Just say no

A couple of months ago I borrowed a friend's Olympus DM-20 digital audio recorder because, well, opening my Mac and hooking up my iSight didn't seem like a great way to kick off my interview with Bill Gates. On the plane ride out to Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference I found that while the gadget itself is plenty frustrating to learn how to use, the software that comes with it is even more annoying.

When you use the bundled DSS Player application to transfer files to your computer, it saves them in WMA (Windows Media Audio) format. If you want to convert to an editable format, you'll notice a toolbar that includes a button hopefully labeled Convert. But it's greyed out even when files are selected. I remember thinking "Hmm, what's up with that?" But then my geek reflexes kicked in. I found an obscure submenu option that enables conversion, used it to produce an AIFF file, edited my podcast, returned the DM-20 to my friend, and promptly forgot all about it.

The other day he called with a problem. He was making a podcast, and wanted to edit captured audio in uncompressed format. "There's a button labeled Convert," he said, "but it doesn't work. What's up with that?" Aaarrgggghhh!

I pointed him to the obscure convert-on-download option -- which on Windows offers to produce a WAV file -- and waited expectantly while...nothing happened. On the majority host platform for this gadget whose native format is WMA, there is evidently no way to convert your audio into an uncompressed format for editing.

This can't be true, can it?

Googling...sigh...yes, it can.

I purchased the DM-10 and find it very frustrating that I cannot convert .wma files to .wav. The option is there, it is grayed out though which encouraged me to believe that I was doing something wrong though according to the post above the program simply does not allow for such an operation.

It would be one thing if the software didn't do the conversion. But to claim that it does, and then not deliver, dumbfounded my friend. "How do they get away with it?"

After solving the problem for him, it struck me that perhaps we of the geek tribe are to blame. We take it for granted that software often doesn't work as advertised, we reflexively find workarounds, and we hardly notice all the scar tissue we've accumulated over the years. What if we just said no?

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2005/11/17.html#a1340