EnCase Version 7 – OMG :( (a.k.a. WTH happened???)

Let me begin this post by saying that until V7, I have been a loyal user of EnCase, have enjoyed the excellent training supporting it, and built my business on their forensic product. You will not find anyone who has been a stronger proponent of the EnCase product than myself. Unfortunately, this is no longer the case.

EnCase Version 7 is the latest iteration of Guidance Software’s computer-forensic application. It features more new “things” than I will even attempt to inventory. It has so many new “things” that few, if any, of its legions of dedicated users are even using them or it. This is a result of a confluence of its new GUI, its drop-downs, a modified/reduced mouse-clicking capabilities, and an overall failure to function/deliver. On almost every level, V7, as released, is the update no one wanted or could have anticipated when they bought their license. The pitch that it is new and improved managed to hit only one of those targets – it is new. That is “new” in not a good way and the complaints against V7 are increasingly commonplace.

Perhaps one of the best analogies is the introduction of New Coke. Coke had millions of dedicated drinkers who loved their product. But, someone in their product-management area felt that Pepsi was making too many inroads. Likely, Access Data’s FTK is the Pepsi in the sights of Guidance. But, rather than introducing a new product that attacked Pepsi, while keeping their original Coke drinkers happy, they decided to replace the existing product. This is exactly what Guidance did with V7. In creating V7, they have managed to destroy most of the usability and functionality to which its users had become accustomed and designed their workflow around.

We all know how this story ended with New Coke and there are many others, ones that may have more applicability to software (XP to Vista to Windows 7 comes to mind). Unless Guidance does something dramatic and quickly, they will be added to the product-launch stories taught in Business School of what not to do.

One element that Coke and EnCase have in common is that each decided to take a dedicated and loyal customer base and essentially put a stick in their collective eye. I do not have words to describe what I consider the colossal failure that each of these products represent.

That the dedicated user base is “hating” on EnCase V7 is an understatement. Short of reracking V7 to the look and usability of V6, I cannot imagine ever using it for a case. Worse still is the marketing hype that exists touting what a great new incarnation of EnCase that V7 is. The issues with what had been a great app in many regards are now so significant in V7 that the few neat things it can do are rendered of little to almost no value.

With Guidance Software now a publicly traded company, I cannot understand why they would risk alienating their existing customers with some marginal (at best) software that is to be their latest and greatest incarnation. Are the Wall Street analysts who track this company aware of how much risk exists with V7? I would love to have been on the earnings calls to hear what the EnCase folks were saying regarding V7. If they read and believe their own marketing, I can only imagine the rosy picture they are painting.

I believe someone is in for a very unpleasant surprise.

As a dedicated EnCase user, the state of V7 is a huge disappointment. When pitched, I had expected the incorporation of all the modules that had previously been sold separately, as well as various enhancements that were in the pipeline. I thought, “Wow, this is great; competition from FTK has brought some pricing pressure to the model used by Guidance in their EnCase product. V7 will provide some great enhanced functionality, while building on all the great things it already has.” Wrong.

Instead, the dev $ were spent redoing an application that the user community was very, very satisfied with until this latest version. And, instead of adding things like additional support for Mac OS etc., the dev $ were spent apparently rewriting the entire app. Features that thousands of users had used over the years and built their processes upon were suddenly gone. What, in gods name, was the product manager thinking?

A collective “Are you kidding me?” was issued from the user community, stunned at the state of their beloved app. (truly – as I am one of them.)

Guidance has a BIG problem on their hands. They have dumped on their devoted user base in ways that, for a relatively small company in the grand scheme of things, is incomprehensible. I am guessing they understand this, though their communication with their user base fails to indicate this.

What Guidance seems to have lost sight of is that there are many companies in this market looking for openings against a wounded competitor. Word is spreading that EnCase V7 users are ripe for the conquest. V6 will continue to provide what I consider the robust capabilities it has earned. I will look to other products to replace EnCase going forward, once V6 is no longer supported, ones that contain the flexible, yet powerful, capabilities that had been present in the EnCase product until V7.

Time will tell how this story ends. EnCase is not the only game in town. I hope their C-Level folks understand the dire situation in which their V7 product stands. Also, (i) does the BOD have any idea how POed the EnCase user base is or (ii) do any of the analysts tracking Guidance know of this situation? This is a significant professional issue for the Guidance execs and now is the time to get your customers what they wanted, had expected, and ultimately deserved – or face the consequences of a very jilted (and most likely former) customer base.

I wish you all the best in resolving this.