Their own worst enemy

Linksys WVC54G

How smart companies act stupid

I bought a new wireless internet video camera, the Linksys WVC54G. Setting it up was pretty straightforward. Making it usable for its intended purpose? That is something else entirely!

The promise of this camera is clear:

from Linksys website

The way this ought to work is this: I put something like the following on my web page:

Hey! Want to watch me while I do my retirement things and listen in as I talk to myself? Click here.

And you might think that if you clicked there, a little window would popup on your screen with the video. Dream on.

default webpage
Camera's built-in home page. (Click picture to enlarge)

If you were lucky — and I stress lucky — you would see the camera's built-in home page shown right. Then you might click on View Video and see something. Hopefully you would have the courtesty not to hack into the setup. (They seem to assume the only user would be the owner of the camera.)

Why lucky? The camera requires an ActiveX control to make it work. The first time you access the camera, a dialogue should ask you if you want to install the control. That's in theory. In reality, Microsoft's ActiveX turned out to be a huge security vulnerability, and so both Windows XP and Microsoft's Internet Explorer are now set to block automatic installation of these controls and even the popup dialogue asking for permission. As a result, you are far more likely to see "The page cannot be displayed". This foils even PC-savvy people.

Now it turns out that there is a second way to view the camera over the internet, and that's by installing the Linksys Viewer & Recorder Utility program. You would know that if you clicked on Help on the camera's home page, if you got that far. You would also see, on that same page, a link from which you supposedly could Download Latest Viewer/Recorder Utility. Go ahead, click the link.

Wasn't that helpful? Well, it would have been if...

  • You were smart enough on the Linksys downloads page to pick the right product, "WVC54G -- Wireless-G Internet Video Camera," which is at the very bottom of the list. And—
  • When you got to the page for WVC54G you chose Firmware (which the viewer utility definitely is not). And—
  • When you got to the Firmware page, you noticed the link at the bottom for the Setup Wizard for the WVC54G. And—
  • You were omniscient enough to know that the Viewer/Recorder Utility is included in the Setup Wizard for the camera. And—
  • After you had downloaded and unzipped the Setup Wizard package, you figured out that the setup program is called WVC54G.exe (instead of the customary setup.exe). And—
  • You were inventive enough to figure out what to do when confronted with the main screen of the utility.

Paul ranting.

If you were so fortunate and so persistent to have gotten through all of that and had known how to identify the camera, then you would have seen the window shown left.

Now that's the window you should see when accessing the camera through the web browser!

Over-promising, under-delivering

any room in the house

Linksys is a good company (it is now a division of Cisco) and they make good products, technically speaking. I use several Linksys products. But they don't know diddley about usability, and it is going to bite them in the behind. They are promoting the whole idea of the networked house, and feature prominently on their website a product to extend the use of a "media PC" throughout the whole house (see right). But promising visions of sugar plums when when getting this stuff to work is such a long hard slog is going to turn customers off. You shouldn't have to hire a consultant to hook stuff up for you.

I'm not just picking on Linksys — almost all the high-tech companies are guilty of the same thing. (The exception might be Apple, who've always had a good understanding of the user.) But Linksys is a good example of the chasm companies have to bridge between the inventiveness of their engineers and the usability of a true consumer product. The one that figures it out first will have acquired Midas' touch.