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I Still Feel Keysight Pulled a Bait & Switch with their Test Equipment

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About 10 years ago, I purchased my first piece of Keysight test equipment, a benchtop multimeter.

It was far more modern than the benchtop meters I had used as a student a few years earlier, and very user-friendly.

The best part was the free DMM software that came with it. The software allowed for shockingly easy visualization and measurement record-keeping on a PC. I was sold on Keysight equipment.

Technically, I purchased an Agilent multimeter. Agilent was split into two companies in 2013, with Keysight being the new test and measurement company.

Keysight (then still Agilent) launched new software in 2014 – BenchVue – which was intended to replace the DMM software I had enjoyed using.

BenchVue was intended to be an all-in-one software package. That promise influenced additional purchasing decisions.

In all, I purchased two Keysight multimeters, an oscilloscope, and a power supply. These are not inexpensive purchases, and the promise of BenchVue as an all-in-one software package – at no added cost – helped me justify the considerable expenses.

In the early years, BenchVue was buggy.

Keysight’s engineers tried their best to help me troubleshoot problems, and I appreciated it. Their customer service was top-notch, despite my being an individual end user.

And then Keysight’s business strategy changed.

Keysight had a version of the BenchVue software that was free, and a paid Pro version that unlocked additional capabilities I didn’t need.

I went to download BenchVue to a new PC and was surprised to find that they pulled the free version of the software.

Instead of charging top-dollar for premium equipment and supporting it with free software, they started charging top-dollar for the equipment and fees for the software on top of that.

BenchVue began operating on a subscription basis, where you would need a paid license for everything.

That part really soured me, and I felt that they pulled a bait and switch.

The older free versions would continue to work. But, the free version of the software I had been using was buggy – not all the time, but too often when it really mattered.

Too many times, BenchVue would start collecting data and then just stop until I performed an equipment reset and started over. This is also how I learned how responsive and helpful the BenchVue support team was.

The older versions are bloated, with license managers and what-not that force-installed themselves, but free was free.

Now, I recently built a new PC and am running Windows 11. Should I give BenchVue another try? Maybe the newest versions of BenchVue are better, and it’ll be worth it for me to pay for software licenses.

From Keysight’s website, apparently they’re changing things again. Their website says:

We wanted to inform you about an important update regarding the BenchVue Included License. We have transitioned the BV Included license fully to the BenchVue Basic App, making it easier for you to access and use the PathWave BenchVue software that comes with your instrument purchase.

At one point they started offering “BenchVue Included Licenses” with new equipment purchases. So for PathWave BenchVue software that comes with an equipment purchase, the Basic version is noq free and doesn’t require license activation.

So does that mean it’s free again for all users or not?

There’s also a catch – the BenchVue Basic Apps don’t come with any technical support. And, the free software is one version older than the one that requires a license or paid subscription.

I came across an email today, from an equipment dealer advertising a “beat inflation” deal on a certain brand of equipment, and that’s what brought all of this to mind.

I clicked through and looked at one of the brand’s benchtop multimeters, and a screenshot of their PC software brought all of these sentiments to the surface.

I liked the look of the competing brand’s app, and wanted to see what Keysight was up to.

I am also in the market for new equipment, and realized that Keysight isn’t on my consideration list at all; I had automatically ruled out the brand based on what they did with BenchVue.

It has been 6-1/2 years since I felt soured by Keysight’s BenchVue strategy shift.

I can almost understand things from their point of view.

But I can also tell you that I have purchased other test and measurement equipment in the years since, but not anything else from Keysight.

Even for equipment I wouldn’t necessarily want to connect to a PC, I really don’t want to give them another penny, at least not as long as their are other options.

I’m not against software subscriptions. What bothers me is that I spent thousands of dollars on hardware, and my purchasing decisions were heavily influenced by the free version of the BenchVue software. And then Keysight backtracked, seemingly because they saw an opportunity to squeeze users for more money.

I never got over the feeling that what they did was akin to bait and switch. They convinced me to buy the equipment, and then put the software behind a paywall.

Part of me wants to give the new free BenchVue basic software a chance. However, a bigger part of me is hesitant due to the huge amount of bloat they force-install to manage licenses, even when I only used the now-very old free version on my other PC. I doubt this has improved in the past 7 years.

Honestly, the older Agilent DMM software worked better – I’ll see if I can find it – but it’d be nice to be able to have visualizations and data logging for my power supply and maybe oscilloscope when needed.

Truth be told, BenchVue could have been amazing.

I work with a couple of subscription-based multi-app software platforms. Adobe Creative Suite, Microsoft Office, and Steam apps are the first to come to mind.

Keysight’s BenchVue is not built the same; it seems more built for equipment-dedicated PCs that won’t be used for anything except test and measurement purposes. This, I’d say, could be what makes it a bloated mess.

If the software were well-polished, or rather it was as well-polished beneath the surface as (usually) on the screen, maybe I’d be more forgiving for how greedy I felt Keysight had become.

Even if the new free version works on my new PC without the types of frustrations and issues I’ve experienced with BenchVue in the past, can I trust Keysight again?

I feel that the software never delivered the experience I had hoped for and expected – which was easily forgivable when the software was free.

Now that Keysight apparently seems to be giving the software away again, and is no longer interested in squeezing users for more money unless they want tech support, what does that say about its development?

Maybe they’re now factoring the cost of the software into the hardware, which I thought they had already been doing.

Even if I’m willing to give a chance to their renewed attempt at free BenchVue software, I don’t see myself spending money on new Keysight equipment.

Most companies have many chances to gain my trust as a customer and end user.

Objectively, Keysight reversing on their move to a paid subscription model should make me feel better. Realistically, it’s going to take a lot more for me to trust them again.