Let’s start off with a scenario.

You go into an ice cream store. You look about and see a variety of flavors but can’t decide. You say to yourself, “I wonder if the Raisin Banana is any good?” You are intrigued, but you do not want to waste your money only to find out it is putrid.

You ask the sales clerk if you can try to flavor. They hand you a plastic spoon with the ice cream on it. You taste it and decide it is yucky. You ask to taste another flavor and they happily provide it to you.

Seems simple right? Seems to show a level of customer service we have all come to expect when testing something or trying it out before we buy it.

We do it when we test drive a car. When we decide on whether this house or condo or apartment is right for us. We do it at ice cream shops. We do it at a clothing store -trying it on before we buy it.

So, why can’t we do it with all the authoring tools on the market? Why are some vendors making it impossible? Why are some vendors treating you as a spy or something sinister when you just want to try out the product?

Trial by Fire

You would think that with over 140 authoring tools on the market, vendors would want you to try out their product before dropping any type of cash. You would think they would understand that something that costs $300, $500 or more than $5,000 would warrant a test drive.

You would be mistaken.

While there are plenty of vendors who offer trials, without you having to contact them first or register, there are plenty who do not.

  • NexLearn Professional sim tool – They want you to sign a MNDA (Mutual Non-Disclosure) before seeing the product (In my case they thought I was an e-learning developer. Which if you think about it, who besides a developer or instructional designer purchase this type of product?)
  • Assima STT- You have a better chance of walking over hot coals then seeing this product prior to purchase
  • CourseAvenue Studio
  • CM-Group makers of Luminosity – you have to contact them first to see this product which interestingly enough, they require a minimum of ten licenses to buy. If you want one forget about it, they are not interested.
  • Cobent CoAuthor
  • Quicklessons – while they do offer a free version, the product most folks will buy they do not
  • Scate Ignite 4 – Professional and Standard = Nope
  • Knowledge Quest – No

What is equally ironic is that it just isn’t limited to desktop tools but also SaaS too. Strange? You bet. Bizarre in this day and age? Yes.

Customer friendly – No.

Pricing

I’ve talked in the past about pricing and some of the outrageous fees that authoring tool vendors are charging. What I am finding more disturbing are the number of vendors who are not posting their pricing online.

You probably have a better chance on who assassinated JFK (if you do not think it was Oswald) than getting some of these vendors to tell you up front.

Personal Favs include

  • SumTotal Toolbook 11 – the irony here is that one of their resellers enables you to buy the product and shows not only the pricing for it, but also various plugins you can get and its pricing
  • NexLearn Professional – jeez starting to see a trend here?
  • Assima STT – I think the main reason is that the tool will cost you over $20,000 USD for one developer license
  • Ancile UPerform
  • Scate Ignite 4 – Professional and Standard – great product but this is just mystifying
  • IMC-AG PowerTrainer 4
  • Hughes
  • Pro-ductivity Systems

One trend I’m seeing is that in the simulation tool world not listing their pricing is quite common.

Mac OS

I’ll get right to the point. Desktop authoring tools as an entire industry are awful when it comes to supporting Mac OS.

Some numbers to ponder

  • Mac OS market share is 7.1% worldwide
  • As of mid 2012, 58 million people used Mac OS as their primary OS
  • In the first four days of the latest version (July 25, 2012) of MAC OS, Apple sold 3 million units
  • In October 2012, Apple claimed that one in five laptops/desktops sold in the U.S. was a Mac

If just 10% of e-learning end users are using Mac OS as their primary OS, and only a handful of vendors support Mac OS, how much revenue is being generated by just those handful of vendors? I am guessing a lot.

In a time when there are more authoring tool vendors than ever before you would think that these vendors would happily support Mac OS.

Equally is the number of vendors who have a SaaS product and although they will state they are browser agnostic, seeing the product with Safari can in be a challenge. In some cases, I have a better chance of seeing the Giza Pyramid with Magic Art 3D books (remember them?) than using the product to its real capabilities.

Microsoft Windows 8

Yeah I know it is new, but the lack of current support is unbelievable. I mean Microsoft has been announcing this version for months, so how is it possible that a chunk of vendors seemed to be caught off guard?

Even if they do support it, could luck finding out on their web sites. Heck the number who support Windows 7 64-bit is not that big compared to Windows 7 32-bit.

But seriously. As of right now I only know of a handful and I mean that sincerely who are openly stating they support Windows 8 (this includes SaaS vendors).

The e-learning industry as a whole has been always behind the times. This is nothing new, but in today’s technology driven world you would think, heck even expect vendors to get it. Then again, some are still supporting Windows ME, so there is that.

Chromebooks

Less than 10 vendors. Pathetic.

Xbox 360

Happy to report that one vendor, dominKnow, makers of Claro have tested their product on the XBox 360 and found despite a few hiccups to work.

They found some issues with audio and video, but have told me that with a new update coming soon, they expect this to be resolved. How did they pull it off?

Windows 8, which is in the newest update for the Xbox 360. It is only a matter of time, before someone tests TinCan with the Xbox 360, since in theory it can communicate instances between a device and a LMS or online authoring solution.

Customer Service

I can honestly say that customer service in the authoring tool world has gone downhill. Why? I have a few ideas:

  • Too many vendors who focus on a self-service model and thus have decided that forums, training materials/videos will suffice
  • Emphasis has been put on sales rather than service, due in no small part to an increase in competition
  • Economy – typically the first groups to be cut include customer service (training, marketing and sales not withstanding)
  • Profits above everything else – which is whacked when you consider that customer service will only drive more sales and continued customer support

Bottom Line

The industry as a whole retains the highest level of loyalty among end users.

Perhaps that nature of loyalty and the understanding that long time customers will just follow the flow rather than look elsewhere is in no small part driving this bridge to nowhere.

It’s easy to focus on themselves first, rather than you.

But it doesn’t mean its right.

In fact, it is just plain wrong.

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