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Be Better Than Free

An interesting experience with technology over the past two days gave me some insight that will help guide you in building amazing products.

The Experience

My ThinkPad was running low on disk space, and I wanted a belt-and-suspender backup approach. As I’m not willing to go through the pain of reinstalling everything from scratch, finding a fast, easy, and reliable way to clone a drive seemed like the best way to tackle both problems.

So I bought two new identical drives about double the size of what I currently have, and a Unitek UM-3022 dual-drive USB 3.0 dock, with a nifty “Clone” button. I figured I could clone my old laptop drive to one of the two new ones, repurpose the old one, then use the other new drive to make a rolling clone every week or two, ensuring I could quickly recover from a hard-drive crash.

The first problem I ran into was in the user manual. A rather important bit of information was to be found only there—entirely absent from the product features on the box or company website. The drive receiving the clone must be larger than the original drive. Being exactly the same size is not good enough!

So that led me to use the included Unitek CloneDrive software, which the manual indicated could clone from an internal drive to one installed in one of the two dock positions. But no matter what order of events I used to turn on the dock, insert drives, or launch the software, I could not get CloneDrive to show me both the internal and external drives, or come close to matching the screenshots from the manual.

After finally giving up, I decided to revert to one of my earlier, less-preferred options. Macrium Reflect Free Edition.

I initially thought it less-preferred because the simplicity and speed of cloning a hard drive by pressing one button and not having the data take a slow path down the USB cable, into my computer, through the software, and back up the USB cable before finally making it into the other drive was extremely appealing. I thought the speed difference might be 2x or more.

But after launching Reflect and assuring myself that I wasn’t about to clone an empty drive onto the one with all my data, I pressed Start and went to bed.

I awoke to find a perfectly cloned drive (it finished in 4+ hours) with zero errors or warnings, and upon swapping drives, the ThinkPad booted perfectly.

The Moral

You—as the product designer, developer, or marketing manager—are not primarily up against competitors with similar products.

Instead, you are competing with what clever solutions people can figure out on their own, and all the amazing free and open-source software developed by techies who are bored with their day jobs and/or managers.

Their motivation is to make something great, that they and their friends can use to make their lives easier.

If your motivation is to beat the competition, you will never succeed at either goal.

The better path is to figure out your target market’s pain points, and how to make them silently disappear.

Posted in Design, Innovation.


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