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January, 2008

Best Software

PC Authority

The Best Software award was an experiment which made us feel very guilty. We listed all of the below products and asked every respondent to rate the Ease Of Use, Features and Level Of Satisfaction for every application they used. It took ages to fill out but eventually (and unbelievably) over 100,000 votes were cast.

With such an enormous amount of feedback having one winner just didn't seem right. So Although FireFox scored top marks in every section it was joined on the podium by the incredibly-useful hard disk backup and copying utility, Acronis True Image (the best paid-for utility), which finished second overall. Adobe Photoshop CS3 was also joint winner as it was the best premium software on show and finished third overall. We also gave a Highly Commended award to the popular antivirus application, AVG Free Edition as its scores were also very high in a very tough field.

In terms of Ease Of Use 79% of all respondents were satisfied. The top marks came from FireFox which had 93% of users being satisfied here. The next highest score came from AVG which saw 89% of users satisfied. At the other end of the spectrum Norton recorded the first of its very bad results with only 43% of 4530 users being satisfied - 45% were dissatisfied. But an even bigger story concerned Windows Vista. Out of almost 6000 respondents 51% weren't satisfied with Ease Of Use and a third were dissatisfied. It's not like there was an anti-Microsoft backlash either as Office 2007 attracted even more votes (7297 to be precise) and did well with 79% of users being satisfied. iTunes provided another shock: only 64% of users were satisfied and almost a quarter were dissatisfied. Such a result is one in the eye for the 'Apple just works' brigade.

FireFox also scored top for satisfaction with Features. The average level of satisfaction across all products was 80% but FireFox satisfied 94% of users. This is a great testament to a product which is used constantly by most computer users for simply browsing the web but whose capabilities can be vastly expanded by various add-ons. And all of it for free. Photoshop CS3 also saw 94% of users satisfied here. True Image was the only other application to achieve over 90% satisfaction. But it was another horror show for iTunes, Vista and Norton which saw only 64%, 41% and 44% (respectively) satisfied with what was on offer.

On average 80% of all software users were happy with the Value on offer. No surprises that FireFox came top with 94% (two thirds of users were Very Satisfied). The only other result over 90% was from the $900 Photoshop (91% were satisfied) — very impressive considering it's one of the most expensive competitors. But the hammer was nailed into Norton's Dreadful result with only 43% being satisfied with Value and 44% being dissatisfied. We could be kind and point out that even Norton admitted its pre-2007 products were poor and that it's still feeling the effects of that legacy. But it's more difficult to defend Vista. Almost half of its 5000 users weren't satisfied with Value and one third were dissatisfied. iTunes' lack of price but integrated online shop, meant it satisfied an Average 65% of customers.

It's hard to say exactly why three of the biggest software manufacturers performed so badly but many will see this as another nail in the coffin of the one-year-old Vista. The improvement in Norton's 2007 products over previous editions may provide some light at the end of the tunnel for Symantec. But the rebellion against iTunes, which likely reflects the current nature of selling music online, shows that even the recent move to sell some tracks without DRM has not convinced many software users.