Why Cisco irritates me

I hate trying to use Cisco’s website.  And their hardware isn’t much fun either.

Cisco logo

From the perspective of an IT worker (me) I have to say that Cisco’s website is one of the worst I have had to deal with. (Microsoft’s knowledge base articles aren’t terribly fantastic either, but Cisco is definitely more horrible in my opinion).  Granted I have not been working in IT for very many years, and my Cisco experience is only at the CCNA level, so I am far from an expert, but….
Here are the problems I have with it/them:

1. IOS image downloading requires an active contract on a specific piece of hardware.
Cisco 2621 routers and a network switchI have a very old Cisco 2621 router that I use for testing. I believe that this router was built in 2001 or 2002. You would think that obtaining different versions of the IOS image (operating systems with different features) wouldn’t be difficult. Here is what I get when I try to download one of the IOS images that are listed:

“To Download this software, you must have a valid service contract associated to your Cisco.com user ID.
If you do not have a service contract you can get one through:
Your Cisco Account Team if you have a direct purchase agreement with Cisco
Your Cisco Partner or Reseller
Once you have the service contract you must associate your service contract to your Cisco.com user ID with Profile Manager”

Really ?  pineapple shaped confused head cartoon sketch surprised character, from http://www.nataliedee.com/archives/2005/oct/ 


A service contract on a 10 year old router ??  You must be kidding !!  Its “Product end of life date” was April 26, 2008.  This is the last possible date that you can receive any support of any kind from Cisco for the 2621.  So why can I not download any other IOS images for this ?  Apparently nobody else can either since it is not possible to still have this under any kind of service contract… yet the downloads still show up on their website.  (“Pineapple” image credit to Natalie Dee.)


Okay, so perhaps then they have some pretty awesome network monitoring or management tools (software).  

–> Microsoft has hundreds of free tools, free patches and service pack updates.  Apple’s patches and usability updates are also free.  Computer component and peripheral hardware manufacturers have drivers and updates freely downloadable from their websites.  Why are you so difficult Cisco ?

2. Knowledge base articles can be extremely long and tiring to read.
(Microsoft, you aren’t much better !).  9 times out of 10, if I am looking for a solution to a problem on the internet, I will go to a forum or a 3rd party “how-to” page first.  Cisco.com is the last place I will look because it’s so cumbersome to find what I’m looking for.  Many articles are laid out in one very very long page.

3. Irritating design and non-intuitive quirks.
Here is an example. I went to download the Cisco Network Assistant (it’s very simple and doesn’t do anything impressive, but it looks like it’s the best that they were able to come up with). At the top there are two links: Download Manager, and Non Java Download. The internet has me well-trained to expect that clicking a link with the word “Download” in it, will either open up a download window, or take me to another page with an obvious “Download” link. Not Cisco ! Most of the websites where I download things from (www.Download.com, or any website with some type of freely downloadable software) are good at making things efficient. You don’t have to read a whole paragraph to find what you are looking for, skimming usually does the job. Why on earth, Cisco, wouldn’t you just have made those two choices a one-step download ?? This is not the first non-intuitive design I have fumbled through on their website. The real download link was actually below. Sure it’s not very far away, but why would it have been so hard to make this more efficient ?
Cisco download page screenshot, Cisco turns a simple download of one click into two clicks plus unnecessary reading

4. Pages are poorly cross-linked.
After being somewhat disappointed with the availability of a useful GUI-type application I read about something called “Netflow“. This sounded promising… until I read that it also requires an active service contract. But, even ignoring this, here was the process of actually FINDING it on the site:

-Load www.Cisco.com
-Find search box in top right corner of page
-type “Netflow”, press Enter
search page results for Cisco Netflow-Cisco IOS Netflow shows as top search result
-Click link
-Link goes to page about Netflow
-Click Download link over on the right
screenshot of the Netflow information page on Cisco.com-Instead of going to a page specifically for downloading Netflow, or pre-selecting Netflow in their download browser built into the page, it takes me to the generic download page, and I have to navigate through and find Netflow all over again from the beginning.

Verdict: Very clumsy.

5.  There are many more niggles…
Needlessly complicated and cryptic operating system commands to configure various features… lack of navigable filesystem from common external tools (ssh, or ssh-based file browsers)… editing a very long ACL (access-control list) is very clumsy without a GUI that would allow inserting a single line without having to copy and paste the ENTIRE list back into your command line window (numbered/named-ACL’s aren’t much of an improvement)… debugging in a terminal window can leave you stranded and unable to actually type anything through a potential torrent of messages output the the screen…
Why can’t they just pay someone a few dollars to build a well thought-out GUI (graphical user interface) to manage these things.

Look, I wanted to copy and paste the software version from Cisco Network Assistant window as shown in the screenshot below, but this was not designed into the software.  Way to go !  How hard would it have been to get this right in the programming, did they actually spend any money on this at all ?
can't copy and paste from within Cisco Network Assistant
Oh, and thrown in some useful monitoring software too so that we can view live traffic, packet analysis, throughput filterable by traffic types or source/destination addresses/ports.
And how about making IOS images free to download, at least after a few years.
That’s all I have the energy to rant about for now.  Cisco hardware seems to do it’s job reasonably well once it is setup, but I swear that they have purposely made it difficult to manage.
Meh is for, I'm unimpressed and disappointed

Cisco, I award you a D++ for being extra extra difficult.

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