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The more you know, the more you don’t know

This content is a little crusty, having been with me through 3 separate platform changes. Formatting may be rough, and I am slightly less stupid today than when I wrote it.
05 May 2009

Usability Fail: Xenocode

Maybe I’m just getting more cynical, but I’ve been finding a lot more sites doing really stupid things that serve only to piss off their users. As a result I’ve decided to start a new series of posts titled “Usability Fail” which will discuss just that: sites that make dumb decisions that utterly fail in the “user-friendly” and “usability” categories.

The Site

Today’s site is one that I’ve actually lauded in the past. Xenocode develops really cool sandboxing software that allows your to run a program on any platform (Windows vs Mac vs Linux), at any patch level (service pack 2 vs service pack 3), and regardless of existing software (run IE7 alongside IE8). In their own buzzwords…

Xenocode is an advanced application virtualization and streaming microkernel that emulates core OS subsystems entirely within user-mode space. Virtualized applications reside in isolated "sandboxes", allowing software to run side-by-side without conflicts or modifications to the host device.

Our unique, patent-pending application virtualization and XStream delivery technology provide users with a highly reliable, low-latency product experience on the web, intranet, or USB storage devices.

If you squint your eyes and tilt your head, you can see some good points through that bull.

Their browser virtualizers are great for testing your site in the various flavors of Internet Exploder. Personally I think you’re okay if it looks decent in IE7 and IE8, but some are still supporting IE6, and they have a virtual install of that as well. I keep links for all 3 versions on my desktop, and find them incredibly handy.

The Failure

So with all this cool software, what’s the problem? They made them difficult to load and run from anywhere other than their site. When you click any of the run buttons, the program is downloaded to your desktop and executed, but leaves no obvious traces to rerun the program later. Interestingly, this was not the case when I originally reviewed their software. I have since updated that review with a warning, along with instructions on how you can get them to run without visiting the site (just gotta pull the downloaded executable out of their temp folder).

Obviously the intention here is to keep eyeballs on the site in hopes of creating sales conversions for their virtualization software (you can wrap your own programs). It feels like an MBA got his or her hands on the implementation reigns, and decided this was the way to drive traffic.

Obviously, I strenuously disagree. I know where I got the software, and if I ever need to virtualize a program I know exactly where to go. Forcing me to visit your site every time I want to use your extremely helpful tool only does two things: annoy me and increase the likelihood that I will jump ship to another product when it comes along (and it will). That second reason is especially nasty, because flexibility usually trumps functionality. The alternative may not even be as good as Xenocode’s software, but if they let me use it how and when I want, the difference becomes mentally negligible.

The Solution

Fortunately the fix is super-easy: just go back to what you were doing before and put the program right on the desktop. If you really want to drag your heels, present an opt-in option to make the program locally available, though that approach may only serve to further prove user opposition to you getting in the way.

Even if Xenocode doesn’t change a thing, you can still follow my instructions to achieve the same result. Here’s hoping they take the extra legwork back out of it.

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