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Why is Vuescan struggling ?

in Silverfast , Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Earlier today, I came across a piece of negative marketing of a type which always irritates me. This was from Ed Hamrick, of Hamrick Software, author of Vuescan, offering Silverfast users a free upgrade to Vuescan Pro if they promise never to use Silverfast again and to send him their Silverfast serial number. This is already sounding ethically dubious, and possibly worse, but then he goes on to roundly rip Silverfast to pieces, while saying what a nice guy Karl-Heinz Zahorsky, the CEO and founder of LaserSoft is. All this under the strawman banner “Why is LaserSoft struggling ?”

Now, as far as I know, LaserSoft has never engaged in such tactics. It promotes its own wares, sometimes well, sometimes less so, but it never, ever rubbishes the competition. Hamrick then follows up with a gratuitous analysis of LaserSoft’s “problems” and an “unedited list” of more than 1000 largely illiterate one-liner comments of converts to Vuescan, the majority of which seem to have very little clue of what they’re talking about - and Hamrick knows it. Frankly, these people are not Silverfast’s customer base.

Hamrick goes on to pick apart various aspects of Silverfast, and Lasersoft. Now, Lasersoft sure aren’t perfect, but if you’re going to start slinging mud, you’d better make sure of your target.  A few choice examples:

Anyone who primarly does reflective scans can buy a good printer/scanner/copier for $100, and anyone still scanning film can use the Epson V700 to do this

Sure, Ed. You’re right, and pretty much every reasonably experienced film photographer in the world is wrong. The V700 is ok. In fact, for large format it’s probably the only reasonable option. But for optimal 35mm scans ? Come on!!  And this “anyone still scanning film” ... well, yeah. Guess what. They’re using Silverfast. 

Let’s see what a in-depth review of the V700 has to say:  “Finally one can say that the Epson Perfection V700 Photo is good for digitizing normal vacation pictures and similar images even directly from the film. For applications without professional requirements the scanner is very well suitable. Professionals, whom the V700 actually addresses with the possibility to scan medium formats and large formats, won’t however be satisfied with the picture quality”.  I think I’ll skip Ed’s advice on this one.

This leads to a dilemma - the market for the scanners SilverFast supports is shrinking rapidly, and even the least expensive printer/scanner/copiers are more than good enough for 99% of reflective scanning.

Well, Hamrick may believe that “printer/scanner/copiers are more than good enough for 99% of reflective scanning”. So what ? Silverfast is designed for photographers and pre-press. Possibly there little ROI in providing a cheap enough version for casual users of all-in-one, Walmart special offer copiers. 

What can LaserSoft do, other than try to reduce costs by laying off engineers and delay new product development? It’s been 5 years since Intel Macs were introduced, and LaserSoft still hasn’t released a universal binary version of SilverFast.

Again, so what ? First, how does Hamrick know so much about LaserSoft’s business ? If they are reducing costs, they’re hardly alone.  As for the Universal Binary, up until recently it has been of no use.  LaserSoft, correctly, point out that scan times and limited by scanner performance.  So post processing may be a touch faster with a Universal Binary, but frankly I’m not convinced.  This is really typical software geekery.

The majority of LaserSoft revenues used to come from bundled software sales

I believe it still does

Epson Scan is better than SilverFast

Totally unsubstantiated wild claim. Epson Scan is better than Vuescan!!!

Canon sells many more printer/scanner/copiers than high-end flatbed scanners

Yes, Ed, you’ve made it clear that you’ve missed the point. Stop digging.

Plustek and Reflecta scanners aren’t very good

Really. Why do you support them then ? And pro photographers such as Mark Segal beg to differ. Have they turned down your bundling offer ?

VueScan is a 5 MByte download, SilverFast 8 is a 170 MByte download

Well yes… but that does include the video guides and documentation. Documentation, Ed. Heard of it ? I haven’t downloaded Silverfast 8 yet, but Silverfast 6 is around 25Mb. Bigger than Vuescan, yes, but there’s quite a lot more in it.

It goes on, and quite frankly is astonishing. Did Zahorsky run over his dog or something ?  But anyway, we finally get on to this little claim:

VueScan produces better scans

Well, now I’m listening. Especially as I’m a licensed Vuescan user. I gave up at around version 5, where the appaling UI and bizarre behaviour finally drove me away. So let’s see if Version 9 has improve things. Honestly, if it gives better results, I’m not proud.

The Test

So, I downloaded Vuescan 9, although I had a bit of trouble getting past a website which insisted on pushing “Vuescan Mobile” at me. Let the customer decide, Ed, please.

First impressions were pretty familiar. It’s still got a design only a geek could love, full of weird UI elements and oddities. But at least they line up and the labels don’t overflow any more.

First run: although it did find my networked multi-mode printer/scanner, it failed to find my USB connected Canoscan 9000F. After a relaunch, it found my Minolta film scanner as well. It never did find the Canon. Probably because it’s not a “printer/scanner/copier”.

I went to pick up my old serial code, and entered it. It didn’t work, but that was just a guess really, because I got no feedback. Ok, so I need to get an updated serial number. Fine. That worked, well enough, but the user experience has already deviated well away from smooth. I wonder if the average printer/scanner/copier user would have worked it out ?

Ok, fine. Let me at those awesome results.  I loaded up a slide.  And clicked on “Preview”.  And Vuescan, way off in a little corner, tells me it is “Calibrating”.  I wait for minute or so, then it shows Busy 0%, eventually after, 2 minutes or so it shows Busy 100%. This goes on for a while. It starts again: Busy 0 to 100% another 2-3 minutes. No attempt to tell me what is going on, and no attempt to show a standard system activity bar.  During this time the application is locked up. And then it starts again - busy 0%.  What is it doing, calibrating R, G & B channels ? No idea. Anyway, the claim of “speed” is already wearing thin. Nope, not RGB, because it’s started again. And again.

Finally, a dialog. Please insert the film holder. So I did. But the scanner does not grab it. There’s something not right here.  Everything locks up. Great. I shut down the scanner, force quit Vuescan. And try again. I’m tenacious.

It starts up again, can’t find the Minolta. Shut down. Starts up again, finds Minolta. Finally I get it do a prescan.  It contrives to make the usually quiet-ish Minolta sound like a garbage truck in a tin can factory. Very noisy AF, very noisy prescan and no faster than Silverfast.

The prescan area is too big, which reminds me I’ve always been very suspicious of Vuescan’s handling of the Minolta’s hi-res area (4800dpi for a 35mm strip, 3200 for 120 film).  Using the Scanhancer, it seems there’s no way to get a decent preview, which Silverfast has no trouble with.  Also, nothing approaching Silverfast’s tuning tools. Not even remotely. However, there is one big plus, potentially: the option to use Multi Exposure at the same time as Multi Scanning (which Lasersoft have always said is of little benefit).

Vuescan Preview

Vuescan preview

Silverfast preview

Silverfast preview


I eventually found the “advanced” settings. Not exactly intuitive, but well at least that’s consistent. And I get things set up as I want, and start a scan. Is it faster ? No, of course it isn’t: scan time is scanner limited. Output is very dark, very compressed histogram. However shadows are exceptionally clean - although later when I ran the same slide through Silverfast, it was equally good.

The UI remains exceedingly clunky and uninspiring, and if Silverfast 6 has its annoyances, VueScan just responds with a different set. Some things, for examplre setting preferences, are marginally more simple with Vuescan, but other things, for example prescan colour correction, or manual focus, are way, way worse.

Vuescan’s web site features testimonials from Smart Computing, PC World, Computer Shopper, Mac Guild, etc. Although to be fair Amateur Photographer praised it highly. But Silverfast features reviews by pro photographers such as Mark Segal (who was complimentray about the Plustec scanner which Hamrick dismisses), John Barclay, Timothy Grey, etc. No PC geeks here.

I could probably could make Vuescan work for me, especially if I invested in Sascha Steinhoff’s book.  Vuescan is not bad. For a casual user it’s a better investment than Silverfast, which in its consumer, dumbed down mode is too complex for the target market but also too light on features. VueScan is much cheaper. For advanced users it can also deliver scans just as good as Silverfast. Probably. But it will make you work much harder and it is missing all the refinements of Silverfast.  Generally I’d say there’s a pretty even split out there between Silverfast and Vuescan fans.

But it’s the negative, dishonest marketing that really leaves a bad taste. Another Hamrick quote is “they don’t ask for my advice, and free advice is worth what you pay for it”. Is a free Vuescan upgrade worth what you pay for it too ? So what is this Vuescan upgrade free ? Why such aggressive marketing ? Why is Vuescan struggling ?

I wouldn’t cut off my nose to spite my face if Vuescan really was better,  but the fact is I’ve had years of great results, friendly support and trouble free operation from Silverfast, and I’m not going to switch.  Silverfast has lots of flaws, and probably it is a touch too expensive. But frankly, looking at similar image products from, say, Adobe, or Nik, it certainly isn’t outrageously priced. And personally I don’t find that an annual price-gouging upgrade to be a benefit.

 

 

Posted in category "Silverfast" on Tuesday, August 23, 2011 at 08:14 PM

Older Comments

from david mantripp on Tue, September 13, 2011 - 6:55

(posted on behalf of Ed Hamrick.  See also here)

Hi David,

So, apparently my posting on SilverFast struck a nerve?
Business isn’t bean-bag - and competition can be brutal.
Yes, I know it offends the sensitive smile but that’s life.

If you’re vaguely interested, VueScan isn’t struggling.  My
free upgrade offer is going strongly, and I’m selling $3M
per year of VueScan licenses.  It’s a good business.

And you dismiss the one-line comments people make about
SilverFast.  It’s actually quite interesting.  Every one of the
comments in the list of 1000 comments came from someone
who had actual experience using SilverFast and instead deciced
to buy VueScan.  People really, really dislike SilverFast - it’s hard to use, the bizarre three-letter and four letter acronyms aren’t helpful, the blizzard of icons in the user interface are non-intuitive, and they’re really dumb with their pricing.

I actually read the comments, and personally pay very close
attention to my user’s criticisms of VueScan.  I answer every
e-mail from a customer personally.

I get approached all the time with bundling offers.  Plustek
wrote to me last week to get pricing for a bundling deal.  They’ve
approached me every year for 4 years They don’t like SilverFast either.  However, bundling is a stupid business strategy and I don’t do it.  I might offer free bundling to Plustek just to help drive LaserSoft out of business, but LaserSoft really isn’t much of a competitor.

And yes, most of the scanner market is well-served by MFP’s.

My web site doesn’t push VueScan Mobile at all - it’s below the
fold and only comes up if you come to the page from an iPhone
or iPad.

You’d be amazed how many grateful letters I get every day from people saying thanks that they don’t have to use SilverFast any more.

You ask why I have the free upgrade offer?  It’s simple, it’s a way
to help drive LaserSoft out of business. That’s why I’m considering
offering free bundling deals to anyone currently bundling SilverFast.

At least your review of VueScan was somewhat fair (although you
made some trivially simple mistakes because you were hell-bent
on finding problems).  You might also try a shorter USB cable.  Many
of the cables shipped with Minolta scanners have gone bad over
the years and problems with high-speed programs (like VueScan)
can be solved with a new USB cable.  SilverFast 6 doesn’t have
these problems because they’re using Rosetta because they’re
a PowerPC application and slow (and come on, Intel Macs were released 6 years ago).

Some guy named Erik Vlietinck at it-enquirer.com , who’s a complete witless incompetent, made a review of VueScan vs. SilverFast where he claimed that VueScan did a preview at half the speed of SilverFast.  When I posted a comment that perhaps he was using a higher resolution
preview than VueScan, and that he could solve this with the “Input | Preview resolution” option, he deleted my comment to his review and deleted my user name.  What a weasel.

Let’s see if you have the balls to post my response.  I doubt that you do smile

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

from SilverVue on Sat, September 24, 2011 - 1:59

I’m a user of SilverFast who was recently forced to upgrade to Lion 10.7. I was really dismayed to a) find that SilverFast was still NOT a Universal application, as they had been stating since October, 2007!; and b) to see how much more money they wanted just to actually deliver what they had announced in 2007. Furthermore, on March 11, 2011 they issued another patently false press release stating “SilverFast Supports 10.7” (note PRESENT tense). This was over 5 months before they offered an PAID upgrade that actually did so. And those who purchased after the time of this press release, but before June 1, are apparently out of luck — they, too, have to pay 50% of retail just to get Lion compatibility. Incredibly lame.

In 2007, I purchased a scanner that “included” SilverFast, but was sorely disappointed to discover that the included version was crippled to the point that I needed to purchase a very expensive upgrade just to do what I originally bought the scanner for. This “Studio” software was advertised as “supporting multiple scanners”. So, when I got a film scanner a few months later, I was even more dismayed to learn that I had to purchase the software all over again, this time at an EVEN more extreme cost ($500). At least, I thought, I’d be set well into the future with this “Universal” software! Ha! Now they want another $375 just to upgrade my software (AFTER their 50% discount!). I find this outrageous, given the software was touted as “Universal” when I purchased it, and was later announced as compatible with Lion, when it clearly was neither. And, yeah, the interface is pretty clunky and non-intuitive. So, I am indeed very angry with LaserSoft/SilverFast, and was already thinking about jumping ship when I came across the VueScan upgrade offer. I was tempted to go this route, since SilverFast just seems to be an endless money pit.

But… I was rather put-off by some of the language in the VueScan offer, too. Many of the same, totally unsubstantiated, claims that struck David. And I find the attitude demonstrated in Ed Hamrick’s response letter to be deeply troubling as well.

Why is Ed so eager to try to drive LaserSoft out of business — to the point of giving away his own software for free? He says “bundling is a stupid business strategy”, but rather then being happy with his competitor acting “stupidly”, he says he’s considering offering free bundling deals to those same companies — as if that’s a smarter business strategy. He, himself, states that LaserSoft “isn’t much of a competitor”, yet seems intent on trying to drive them out of business. To me, this smacks of a personal vendetta, despite his attestation to “liking” Karl-Heinz Zahorsky, which is something I find equally abhorrent.

I think competition is a good thing, and it seems to me that there is still room for a third, ethical, company in the scanner software business.

from Ed Hamrick on Sun, September 25, 2011 - 2:24

I’m not ‘eager’ to drive LaserSoft out of business, it’s just a business opportunity.  It’s very logical to drive weak competitors out of business - it leads to higher revenues.  It’s also a good way to get visibility - taking a controversial position often leads to publicity.  The old adage is ‘The only thing worse than bad publicity is no publicity’ smile

Companies often make offers that lose money in the short term, but make money in the long term.  LaserSoft is very dependent on bundling deals so offering free bundling deals can hasten their demise (which in the long run will increase my revenues).  Also, it’s not a total loss since I’d give the Standard Edition for free in bundling deals and get revenues from people upgrading to the Professional Edition.

I’m also not losing any money from the free upgrade I offer to ex-SilverFast users - I still get the revenues from them buying the Standard Edition.

Karl-Heinz Zahorsky is actually a nice guy.  I’ve also met some of his developers in person, and they’re talented engineers who are quite likeable.  They aren’t going to starve when LaserSoft goes out of business, which I think is inevitable.

I understand that some people don’t like the fact that business is Darwinian, but that’s life.

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

from SilverVue on Mon, October 17, 2011 - 6:35

I noticed that the web page under discussion has been updated and now includes a section entitled “Current LaserSoft financial status”, apparently as a response to criticism over unsubstantiated claims about their competition. I have no idea what LaserSoft’s true status is, but the “evidence” offered is laughable. Among the points presented:

• Company is late in reporting financial results. [The provided link don’t lead to any proof of this claim. If true, this is very common and has little significance, anyway.]

• LaserSoft got outside investment. [Investment companies are always looking to make future profits. They require in-depth financial information from companies before they invest in them, and don’t throw money at companies they don’t find viable. To me, this is an strong independent vote of confidence in the strength of the company.]

• The president of the company is selling his private plane [Because he’s upgrading to a larger one. Unless there is some evidence to the contrary to the information referenced, this sounds like further evidence of financial strength, not weakness.]

• Company is advertising for another programmer. [That’s what growing companies do. How, exactly, is this supposed to support the claims they are struggling?]

Ed seems to have some inside information to the contrary, but the above “evidence”, to me, does absolutely nothing to further his still unsubstantiated allegation that LaserSoft is “struggling”. If anything, I think it appears to suggest the opposite.

from Ed Hamrick on Tue, October 18, 2011 - 2:57

This web site certainly does show that Lasersoft is six months late in reporting financial results.  Go to this page:

  https://www.unternehmensregister.de/ureg/

Type “Lasersoft” into the “Firmenname” field and click “Suche Starten”.  You’ll then see that every year up to 2009 Lasersoft reported financial results at the same time of year.  This has suddenly stopped.

If you think late reporting of financial results in Germany is common, give examples of two companies that are successful in Germany who are six months late reporting their financial results.

This kind of outside investment is a clear sign of financial distress.  No profitable company would do this.

Selling the private plane is a clue - and saying he wants to buy a bigger plane is B.S. given the other clues of financial distress.

Take a look at other info in the link above.  Lasersoft is laying people off. Take a look at how late the updates to Silverfast 8 are - it’s a clear sign that a key programmer doesn’t work at Lasersoft any more and needs replacing.

I’m also getting a huge number of upgrades to VueScan from people saying they won’t buy Silverfast 8.  Another sign they’re struggling smile

Regards,
Ed Hamrick

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