Editor's Window31 Jul, 2006 By: Sara Ferris
Your Turn: New forum lets Cadalyst readers review our reviews.
Like the good children of Lake Wobegon, products reviewed in Cadalyst recently have tended to be above average. Particularly with software products, we've been seeing an awful lot of Highly Recommended rankings. Is this just another case of rampant grade inflation? Have our reviewers gone soft?
My sense is that most products today are functionally equivalent—that is, they'll do what the majority of users need them to do. Not too many years ago, we included a feature table with each CAD software review. Reviewers checked off yes or no on a long list of features. Soon enough, pretty much every product ended up with a long column of Ys. Likewise, in the past, the use of a hardware lock (dongle) was often sufficient to knock a product down in the ratings. But the kinks have long been worked out, and now the biggest problem with hardware locks is the tendency for them to walk off. Hardware still causes some trouble during the review process, but that's largely because we're looking at early production units that are still works in progress.
This is not to say that today's hardware and software products are perfect. It's just that the flaws are minor and therefore harder to find during a review. They are likely to emerge only when a product is put to task in production work. With the increasing vertical specialization of software in particular, there are very few one-size-fits-all products.
The differentiators among products come down to factors that may be more a matter of user preference than anything else—the organization of the interface, how certain commands work, how you define ease of use. Also involved are elements that are difficult to test for in a review: technical support, vendor responsiveness, quality of training materials, stability during ongoing production use, issues encountered during an upgrade and so on.
To help round out our reviews, we've launched a new discussion forum where you can, in effect, review the reviews. It's your opportunity to agree or disagree with our findings, point out features we don't mention and comment on those elements we can't check.
The goal is to provide a collective pool of information to help those deciding what product to purchase. Toward that end, be sure to note your experience with the product in question and provide specific examples to support your arguments. You'll need to register to participate in the forum, which you can find at http://forums.cadalyst.com. While there, be sure to check out some of our other discussion groups, including new forums that focus specifically on AEC and manufacturing.
Beyond the forums, we've added a new commenting feature to all the other articles on our Web sites. Just fill out a quick form to add your two-cents' worth. In case you're wondering why we just don't add comments to the reviews also, we think the forum format will make it easier to browse and search all comments on a particular product and its review.
We hope you'll take advantage of these new ways to share your thoughts with us and other readers.