Tuesday, June 1, 2004

The dark side of photo suites


By David Gewirtz

Last week, in introduced you to a nice little program called PhotoRecovery. It came as part of Paint Shop Photo Album 5 Deluxe Edition from JASC, bundled in the little mini-suite. At the end of the article, I mentioned that there was an Upgrade Now button on the product, that seemed to take you to the LC Technology Web site, to order what I thought was the same program already included in the bundle.

"We decry the practice of including out-of-date software with the bundle."

Apparently, I was wrong. David Zimmerman of LC Technology tells me that the version included in the JASC bundle is version 2.0 of PhotoRecovery, while the version available from the LC Technology Web site is version 3.0 of the product. There are some measurable improvements between the two versions, including:

  • An updater that keeps your product up to date with the latest image and file formats
  • Custom settings for most camera manufacturers
  • Utilities for wiping and formatting media cards
  • Utilities for creating image files of your media card for future use
  • Additional language support
  • More XP looking interface, easier to use
  • There's also a Mac OS X 10.1 version of the product available as well.

Now, all of this illustrates both the problems and benefits of the shovelware common in photo suites. Nothing in the JASC documentation for Paint Shop Photo Album 5 Deluxe Edition said the included PhotoRecovery program was an out-of-date product. And, while PhotoRecovery 2.0 did work well enough to get it a 3 out of 5 review rating, it is still an obsolete version, with a far clunkier interface than the currently shipping product.

The fact is, it's still a good deal to buy the suite and get the older version, since PhotoRecovery 2.0 seems to do the promised photo recovery. But you've got to be very, very careful when buying suites -- all that bundled stuff may likely be throwaways from other vendors, or worse, older versions.

Suites and bundles can be great deals for both consumers and developers. The consumer gets a pile of good software for a lower price. The developer of the item being bundled gets either (or both) a nice payment from a larger company and upgrade potential from users. And the publisher of the suite gets a larger product that may give it a competitive advantage and increased perceived value over its competitors.

But while we at Connected Photographer generally find bundles to be benign, if a bit annoying, we decry the practice of including out-of-date software with the bundle. If a developer wants to provide an upgrade path, we recommend some form of feature limitation. But to provide software that's obsolete could potentially put the consumer's system at risk, and we find this unacceptable.