Of Death, Taxes, and Roundups


By Steve Oppenheimer

(June 2007)

Benjamin Franklin famously wrote, “’In this world, nothing is certain but death and taxes.” He was wrong, of course. For one thing, some people legally avoid paying taxes. For another, anytime EM does a product roundup, especially about software, at least one major company is certain to inform us that it is going into the beta-testing phase with an important new version of a product we have included in our article that “changes everything.” And, of course, that product will ship by the time the magazine is in print but not soon enough for us to test the final version for our roundup. This usually happens after we are already committed to publishing the story as scheduled. Trust me, your chances of avoiding taxes are far better than are our chances of avoiding this problem.

So it was no surprise that just when Associate Editor Geary Yelton was rolling along with his research for this issue’s cover story (see “Powerhouse Samplers” on p. 40), we discovered that two major products were entering beta testing and both would be shipping at or near our newsstand date. One is a new product, Digidesign Structure; the other is a major rewrite of a program, version 2 of MOTU’s MachFive. Naturally, without these two new products, our roundup would be closer to a bum steer.

While I disagree with Franklin’s principle of certainty, I heartily agree with the old proverb “If life deals you lemons, make lemonade.” And indeed, we were ultimately able to turn a first-rate problem into a first-rate article.

The big breakthrough came when, after careful negotiations, both Digidesign and MOTU agreed to give us early beta copies of their new software samplers. We had to wait until the companies were confident that the betas were reasonably stable, and Geary surely held his breath when he first installed and launched them. Fortunately, his computer did not blow up, and he was able to test the two new software samplers thoroughly and include them in our story. Instead of a roundup that would be dated the day we published it, we have a fine story that, to my knowledge, features the first-ever hands-on evaluations of Structure and MachFive 2.

This does not alter our long-standing policy against evaluating beta software in our Reviews section. Betas are not finished software, and although most, if not all, of their features are usually functional, they may be unstable and the developers may still be making decisions about the final feature set. In a regular product review, we want to test the same version that our readers would buy.

But I’m glad that we included the two betas in “Powerhouse Samplers.” Our story states clearly that we did not test the shipping version, and we did not criticize the software for the sorts of problems that betas typically have. But we were able to discuss the functionality and usefulness of the main feature set and user interface, as well as the general gestalt of the program.

We appreciate the trust that Digidesign and MOTU showed in giving us early beta software so we could complete this important cover story. Thanks to their cooperation and Yelton’s hard work, we have served up some very tasty, refreshing lemonade. Try some!