Shareware Beach

Friday, 10 November 2006

Microsoft Does Have a Fine Download Manager

Filed under: Software Development — Jan @ 17:44

Last month I ranted about the download manager Microsoft uses for the public Windows Vista beta downloads. This week I found that Microsoft does have a download manager of its own that works just fine.

Microsoft File Transfer Manager

With the release of Windows Vista imminent, I coughed up the money for an MSDN Operating Systems subscription. When I clicked on the download link to the checked build of Vista RC2, the “Microsoft File Transfer Manager” automatically popped up (after the obligatory ActiveX warning). The next morning build 5744 x64 was sitting nice and shiny on my PC’s hard drive. No errors or complaints from the download manager. Same with the x86 build the morning after.

Since this could, of course, be due to a sudden dramatic improvement to my ADSL connection (hah!), I just did the ultimate test: I started another download, and unplugged the Ethernet cable going to the ADSL router. The download manager didn’t even blink. The status label changed from “active” to “trying to connect” after a minute or so. When I plugged the cable back in, the download silently resumed and the status label went back to “active”.

That’s how a download manager should work. I guess I’ll never know why Microsoft uses two different download managers to deliver the Vista previews to the public and to MSDN subscribers. It’s not a matter of getting what I paid for. Microsoft’s the one paying for the bandwidth of all those failed downloads.

Thursday, 9 November 2006

Firefox in The Lead

Filed under: Cyberspace — Jan @ 17:15

Twelve months ago, Firefox was just a noselength behind Internet Explorer as the most used browser to visit Now, Firefox has a comfortable lead. For the full month of 2006, 56.8% of all page views were served to Firefox users, vs. 40.8% for Internet Explorer.

This time I also tallied the stats for the order form. I only counted POST requests, indicating actual order attempts rather than window shoppers. MSIE accounted for exactly 60.0% of the hits, while Firefox had 39.2%. In October 2005 those numbers were 67.6% and 31.3% respectively.

It’ll be interesting to see if MSIE 7 can reverse the trend by October 2007.

Monday, 9 October 2006

World’s Worst Download Manager

Filed under: Software Development — Jan @ 19:10

The Akamai Download Manager that Microsoft offers on its web site to download the Windows Vista previews is one of the worst pieces of software I’ve ever tried to use.

An important guideline any user interface design book will teach you is that it’s better to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Instead of asking the user “Are you sure?”, provide a fool-proof undo mechanism instead. The user is always sure, until he changes his mind. Of course, this puts the onus on the programmer rather than the user.

The programmer of the Akamai Download Manager must have had a particularly lazy day. When my internet connection is interrupted, as invariably happens during an overnight download, the morning greets me with the following message:

Network error, cannot download. Check connections, and try again. Would you like to retry now?

Of course I want to retry! I want to retry until the cows come home! That’s why I’m using a download manager in the first place. If I change my mind in the morning, I’ll just delete the file.

But it gets better. When the download was completed, I was told:

The Download is complete.  However, the download integrity is questionable (MD5 mismatch).  Check the file and download a fresh copy if needed. Would you like to start over?

Ack! The good news is it actually does an MD5 check. This is not part of the HTTP standard, so Microsoft must be passing this along in the link to the download manager. My computer crashed this morning due to a power outage, so the integrity failure is not unexpected. But why do I have to download the whole thing again!? Why not use a list of MD5 hashes for each 1 MB or 10 MB chuck of the file, and re-download only the faulty chunk? Those 100,000 downloads of RC2 are going to be gone pretty fast this way.

Halfway through the second attempt, my internet connection acted up again. So did the Akamai stuff:

The Download Manager cannot handle this download.  The download will be canceled.

I clicked the mislabeled OK button (an expletive would be more appropriate), poof!, my download was all gone.

So I googled for “4 gb download manager”, found a link to Internet Download Manager, confirmed the page says it can handle 4 GB downloads, downloaded the thing, and restarted the download once more. Being a shareware product, this one will hopefully work a bit better.

With all the effort Microsoft is putting into Windows Vista, I don’t understand why they don’t try to make a better first impression. Microsoft could easily link to the 30-day trial of the download manager I just found. They could probably buy the whole company with some of their spare change.

Anyway, if you want to download Windows Vista, don’t use the “recommended” download manager. I feel better now.

Thursday, 5 October 2006

SWREG Lowers Rates

Filed under: Shareware Industry — Jan @ 22:03

Many people feel that Digital River is fast becoming a monopoly. Yes, they have bought up a lot of the e-commerce providers specifically serving software developers. But there’s plenty of competition outside that niche. I doubt Digital River will be big enough any time soon to buy up a few players like eBay (PayPal) or Google.

This morning when I logged onto the SWREG control panel, I saw a big banner announcing a rate reduction. The blurb made no mistake about who DR is trying to compete with:

  • SWREG has more international capability and customization than Paypal
  • More Revenue Share opportunities than Google Checkout
  • Increased Payment Options and flexibility verses our competitors within the industry!

However, as I immediately suspected, there’s a catch: to get the new rate, vendors have to agree to a new contract. Sticky points are that the vendor has to enable Digital River to sell extended download and backup services, and any kind of up-selling and cross-selling at Digital River’s sole discretion.

I wouldn’t care about this out all if SWREG was just another reseller. I’m all in favor of up-selling, cross-selling and just plain selling, to paraphrase Al Harberg. Resellers can monetize then customers as they like. If I get a cut, that’s even better. In fact, when Digital River offered a similar rate reduction with strings attached for RegNow, I had no qualms about it.

But SWREG is different. I’m using their “Advanced Level” to power the ordering pages on my own site, allowing customers to buy “directly from us”. I will not let my e-commerce provider dictate how I should sell my software on my own site. It defeats the purpose of designing my own ordering system entirely. And that would take away the sole reason I snitched to SWREG. If I’m going to link to their ordering pages, there’s or wide range of e-commerce providers I could work with.

Fortunately, if I don’t accept the new contract, I can keep the old one at the old rates. So that’s what I’ll do. Hopefully Digital River realizes they have a unique and powerful system with SWREG’s Advanced Level. I’d like them to improve the system and cater to the wishes of its clients, rather than lumping it together with the rest of SWREG. Or at least until Pay Pal rolls out it’s “Website Payments Pro” system worldwide, so I can vote with my virtual feet if I have to.

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