Tuesday, March 6, 2007

lock in, bad idea or ill-advised?

I've been using a free version of a password management program. This app doesn't play well with Vista so I decide to migrate all my password information to a new program.

Hmmm. It seems the free version doesn't have an export command. There is an export command in the "pro" version, which runs about $40. If I were a suspicious type I'd think they were trying to shake me down for forty bucks to avoid retyping all of my random character passwords.

No problemo, I think (really, "no problemo"). There's a free thirty day trial of the pro version so I can install it, run it once to export my passwords and uninstall.

The download trial version is fully functional. Except for the export command.

Now I don't need to be all that suspicious to think they're holding my data hostage. I send an e-mail to the support address asking how I might get my data out of their program. They reply that if I want I can send them my password file and master password and they'll send me back my data.

Um, no thanks.

Besides the fact that I don't really trust this company any more, I'm also not that keen on the keys to my entire life being sent in cleartext in an e-mail. (I know, they could have used public key encryption to send it to me, but how likely is that?)

What's the takeaway from this experience? That if you want to completely alienate your customers and make sure they never, ever recommend your product or your company, go ahead and trap them into using your product. Shake them down for whatever you can whenever you can.

Joel Spolsky wrote in his excellent book "Joel on Software" that Microsoft Excel finally got over its adoption hump when it gained the feature to not only read Lotus 123 files, but write them. Users felt safe trying out the software knowing they could get their data back into the old format.

It may seem like a good idea to lock in your customers, but when they find out the ill will you generate will make it not worth it...


Marcin said...

Who would pay for this programme if it weren't for this practice?

Jim Martin said...

Well, in theory the pro version should offer enough compelling features to make you want to upgrade.

In this case they might have run into a problem where the minimal functional set for a password vault (what you would put into the free version) is sufficient for most of the users. It's hard to find anything to put in the pro version to get people to upgrade.