First, why do I call it a "mess"? Well, the entire development of Poser 5 is full of strangeness: from the restrictive end-user-agreement to the very buggy initial release to the public beta-testing to the non-working features. Here are my thoughts about it. I'll present the information with a timeline so everyone can get a sense of when things occurred:
1999-2001 (approximately): Curious Labs is formed when MetaCreations begins selling off their 3-D applications and is made up of people who have been working with Poser for a number of years. They develop patches for Poser 4 and the add-on, Poser Pro Pack (which extends the functions of Poser and includes new features). They also announce that they will begin work on the next version: Poser 5. They don't announce a scheduled release date, but the community hopes it will be released sometime in 2002.
June 2002 (approximately): The Poser community learns that Curious Labs is aiming to release Poser 5 in 2002, possibly after the big SIGGRAPH (graphics arts) convention- making the actual release date sometime in September 2002. Some critics say that this is way too early and that a release date of December or January 2003 is more realistic, considering the number of features and upgrades that are in the works.
June/ July 2002 (approximately): The End-User-License-Agreement (EULA) is released (or leaked?) to the Poser community. People become very nervous and very vocal that the EULA is too restrictive and may limit artists from distributing their Poser items. Curious Labs defends their position by saying that they need a stricter document to protect their own intellectual property. DAZ announces that, due to this new EULA, they will not be developing items for use in Poser 5. Their Poser 4 products (like all Poser 4 items), will continue to work fine in Poser 5, however, they will not be able to take advantage of Poser 5's proposed new features.
Around this time, rumors about Poser 5's registration process are also released (or leaked). It seems that Curious Labs will be taking the same approach as Windows XP: the customer will have to "register" the program (over the Internet or telephone) and the program will send back a lengthy, unique "registration key" which will be stored on the customer's hard drive. The companies claim that this is to prevent people from copying the software and installing it on multiple machines. Realistically, thou, this means that the customer must re-register the software every time he gets a new hard drive or reinstalls Windows. And what would happen if the company went out of business? It is extremely unlikely that Microsoft could go out of business, so Windows XP will always be able to be registered. But, what about Curious Labs? They are a much smaller company (and by some reports, are already "on the edge"- what happens if they go out of business? Will the customer be left with a program and no way to register it?
But, the biggest issue that has been raised is that absolutely no piece of software is "crack-proof"- there are people that enjoy "cracking" security codes and have sophisticated software to disable any "registration keys". So, then, does this registration process discourage these "crackers" or the honest people who purchase the program?
And, about this time, the initial "buzz" about Poser 5 starts to increase. In response to the many questions from the community, Steve Cooper (President of Curious Labs) posts images to the Poser forums. These images show the new, dramatic capabilities of Poser 5- the new models, dynamic hair, better lighting, and more… but, with none of the specifications or details about what it took to make the images.
Company statements announce that Poser 5 will ship with the following brand-new (or enhanced) features: (And these features are listed prominently on the box that Poser 5 comes in.)
People start posting comments to the effect of "We want it now. We'd rather have a half-working Poser 5 now than no Poser 5 at all. Let us have the program now! We can't wait!" (These kinds of comments would later come back and hurt the community.)
August 2002: Curious Labs begins to take pre-orders for Poser 5. However, unlike most other companies, they change customer's credit cards before shipping the product. Many people claim this is because Curious Labs is running extremely low on funds and needs the money to continue operating as a company.
September 2002: Poser 5 starts shipping to everyone who pre-ordered… and people start to use it… and almost immediately, the Poser forums are flooded with issues, questions, and problems… mostly bad:
I receive my copy of Poser 5 in September also, and begin to use it. Here are some of the things that I found:
People start posting comments that reverse their earlier statement of "We'd rather have a half-working Poser 5 now than no Poser 5." The new comments are "We'd rather wait for a finished Poser than have a half-working Poser 5." By this time, though, the damage had already been done- the extremely buggy Poser 5 had been released to the public. Some people wanted their money back, some people were ready to throw their computer out the window, and some people reported no problems at all! The parent company of Curious Labs, egi/sys posts a survey on their website encouraging people to give their feedback about Poser.
October 2002: Barely 3 weeks after the release of Poser 5, Curious Labs releases Service Patch/ Service Release 1 (SR1), which fixes 81 known bugs, issues, and glitches. However, this patch has a bug of its own- it resizes the screen to 1280x1024 (too big for almost every user). Curious Labs removes this patch and, a day later, releases SR1.1, which fixes both the issues in Poser 5 and the issues in SR 1. The patch came in 2 different sizes: "application only" and "full install". Unfortunately, these downloads were both over 35M in size- not a problem for people with cable modems or T-1 lines, but for people on a 56k dial-up connection, this download would take hours. Some people have asked about receiving these service packs on CD, but since Curious Labs continues their updating, it seems unlikely that a CD will be available until after the service packs are finished and Poser 5 is stable. By then, though, those people will have either given up on Poser 5 or will have spent the time to download everything.
Due to number of issues that people are reporting, Curious Labs announces that there will be a "public beta-test" for the next service patches. They claim that this is the only way they can test every possible computer. Many people jump at the chance and praise Curious Labs for letting the public be a part of the testing. However, this testing is completely different from the usual beta-testing. For one, the company (Curious Labs) is not paying the tester, nor offering any kind of compensation. In fact, it's just the opposite- people must first purchase Poser 5 and then they can try installing the service packs and see what happens. Like a number of people, I disagree with the idea that I should have to pay money to be a tester for a company for a piece of software that I bought! They should test the program and then, when it's all done and ready, they can sell it.
October 2002: In the Poser forums, members of Curious Labs announce that the next service pack of Poser 5 will include new features: volumetric lighting and fog. A number of people are impressed with these features… but a number of people (myself included) question whether we should be seeing new features. After all, we would rather have the developers working to fix the program rather than adding new features. Many people also feel that the Curious Labs staff are not doing their part to answer the public's questions. Rather than apologizing or explaining or even discussing the release schedule, it seems like the staff just doesn't want to talk about it.
October/ November 2002: Not two months after Poser 5 has been on sale, Curious Labs announces that they are dropping the price for Poser 5. All the loyal Poser users who pre-ordered Poser 5 at the "special" pre-order price consider this as a slap in the face. Yes, companies have the right to lower prices on their products, but why did Curious Labs reduce the price so soon? And why did they not offer any kind of refund or "special offer" to the pre-ordering people (who paid full price for it)?
November 2002: Curious Labs releases Service Pack 1, Beta 4… Um, I mean, Beta 5. This version (which changed from 4 to 5 in a matter of days) fixes a large number of issues (over 100) in Poser 5 and the previous Service Packs. And, like the previous service packs, this too is a 35M download! However, this service pack is still labeled as "beta", so it's probably safe to assume that there will be both another service pack, eventually, a "final" version.
Around this time, it is announced that Curious Labs has developed a less-restrictive EULA. How this affects the Poser community (and the development of Poser objects) has yet to be seen.
November 13, 2002: Curious Labs finally opens Content Paradise… 2 months after Poser 5 has been for sale. This "paradise" turns out to be nothing more than another way to search for Poser products. There is no discount available and only "select" Poser sites appear in the search. So, while this is probably a good idea for brand-new people, most Poser veterans already know about the sites and will do their own shopping.
November 26, 2002: I receive an e-mail thanking me for my participation in the egi/sys survey:
Dear Poser survey participant,
We'd like to thank you for spending some of your time completing our recent Poser survey. We truly appreciate your input. Continuing to improve Poser is our primary goal, and feedback from you is the best way to determine where we can make improvements.
We'd also like to congratulate our winner [xx], of [xx], Canada. His name was randomly drawn from our survey participants to receive the 3D workstation prize.
In the process of completing our survey you may have noticed a question that asked which version of Poser you're currently working with. Your response indicated that you do not currently use Poser 5.
We'd like to take this opportunity to offer you an upgrade to Poser 5 from your version of Poser. Curious Labs is running a special upgrade promotion that you may be interested in, available until December 31st, 2002.
If you're interested in purchasing an upgrade to Poser 5 at these special prices, please visit our web store at http://www.curiouslabs.com/go/p5specialoffer
Poser 5 in the Press:
Do you want to learn more about Poser 5? Please visit Curious Labs at: http://www.curiouslabs.com/go/poser5
Again we'd like to thank you for taking time to participate in our recent survey. We hope that you will continue to give us your feedback by taking part in future Curious Labs user surveys published.
Curious Labs, Inc.
My response to their "thank you" was:
Yes, I indicated that I do not use Poser 5. I bought it and tried it, but I don't use it because it's so buggy and I don't want to install another patch every other week. I'll start using it again when it becomes stable.
And the "low price" is insulting and a slap in the face for everyone (like me) who pre-ordered it at full price. So, you are basically saying, that if I had waited until December, I could have received a more stable product AND at a cheaper price? I'll remember this the next time if I buy another Curious Labs product. And from the quality of Poser 5, buying another Curious Labs product is a big "if".
It really makes me wonder if they have any business people in their company, or if they only have developers and programmers? After all, if a person completes a survey about Poser 5 and then says that they are not using Poser 5, shouldn't the company be finding out why? Instead, Curious Labs advertises lower pricing... and this is even sillier when you realize that people had to enter their Poser 5 registration code to complete the survey... which means that they had purchased Poser 5 or they wouldn't be able to complete the survey!
Note: As of January 13, 2003, I have not received any reply from them responding to my comments. I don't know if this is good or bad- they have probably received numerous comments, so there's probably no way that they can answer everyone personally.
December 30, 2002: Curious Labs offers a new product, "Pro-V"- an "ultimate web-authoring tool". Many critics question why Curious Labs is working on another product when Poser 5 is still unfinished. It may be true that the latest service packs solve many problems, but Poser 5 is still not as stable as Poser 4. There is also no word on when Poser 5 will be available for the Macintosh. It can be argued that Curious Labs may have multiple development teams to work on their other products, but since it is a small company and since Poser 5 is their "flagship" product, one has to wonder just what is going on.
And one also has to wonder if this new product will be as buggy as Poser 5. Will Pro-V be unreliable until Service Pack 2.1 is installed? On the other hand, Pro-V's list price is $1,699.00- almost 4 times the price of Poser 5. Will Curious Labs be spending more time to make sure this product is finished, before releasing it to the public? And, like the sale of Poser 5, will the pre-ordering customers (of Pro-V) pay more than the people who buy the product when it goes on sale two months later?
I have not had a chance to use Pro-V, so I don't know how it compares to other web-authoring tools (or how "ultimate" it really is). But, other authoring tools cost far less AND have been around a lot longer: Macromedia's Dreamweaver MX is $399 and Adobe GoLive 6.0 is also $399. Both Dreamweaver and GoLive are available for the Macintosh, Pro-V makes no mention of a Mac version. I sincerely hope that Pro-V is $1,300 more "ultimate" than either of these, more established, programs.
On the other hand, some people raise the point that the parent company, egisys may have developed Pro-V and that they are using Curious Labs as a distribution company. But, with Poser 5 still unfinished, and no Mac version to be seen, one would think that Curious Labs and egisys would be very careful about how they are being perceived by their customers.
January 14, 2003: Curious Labs issues a press release announcing the fact that they are "restructuring" and that they have laid off a number of employees:
Curious Labs Announces Company-wide Restructuring
Santa Cruz, January 13th, 2003 — Curious Labs, Inc. announces today that it has restructured global operations to refocus on their core business, and to improve their product offerings through partnerships. Curious Labs parent company, Egisys AG, has also restructured to achieve the same goals.
Curious Labs, Inc has restructured all operational components to refocus on their core business of software publishing. The future company focus will be on publishing of the Poser™ and pro-V Studio™ [the $1,699 web-authoring tool] products, and growing the established consumer, professional, Windows and Macintosh product offerings and market base.
Curious Labs has also trimmed a variety of staff to reduce expenses in the face of the current economic climate. [There are rumors that Poser creator (and CL chairman) Larry Weinberg was among those that were laid off. And, as the next article shows, Curious Labs president, Steve Cooper has left Curious Labs also.] The cuts will not impact the ongoing support and sales of the Poser and other core product lines. Affected by the cuts are executive management team members, developers, testers and marketing staff. The former executive team members will be continuing forward as consultants to Curious Labs, contributing expertise in development, brand management, and operations.
Curious Labs has also implemented a new business model with several development partnerships being established to enable the future of their core Poser product, including the development of new versions, updates and plug-ins. This new business model is part of the restructuring strategy to allow Curious Labs to focus on the core business, expand their product offerings and deliver the tools that their customers want.
"In today's challenging business climate companies have to be more economical and resourceful than ever." said Marc Keohane, interim director of US operations. "The changes we've made respond to these requirements by strengthening the company financially and enabling it to grow through an innovative network of partnerships. Our company as a whole is now poised to continue the commitments to our existing customers and add to that customer base as we go forward."
January 14, 2003: In a posting to the Poser Form on Renderosity and PoserPros, Curious Labs' president (and long-time developer) announces that he has left Curious Labs. Some people post comments wishing him well and others wonder "if this really 'The Beginning of the End' [for Poser]."
January 30, 2003: DAZ anounces that their new Poser-like program will be "modular in nature", will be "publicly available as a free beta for an undetermined period of time", will be "Tell Ware", and will try to "[have] over one million people download the free version... before the end of 2003". Read about it on their website: DAZ Studio Announcment.
February 24, 2003: Word gets out that Amazon.com is selling Poser 5 for less than $100.00! From their Poser 5 Sales Page.
List Price: $549.00
You Save: $399.01 (73%)
Special Offers: $50.00
Price After Special Offers: $99.99
From their review, further down the page:
"Pay attention to the system requirements on install. This program needs room and power."
"Working in Poser 5 is remarkably simple considering the capabilities of the software."
"However, on more than one occasion making an adjustment caused the software to lock up and quit. At other times, it would complete the changes, but the document window would be blank, making it necessary to close and reopen the program to continue work."
Yep, that's right, Poser 5 for less that $100.00 (with free shipping)! You may even get a version that's completely patched! Well, patched to the latest version, that is.
Some other comments: I don't think Curious Labs actually ever sold Poser for $549.00. That may have been the "retail price", but I believe the highest price it ever sold for was the $349 paid by the pre-ordering people. And, within a few months after its release, Poser 5 dropped by $50.00... and has been falling in price ever since. And, like the previous price-drops, there will be no refunds given to the people who were so excited that they pre-ordered the program.
And, as a side comment, you could always go right to Curious Labs' website and purchase Poser 5 from them, cutting out the middleman. But, they are selling Poser 5 for $319.00. Hmm...
March 5, 2003: Curious Labs announced plans for restructuring and the release of Poser 5 for the Macintosh:
Santa Cruz, March 5, 2003 — Curious Labs, producer of the award-winning artists' 3D visualization and character animation product, Poser, announced today that it has made important organizational changes to the company, began new strategic partnerships and assigned a release date for the much anticipated Macintosh OS X version of Poser.
Marc Keohane, previously Director of Products at Curious Labs has immediately assumed the position of its interim President. Keohane has extensive experience within the multimedia and digital graphics industries, working for companies such as Apple Computer Inc. and MetaCreations Inc.
Also announced, is that Steven Cooper, the previous President of Curious Labs and a founding member of the company, has stepped down to begin new business ventures and will continue to work with the company as an executive consultant.
In the restructure, staff had to be reduced. Affected by the cuts were some executive management team members, developers, testers and marketing staff. The cuts will not impact the ongoing support and sales of the Poser and other core product lines. Several former team members will be continuing as consultants to Curious Labs, contributing expertise in development, brand management, and operations.
Keohane said, "Curious Labs has just completed an important global restructuring that sets the stage for the next evolution of the business and its products. As we go forward, we are now better positioned to focus on our customers and the market. In addition, we're building strategic partnerships which will allow us to realign our product offerings and deliver the solutions that our customers want. All together, 2003 promises enormous potential for Curious Labs and its customers."
Poser on the Mac OS X Platform:
Two other important new partnerships with Curious Labs that took place include Josh Reiss of Reiss Studio and Andrew Bryant of Pixels Digital Inc. Details of other partnerships will be announced at a later date.
Reiss Studio will be working on development of Poser plug-ins for professional 3D applications beginning with Maya and 3D Studio Max. Reiss Studio, founded by Josh Reiss, a 10 year veteran of computer graphics who has worked on such projects as Hollow Man, and Monsters Inc. Josh Reiss, CEO of Reiss Studio says, “It's a very exciting time to be involved with Curious Labs as a professional 3D user and as a company. The models, textures and characters coming out of the Poser community are of the quality that could be dropped into a commercial project. We are thrilled to have the opportunity to deliver professional tools for bringing Poser content into high-end 3D applications. Maya and Max are just the beginning.”
Pixels Digital Inc., the makers of Pixels 3D will be working to add support to Poser plug-ins for the Pixels 3D program. Andrew Bryant, President and CEO of Pixels Digital said, "We are delighted to be able to work with Curious Labs. Soon, Poser users will be able to work with our Pixels 3D software. This will only widen and enhance the quality of artwork being created in both Poser and Pixels 3D."
This is interesting news for a number of reasons:
August 7, 2003: Curious Labs announces the release of Poser 5 for Mac OSX. From their Sale Page.
Curious Labs, Inc. announces today it has released Poser 5 for Mac OSX, the eagerly anticipated version of their award-winning 3D-character tool for artists and animators. With this release Mac OSX users can now enjoy the benefits of Poser's poweful figure design tools that have previously been available on Windows.
In recognition of the ongoing support of it's Mac users Curious Labs is also pleased to announce 2 special priced offerings:
Poser 5 for Mac OSX ESD Crossgrade from Poser 5 Windows for Only $129! A savings of $190! (This time-limited crossgrade is available to those who've been using Poser 5 for Windows and now want to return to Mac OSX.)
Poser 5 for Mac OSX ESD Full Version for Only $199 - A savings of $120!
Just some of Poser 5 for Mac OSX key new benefits include:
Note: "ESD" means "electronic download", which means that users will have to download over 800M worth of files and will not get a CD nor a printed manual nor a box. On the other hand, they won't have to wait for the product to be shipped to them.
Note 2: Although this article doesn't mention it, Poser 5 for OSX is supposed to have all the fixes and patches that are included in Service Pack 3 for the Windows version.
August 11, 2003: I decide to take another look at P5.
A few days earlier, I received an e-mail from a guy who defended Poser 5's features and who asked that I give Poser 5 another try. After all, Service Pack 3 had come out and was rumored to fix a number of outstanding issues. So, I installed the 2 new SR3 updaters and started working...
As a test, I rendered a scene in Poser 5 using the Poser 4 render engine... it rendered a little faster than Poser 4. I then decided to try the FireFly renderer. The render was slow and the quality wasn't that great. I then took a look at Stefan Werner's site, and found a number of settings to speed up the rendering. And, yes, it was *much* faster! The scene rendered in about half the time AND using Poser 5's "advanced" features such as specular and anisotropic reflections.
But, the bad news- Poser 5 *still* has the same "focus" issues as P4... and some are even worse. For example, if you are done with a scene and want to open another one, you go to: File > Open. Poser then gives the standard "Do you save to save?" dialog box. When I hit "D" for "Don't save", the main document window split into 4 camera views! I hit "D" again and Poser then realized that I was actually using the dialog box, not the main window.
And for all of you "keyboard people" out there (like myself)- sorry, but *MANY* keyboard shortcuts still do not work while on the floating "Paramaters Palette", including Ctrl+S for Save, Ctrl-M for Main Camera, Ctrl-T for Top Camera, and Ctrl+R for Render. (Ctrl-Z for Undo does work, however.) This is completely unacceptable, especially given the fact that Service Pack 3 has been released. And, not to mention the fact that I personally listed ALL of the shortcuts keys that do not work AND sent the list to Curious Lab's tech support (and posted this to Renderosity's Poser 5 Beta Test Forum).... in September of 2002.
Supposedly, this feature works in the Mac version, which, also, supposedly, has better control over the "focus". But this doesn't really help the Windows users who are used to using the Ctrl shortcut keys.
So, do I recommend using Poser 5, now that it's been out for almost a year and had 3 major Service Releases? The honest answer- I don't know. Yes, the FireFly renderer will give you better results, but if your work habits include using the shortcut keys to switch between cameras, then Poser 5 may be more trouble than it's worth. My recommendation is to build your scene in Poser 4, save it, and then open it in Poser 5. From there, you can add the advanced texturing features and tweak the FireFly render settings to your liking. On the other hand, if you're a "mouse person", then your work habit hasn't changed at all, so you will probably won't be as frustrated as the "keyboard people".
Then, the "bottom line" answer is to install Poser 5 in another folder and just give it a try for yourself. If you don't like it, you'll have Poser 4 in another folder. If you do like it, then don't use Poser 4 (just remember to "link" your Poser4\Runtime folder into Poser 5 and not delete it!).
Some other, larger issues have yet to be fully answered:
Originally, I had recommended not purchasing Poser 5- especially when Poser 4 and Poser Pro Pack are a much more stable alternative. However, when the priced dropped to $99.99 (and free shipping), I somewhat changed my mind. The price was low enough that people could play around with the features, and if something didn't work, oh well, it wasn't that expensive. However, Amazon.com has since ended their sale and Poser 5 is once again priced at a comparable level as Poser 4/ Pro Pack.
On the other hand, I completely recommend both Poser 4 and Poser Pro Pack- these are excellent programs for character-creation and creating scenes with people... and both are nearly bug-free (especially when compared with Poser 5). Pro Pack includes a number of import/ export features for the more-serious modeler: you can move Poser scenes from Poser to Vue or Lightwave or Cinema4D very easily. If you're happy making scenes within Poser (or don't have the other programs), then Poser 4 is fine. Also, be sure you download the latest patches: Poser 4 should be brought up to 4.0.3 and Pro Pack to Service Pack 2/ SR2. The only drawback is that the Curious Labs website is currently selling Poser 4/ Pro Pack for about $100 more than Poser 5. (You may find better pricing at other sites.)