I feel as if I've gone deaf in one ear, although I suspect it's more likely there's something wrong on the left channel of my PC's sound card.
My sound card is a Sound Blaster Live and in an attempt to sort out the problem, I checked out the drivers on the Creative Labs Website. The good news was I came across LiveWare 2, an updated version of the driver and software pack. The bad news was it was about 20Mb.
Luckily, I work in an office that has its own ISDN line - all the same it took an age to download. Disappointingly, the left-hand channel problem didn't go away, so I gave up. Then, last week, I received a freshly burned CD-Rom of LiveWare 2 and a blank compliments slip from Creative's PR company. I've no idea why they sent it and, driven by curiosity, I checked it out and discovered it was crammed with more than 550 Mb of stuff, so I loaded it - although it still didn't clear the problem with the left channel.
At this point, a thought occurred to me - how do the punters get this disk? Telepathy, that's how. Oh, sure, some will go to the Website and download the 20Mb version, but there are lots of users still using the duff first version of the drivers (updated a while back) so they won't know about this either.
So who do we blame? Well, hardly Creative. Barring the screw-up with the early drivers, it is obviously just expanding the functionality of its card. At its launch, Creative's product manager said it would be expanding its functionality with more software, not hardware, so it's hard to point the finger at a company that's trying to improve the software bundle for its customers. And it isn't alone. Take Microsoft with its 20Mb or so Internet Explorer 5 download, or, say, Corel with its 14Mb upgrade for the WordPerfect suite.
Which leads us to back to how do punters really get this software? Well, at 20Mb, not the internet, and here's the rub - companies that want to expand their software products for free have no way to distribute large amounts of software to their users other than the Royal Mail.
This is going to be a growing problem that is going to affect the user and, in the end, affect the industry. We need to relearn how to talk to the customers who aren't on the internet. We need to let them know there is, say, a CD-Rom full of updated - free - goodies available that they won't have to spend a week downloading.
I'm sure enough users would be prepared to pay a fiver for postage and packing to receive a handful of software. But if we aren't careful, the internet is going to make us lazy - either the software won't be developed or it won't be distributed and, in the end, the punter will lose out.
And about 10 minutes after the punters realise they are losing out, business starts losing out. Set your watches.
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