Due Diligence

02 July 2008

Now that we've opened our new office in Glendale, I find I'm traveling there quite often so that I can participate in the minutiae of office life, be videoed, have face-to-face discussions about development, support, documentation, marketing and all the other myriad issues that need to be sorted out.

The cheapest flight -- about $200 cheaper than the nearest rival, in fact -- from Colorado to the Bob Hope Airport in Burbank (10 minutes away form the office) is a Southwest flight with a short stop-over at Las Vegas. Total time in the air: about 2.5 hours. Boredom factor? Way high.

Since I have an iPod Classic and an insatiable desire to catch up on good British TV series from the last decade or so, I decided to find a DVD-ripper that could rip the DVDs I buy from Amazon.co.uk to the iPod and then watch them on these flights, especially on the ones coming back.

A few googling moments later, I'd found lots of them. Pages upon pages of them. I clicked sponsored links with gusto, squandering the AdSense pennies with glee. Marketing phrases abounded:

  • "Convert DVD movies to iPod movies with the same quality"
  • "FooBar is the best choice for you to rip DVD and convert video to any format!"
  • "BarFoo is a revolutionary new program for converting video & DVD files"
  • "Wotsit is different"
  • "Rip your entire DVD collection at a single click"
  • "Hyperspeed conversion without any loss of quality"

I must admit those last two were most persuasive. Hyperspeed? Warp Factor 9, Mr Sulu! And ripping my entire DVD collection with a single click? Do I pile all the discs onto the DVD player's drawer and hope for the best? Yeah, riiight. And the marketing genius who came up with "Wotsit is different" can write his own salary check the next job he has, providing it's less than the tea lady's.

But, you know what? I ignored all the marketing crap. Good, bad, laughable: I didn't care. I wanted something that would

  • Rip a DVD: even the protected ones.
  • Convert it to an iPod-compatible movie file: in doing so it should use all the CPU cores I have but not lock me out from doing other things.
  • Batch the conversions: TV series usually have three or four episodes per disk.
  • Be easy to use: I wasn't really interested in tweaking the output, so the default had to be good.

Other people might have different priorities, but those were mine. And so one weekend afternoon, I set about downloading trial-run versions and trying them out. If a manufacturer didn't have a trial-run, bad luck, I struck it off the list. If it failed to do what I wanted, zap, gone. If the result wouldn't play on my iPod -- yes, there were some! -- ditto, into the trash.

In the end, I found the one I wanted, the one that worked for me. I've now spent many an hour ripping DVDs and watching them on my iPod, a very happy customer. In the end, I spent about $50 on the product. The comparison work I did was totally and utterly worth it.

Yet I'm regularly baffled by developers who don't do this when they're selecting a UI control suite or a persistence framework. Or who want someone else to do it for them. Or who want a nice checklist comparing competing products. If I can do it for a $50 product, why can't others do it for a product that's going to cost 5, 10, 20 times the amount? And let's face it: a product that is going to affect their development lives day in day out for the next few months or years? That's just nuts.

Yes, you guessed it: I reckon about once every couple of days, I'll get an email or phone call that says "why should I buy your product instead of FooBar's?" Search me, dude. I have no idea what you're trying to do, what your level of development expertise is (or, heck, plain old .NET expertise for that matter), what end-user experience you're trying to achieve, what familiarity you have with third-party tools in the past, what other application you're hoping to emulate, nothing. Also, believe it or not -- even me, the DevExpress CTO -- I find I'm continually learning about our products. Yep, I don't know everything about the stuff we sell and yet you expect me to know enough about our competitors' products that I can make a recommendation that ours is better? Wow. I certainly don't want to be the person you blame when something goes wrong because you didn't do the work in the first place.

That's why we have as company slogan, Download, Compare, Decide. I'll admit I disliked our old one, Improving the Developer Experience, because it was so generic and pretty meaningless. It's like those signs you see on the Interstate: Drive carefully. Of course the state is asking you to drive carefully (they'd hardly say the opposite after all), and of course we'd tell you that we'd improve your developer experience (we'd hardly say the opposite: Degrading the Developer Experience, although it has a certain ring to it).

But our current slogan I can get totally behind -- we're not even saying that you'll choose our products, although we hope you do. But we reckon that, if you do some due diligence and draw up your list of must-haves and should-haves and don't-give-a-damns, download the trial runs from the vendors, verify that your list of needs is satisfied with each, we'll be at the top, your first choice.

(Some bonus links:


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