I’m seeing more and more half-baked, unstable products from hardware and software vendors. Here’s two anecdotes to show you what I mean.

PAPERPORT

Paperport goes back years and years, and at one time was given away as the software accompanying many, many scanners. It was always buggy and used a proprietary format and the support from the company was nonexistent, so it had trouble getting much traction, but there was also never anything better.

It’s intended to be the sole point of contact with your scanner and all your scanned documents. It does simple OCR (use Paperport to send a scan to Word and it does OCR on the fly), but it also does a lot of other things – facilitates finding a scanned image or attaching scans to e-mails or sending a picture to your photo editor, for example.

Fast forward to 2002. Paperport 9 is released and has blessedly few bugs – and it uses PDF as the default format for saving document scans, and JPG as the default format for images. Hallelujah! The choruses cry out and Paperport becomes compelling, well worth the learning curve.

Fast forward to today. The Paperport publishers have released two new versions, Paperport 10 and 11, and sadly, they’re back to being buggy messes. (And support is still nonexistent.) For a grin, go read the Amazon reviews of Paperport 10 – they universally say, “Use version 9! Avoid this pile of crap!”

PINNACLE STUDIO

Many of you are becoming interested in video editing. It’s wildly complicated, a blur of acronyms and incompatible formats and unfamiliar vocabulary. Microsoft’s free Windows Movie Maker should be your starter program, but you (or your kids) will run into its limitations pretty quickly.

When you’re ready to move on, there’s no single answer that fits everybody but a few consumer programs will stand out. Adobe Premiere Elements has a powerful brand name and a reputation for being stable and full-featured. Go read some reviews and it’s hard to overlook that every single one of them comments on how hard it is to learn how to use the program. As a long-time frustrated PhotoShop novice, I take those warnings seriously.

Pinnacle Studio is next on the list. It’s bundled with lots of interesting hardware and aggressively positioned on the shelves at the stores. Reviews frequently make Pinnacle Studio look like the most tempting program for home video editing.

After patching, my copy of Pinnacle Studio was up to version 9.4. A new version 10 has been on the market for a while with increased support for different hardware devices and file formats; in fact I found that it was up to version 10.5 at an attractive upgrade price.

But there was a decidedly dark tone to the Amazon comments and the reviews, and eventually I stumbled on this collection of comments from dozens of people, all shouting that versions 10 and 10.5 are horribly broken – frequently impossible to install, frequently impossible to use without crashing if it ever does get installed.

Trust is broken. There are no rules any more. Upgrades do not always solve problems. Programs do not always do what they are supposed to do. There may be no magic I can bring that will make a cruddy product work. Shop carefully!