October 9, 2008

An Open Letter to CrashPlan

This worked so well last time, I thought I'd try it again.

(cc'ed to support@crashplan.com)

Dear CrashPlan,

So, I launch the front end to CrashPlan tonight and find that suddenly everything looks a little different. Turns out from checking the log, my CrashPlan client updated itself last night. Wow! What new features/gotchas did that bring?

Hmm... There's nothing about any new release on the CrashPlan blog. The release notes on your site are still from the June release. The "User Guide" PDF on your site (the hard to find one that's only linked to from the download page and not the support page) is still from the December 2007 release.

So, now, I have a piece of software running on my computers (I bought three Pro licenses) that operates differently than it did before with different settings and options, yet I don't get any documentation about the changes? Do you plan on updating either the release notes or the "User Guide" soon? Given how out of date the "User Guide" is, I'm guessing the answer is "no".

It's not a bad thing to autoupdate software, but it's a horrible idea to do so when:

A) none of your very sparse documentation ever mentions the possibility of an autoupdate.
2) there is no setting in the application to prevent an autoupdate from happening.
d) you make available absolutely no information about the new version, or changes, or anything like that.

Bad form, CrashPlan.

2 comments:

CrashPlan said...

Hi Aaron,

Because you wrote us via e-mail and blog, we're responding in both places. The e-mail was a bit more detailed than this reply:

re>release notes
Sorry - they were posted within 24 hours, but they were not posted prior to release. Part of the confusion is we've moved our blog from blogger to our own wiki. Release notes can be found here:

http://support.crashplan.com/doku.php

Please note we also are on twitter and posted live as we were upgrading:

http://www.twitter.com/crashplan

re>User guide location
We felt having a link to the user guide on the very page you get our software was a pretty solid idea. We've also added it to support since you've complained.

re>User Guide
It's not designed to be updated with every release, however your guess that we're not going to be upgrading it is wrong. We are in the process of moving the user guide from PDF to live wiki with user comments! This will be ongoing for some time.

re>No mention of auto update
A mention is in the user guide, however admittedly it's not very detailed.

re>No control over auto update
This is a feature of the CrashPlan for Consumer product. Put simply, if you're backing up to friends, you do not want to trust them to upgrade in a timely manner. The solution is to have the consumer product keep everyone in sync. We wouldn't do this for say, a video player. But because backups are supposed to be reliable, we felt it necessary to auto update. If you run the business product, you can control your own release cycle.


Best regards,

CrashPlan team

Aaron said...

CrashPlan's got the release notes live now, and they're definitely working on new user documentation, so those are all good things. They've got a whole new support site they're working on, and I have every faith that they will have all this stuff figured out soon.

They also have a good point that the design of their software basically requires auto-updates, since your backup destination's got to be running the same version your are for your backups to keep running.

I feel my criticisms still stand, though as a general complaint and warning for all software companies.

Heed my words, o ye developers of software:

If you update your programs automatically with major changes in functionality, give your users some way to find out what's changed and how to use, adjust, or otherwise take advantage of those changes.

Keep your documentation updated with your software releases, and make it easily accessible. This one is for your benefit, because when you get a stupid question from a user, you can just say "covered in the docs you should have read". However, if new features or changes aren't in your user level documentation, or your users can't find it, you lose this great shield that you would otherwise have.