I use WordPress extensions because I’m not a code guy, and the extensions make my life easier.  But a lot of the extensions I’ve used throughout the years, have gone away because the functionality has been rolled into the core product.  I really like that part of the extension culture.  Also, I don’t think I’ve ever bought a WordPress extension.  Usually the paid versions give you access to support, and I’ve never really needed much support.

The free vs paid aspect is interesting.  I don’t begrudge anyone getting paid for their work.  In fact, I encourage people to get whatever they can for their work.  I can’t code an extension, so if you can and you can get people to pay you for it, more power to you.  What I don’t like is a bait and switch, and I’m kinda feeling like that’s what I have here.  HERE’S THE COOLEST THING IN THE WORLD!!! …That can’t do this, this, this and this thing that you want unless you buy these six extensions, oh, and one of them is ridiculously expensive, like 10% of your entire project, and requires a monthly fee to boot…  None of which is covered under what you’ve already paid for…

Um.  No.  And seriously?

It feels like Microsoft.

Before you come rushing out of the corner demanding your GD cookie, let me explain.  Microsoft doesn’t make computers.  They make an operating system.  That operating system will work with different hardware and software.  If you want it to be ‘safe and secure’, you have to buy an extension (McAffee, Norton).  Want a secure browser?  Install one (Firefox, Chrome).  Want to get your email?  Install some software (Outlook, Thunderbird).  If you want to play that video game, well, the video card that came with your computer can’t handle it, so you’ll have to buy a new one to extend functionality.  And who wants to use the little internal speaker when they’re playing Diablo 3?  Answer: Nobody!  Buy some speakers.  Oh.  And you need more RAM…[6]

Before you know it, to get that $399 computer special you bought at the big box store ‘up to snuff’, you’ve spent an extra $600 or more.  (And at that price, you could’ve gotten a Mac…)

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[1] There was another marketing/advertising person working there at the same time, and they used a Mac.  The IT Department hated that Mac and supporting it in any way, so I came into an environment that was already hostile to Macs in general, which is sad.

[2] At the previous job, I had a Mac, but it died and there was no interest in replacing it with another Mac due to cost.  So I had to go Windows and switch from Adobe to Corel – all to save cash.

[3] The Extrude Tool was DA BOMB!

[4[ I later found out that Quark had made a bid to BUY Adobe.  What a different landscape the software world would be today if that had gone through…

[5] Adobe pretty much dominates today.  Ventura Publisher, although being a fantastic piece of software, had a problem in being owned by Corel.  Corel bought Ventura for its Publisher product, intending to compete against Quark and Adobe, but we all know how well that turned out… Corel is a pale shadow of the pale shadow that it eventually became…  And Quark – I don’t even hear people talking about them any more.  I know a lot of newspaper and magazine publishers use(d) it.  Maybe they still do, but I think many have converted to InDesign.

[6] Based on a basic search and MSRP for:

  • Norton Internet Security: MSRP $79.99
  • Norton Antivirus: MSRP $49.99
  • Microsoft Office: MSRP $219.99
  • EVGA GeForce Video Card: MSRP $269.99
  • 16 GB RAM (Varies by manufacturer): MSRP $100-$150