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Product managers, engineers, marketers, and those who support them can be amazingly pretentious. If you are involved in designing a product, please make sure that you understand this important point: it doesn’t matter what you build, or how good a job you do, your product is not cool enough to force on everyone and expect them to like it. Yes, this is a universal law. Yes, even for Apple. Eventually you will find out how much you have alienated your customers.

The Western Digital Passport drives are a perfect example. I recently needed to buy an external backup drive for work. I really liked the Passport drives: lots of storage packed into a sleek form factor small enough to be tossed in a laptop bag. However, they ruined the drives with their awful backup software *ahem* rootkit. They implemented this “feature” in the most awful way possible; it is on the drive taking up space, but the firmware makes it look like a read-only CD image. It is really hard to remove, but it might be possible to disable it with a tool available at Western Digital’s web site. Unfortunately for me, the tool bricked my drive (and lost my data). I guess they posted the tool because removing the software would look like admitting a mistake. I am actually glad it failed because then it was easy to return the drive and get a SeaGate FreeAgent.

If I was in the market for a backup solution, I would have bought a product marketed as a backup solution. Western Digital: I wouldn’t be offended that you gave me free software if you put it on the drive like every other sane manufacturer. All of your funny business adds confusion and gets in the way of me using the drive for its intended purpose: dumb file storage.

The lesson for product designers is clear: understand that every option you remove limits your customer base, and options that look senselessly removed make for angry former customers. If you can provide ease of use without limiting flexibility, exerting control just makes you look like a jerk. Being cocky can ruin your product.

By the way, though not quite as small and sleek as the Passport, the Seagate FreeAgent Go provides more storage per dollar, a significantly longer warranty, and works fuss free.

Thank you Seagate for providing an excellent alternative.

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