The Arrogance of Apps

online_formYesterday, I filled in an online form hosted by a government agency. The PDF form didn’t allow me to save a partially completed form to my drive, but it was easy to do by simply printing it through a PDF driver. But, filling in data was quick and simple with just the free Acrobat Reader that is available on virtually any platform. (It won’t surprise me if Adobe releases of an Acrobat client for the Apple Watch).

I appreciated that I could fill in the form online, but because of my urgent need for a notarized original, I was under the gun to get the form filled, printed, signed, notarized and delivered to a courthouse.

But wait! Perhaps I don’t need to do all those things. I was delighted to find that the government web site would accept my electronic signature during the online session. I could sign the form with a registered Adobe ID and a an image file of my real signature.
I had created an Adobe ID to sign a document in the past and I recalled using the signature feature. With just a bit of digging, I found my ID and password — Acrobat already knew where to find the image of my signature.

But something irking happened after signing the online form. WIth every subsequent boot up of my PC, Adobe Creative Cloud was loaded and running.Adobe Acrobat It placed an icon in the task bar tray; the icon cluster next to the clock with in which a user can select options for running apps.

Since I had previously used the signature feature, there must be other factors that led to new startup behavior. Either Adobe changed their launch policy, or perhaps it was related to my recent upgrade to Windows 10, or perhaps Creative Cloud wasn’t tied to the PDF signature feature in the past. Either way, I figured that I could stop Creative Cloud from launching when I start my PC by simply un-ticking a configuration option.

I was certainly not prepared for what I discovered…

  1. There is no way to disable start-up at boot without signing into an online service.
    (Who owns this PC? Me—or Adobe?)
  2. Since I had never used Adobe Creative Cloud, I had no ID—at least none that I recalled. The ID for my PDF signature was not the correct one.
  3. I could override start-up behavior with MS-Config, a system utility that suppresses startup, but leaves the launch command intact. But this results in a custom boot state intended for analysis and diagnostics. I shouldn’t have to use a system override, simply because Adobe demands that users love their app.

Sure—it’s just a command placed with arrogance by a software vendor. I could suppress it or uninstall the entire application. But still, it raised my blood pressure to know that Adobe thinks they are my mother. They know what’s better for me than I do. In their effort to demonstrate a product ecosystem that rivals Microsoft or Google, they feel supremely entitled to shove a product suite down my throat.

How can a big, reputable vendor be so arrogant and indifferent? In addition to collecting and transmitting data to the mother ship, running unwanted apps steals processor & memory resources and opens up users to new terms and conditions?

Apparently, I am not the only one frustrated by Adobe’s design arrogance. Other users of the Adobe support forum are just as irked as I am.
Of course, this behavior is not unique to Adobe. You see it all the time.

Adobe logo-stResist the Temptation

I was CEO of an email and antispam service for 10 years. We aced expert reviews and were awarded PC Magazine Editor’s Choice for email security. Our service used a local, client app through which mail was filtered. During product-release review, I fought hard to get developers and marketers to back down from demanding that the app be installed without explicit action from the user, loaded without explicit directive and constantly running without the user choosing this behavior explicitly.

Most importantly, I fought to make it quick and simple to disable or uninstall our software. But it was a lonely fight. Software engineers and marketing gurus felt that the need for our product was universal and obvious—on par with any critical OS process. When you consider that we had invested 3 years and millions of dollars in our nifty, little invention, the vociferous justification for arrogance almost seemed to make sense:

  • Why would anyone want to shut down or uninstall our incredibly valuable service?
  • Think of our user’s security. There is danger in failing to launch!
  • Lions, Tiger’s and Bears (Oh, My!)
  • We know better than our users.

In effect, my product team was echoing Danny DeVito’s famous line from Matilda, “I’m smart—You’re dumb! And there’s nothing you can do about it” In the end, it was I who came across as arrogant—at least to my team. Refusing to let the decision be decided by a vote. I vetoed the always on behavior using the executive authority of my office.

IAdobe Creative Cloud had originally titled this article “The Arrogance of Software Engineers”, but after talking with individuals who shared my experience, I realized that it is not necessarily an engineer or marketing manager who pushes for the arrogant decision Often, it is a product manager, a corporate officer or one of the founders.

If I could interdict design arrogance it at my small SAS company, then I am certain Adobe can do a better job. Please guys—You design excellent software and Creative Cloud is a masterpiece of holistic engineering. But check your ego at the door and get over yourselves. The decision of always running is not yours to make. Disabling or uninstalling an app should never require an online account or a password. Please do the right thing. It might even mitigate the frustration of users who rebel against your move to host every utilitarian app in the cloud. [Or this one, or this one]

My rant is not about you, Adobe—It is about the insipid ethos that arises naturally with hard work and pride. If you need a fresh, outside eyeball on your review board for software updates, feel free to contact me. I would be honored to be an acid test for any hidden and lingering arrogance.

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