My Harmony Remote
Once setup to do what I want, I like this little monster. The combination of lots of standard hard buttons together with a few programmable buttons associated with the LCD display is just about perfect. I don't have to remember any odd button mappings, because I can put odd features on the LCD display to remind me what the button means, and the shared standard buttons are always in the same place for all my devices because I just use this one remote for everything, so my fingers get used to the layout.
The button to turn on the back-light is easy to find at the center of the remote so it is perfectly usable in a dark room. The battery life is good even with incessant channel surfing.
However (and it is a big however), the web based setup software was designed by rejects voice-mail hell designers wouldn't even employ. The primary design philosophy for the web interface was taken from an old adventure game: You are in a maze of twisty passages, all different.
Combine that with the arrogant attitude that their special super unique wizz-bang keeno activity concept is so vastly superior to that lowly macro concept other remotes use, and setup becomes a true nightmare. (Hey Logitech! I got news for you: Activities are just an incredibly restricted subset of macros that aren't as useful as real macros would be.)
Despite all that, you can eventually cajole this thing to do what you want. It may take weeks of tweaking. It may take painstaking journeys mapping the web pages to find the spec of gold you are seeking, but if you endeavor to preserver, you will emerge, weak and shaken, but with a useful remote control. (Plus you'll get to do it all again when you want to change something :-).
As mentioned above, the web based setup is truly horrible, but not only for the design of the interface. Because every slightest interaction with the setup software requires a round trip to the server, a slow server day can make your life even more miserable than the interface already made it. In fact the only thing useful the web interface provides is access to a database of device codes so you aren't forced to learn everything from your old remotes.
Hey Logitech! If you insist on being so paranoid about hiding your hardware, how about at least making setup software that runs locally on my own computer, then downloads a batch of changes all at once when you are ready to update?
Better yet, don't make the batch interface a feeble echo what the current web interface can do, design a full blown language for asking the remote to do things so advanced users can actually design macros. Then compile it on your stupid server and send back the updates for the remote.
Oh yea, how about supporting Linux while you are at it? Years ago, the literature said linux support was coming soon. Is it soon yet? With libusb and various gui toolkits like Qt coming in windows and linux flavors, it should be a cinch to make it multiplatform while you are redesigning it to be useful. Come to think of it, you already claim Mac OS-X support, how much harder could Linux be? OS-X is basically just unix with a Mac interface dragging it down.
With all the energy Logitech expends hyping activities as a superior alternative to macros, it is fascinating that they simply boil down to macros that happen on entry and exit to some mode. You want to watch a DVD, a macro turns on all the relevant devices and sets them to the relevant input sources. Yep, it is exactly like a macro.
The difference being you can only execute these macros when switching between major modes (or activities as Logitech calls them). You want a button you can press while watching a DVD that pauses the DVD and brings the lights up? Sorry, you are still in the DVD activity, you can't define a button to do that. If we let you do that you'd be using a macro, and activities are so much more useful than macros we have to prevent you from making such a mistake. (Gee thanks Logitech, I'm glad you know so much better than me what I'd find useful).
Naturally, frustrated users started poking sticks in random holes to see if they could find a way around this, and in the older versions of the web interface, one appeared: The interface showed up with a separate column for every device, and you'd pick one device and say which code you wanted to send for the button you were defining. Some clever person discovered you could actually pick more than one device, and it would send both codes, one to each device. It was a small step from there to defining phony devices that just happened to have the same IR codes as other devices, so you could get the effect of sending multiple codes to the same physical device with one button push (how 'bout that - you've defined a macro).
Meanwhile, still in the older setup software, the next challenge was getting the LCD menu items to show up in the most frequently used order. You like the 6 buttons you use most on the 1st screen, the next most used on the 2nd, etc. That seems so logical, only a voice-mail hell reject could possibly decide that's not really what you want. Nope, what you want is all the buttons associated with particular devices grouped together, so if you want menu buttons that send codes to more than one device, good luck getting them in the order you find useful.
The work-around for this quickly became obvious. Lie to the setup software and learn IR remote codes for different devices, claiming they are all for the same device (naturally this clutters up their database of device codes, but we don't care much about that). Now all the things you want to do from the LCD menu buttons are all associated with the same device, and you can put them in any order you want. (Of course if you want to insert something in the middle of the list, you have to redefine every button below it, but that only takes an insane amount of time, it isn't actually difficult, and one frustrated user came up with the harmonymod firefox extension to provide arrow keys for reordering button items).
As helpful as the software already was, March of 2007 would bring and even bigger stinking pile of help to Harmony users.
They fixed the menu ordering problem, but in doing so they destroyed the phony macro creation trick people were using (what joy in Harmony land!).
Fortunately, I never actually used the macro gimmick myself, but the apoplexy among the folks who do use it was widespread.
Naturally, since the setup is all web based and you have to talk to the Logitech servers to get anything done, you don't even have the option of sticking to the old software. You absolutely have to load the new software or stop updating your remote. No other choices.
However, not to worry, the macro trick people were using was just a bug, so nothing is really broken, they have merely fixed bugs. See? No problem.
Oh, they also seem to have busted the firefox interface while they were at it. Attempts to get to the web site via firefox seem to generate nothing by strange and nonsensical warnings these days (goodbye harmonymod for button reordering, sigh...).
Contempt is one word that could be used to describe how I feel about the setup software for the Harmony remotes. There are stronger words available I suppose, but I might be investigated for suspicion of terrorist acts if I used them.
The really frustrating thing is that the hardware is capable of doing just about everything you'd want a remote to do, but the setup software is like dragging along a 20 ton weight behind it.
We can only hope that one day Logitech will realize how many more of these things they could sell if only they unleashed them. Till then, we can only imagine how good it will feel to stop hitting ourselves over the head with the 2x4 of the harmony software...
A good place to find information about remotes (including Harmony) is Remote Central (I stole the harmony picture I use on this page from there :-).
Naturally, I also need a pointer to my home page.
It is now July 2008 and I've had to update my remote for the first time in a while, and I see lots of improvements to the software. I see they have added the arrows to re-arrange buttons so the use of firefox and the harmonymod is no longer required. They have even created an official mechanism for sending sequences of multiple commands (Holy Macros Batman!). But the software is still insanely annoying. My new experience was using those very arrows to do a major rearrangement of menus, clicking Done, then having it tell me: Oh, you timed out - I'll just throw away all this work you've done, and make you start over again. AARGH!
I'm still running their dadgum app. It knows the login I typed in at the beginning. Even if it is gonna timeout the connections why can't it just transparently log back in without tossing all my changes?
It still feels like the software was intentionally designed to be as bad as possible. I can't concieve of any way this level of incompetence could be merely an accident :-).