Thursday, November 02, 2006

The corporate database is not my god

You go to and you find ACD/Labs. They don't sell one program, but 20 NMR programs, plus many other related packages which they will be trying selling you at abnormal prices. There are many things wrong with them. The fact that they are the younger competitors and take the domain "nmrsoftware" is the least offensive. The company image and the price are irritating. I have heard that their standard NMR processing program costs around 2000 euro (assuming they don't force you to buy anything else, because they are selling a "suite", a "solution", not a program). It's difficult to compare the price of an ACD product to the price of an alternative. You have the sensation that the asked price is only a starting fee. They don't state the price anywhere but in their private quotations. You can find ACD ads everywhere on the web, they seems to appear on all NMR-related sites and NMR-related Google searches. If they only reported the price in their ads, that would mean the fortune of the rest of the NMR software makers.
I have also heard that, now that they feel the pressure of competition, they are offering, to academies, trial licenses that expire after one year. I can't confirm, because they never offered me a license (I have never worked in the academic sector). Theirs is not, however, the kind of software that the spectroscopist chooses to buy. For the simple reason that when I was working as a spectroscopist I was not allowed to spend those figures. This is the kind of ugly software that the top-management decides to invest into and the scientist is forced to use without any freedom of choice.
How do they convince large corporations to adopt it? With the excuse of the corporate database. I used to believe that chemistry was about improving the quality of our life. Listening to them, you get the impression that chemistry is about building and populating these databases. Each compound with all of its analyical data, synthetic history, toxicity, pharmacologic evaluations, etc... I agree on the obvious necessity of keeping the company's data retrievable for those who must access it. I am doubtful about the usefulness and cost-effectivness of storing analytical data. The mere operation of storing them in a formatted manner takes precious time to the researchers, right in the moment when they are more willing to move on with their discoveries. Add the unbelievable price of this database and the limited use. It takes hundreds of hours per year for building it, and is used a couple of hours per year. When, after 10 years, you want to see an old NMR spectrum, you'll certainly be tempted to acquire it ex-novo, because after ten years you'll have a much better spectrometer. Even if you don't have the sample anymore, the cost of synthesizing it again will still be much lower than the cost of a database!
The rationale behind the database has nothing to do with chemistry and NMR. Your corporation has already decided to fire you and your colleagues. Their belief is that the mythic database will preserve the intact know-how of the company; neglecting the fact that, to develop the know-how, you also need some freedom. Like the freedom to choose the tools you are going to work with.
What about ACD/Labs as a working tool? What about its learning curve? The first week is spent in learning the names of the 20+ components of the suite. Consider that I don't like modal software. Who loves it? Note for the uninitiated: a software is called modal when it shows different interfaces according to the task performed. For example you can have a phase-correction mode, a baseline-correction mode, a peak-picking mode, and each time different commands are available. In a non-modal software, you are constantly faced with the same interface. Modality is often useful, so all programs need it at some point, but the less it is implemented, the better. ACD goes to the extreme of creating a new program for each task. Each program with its own manual. I wonder how many users have read the whole documentation.
The few considerations above are enough for keeping me as distant as possible from this product. Nonetheless, for the sake of this blog and its readers, I make myself available for a review, in case they want to send a never expiring copy. I had asked an evaluation copy and I could have received it, after filling and signing a special form. I am not going to sign any agreement or statement of any kind.


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