What's wrong with the new My VMware portal?

Having trouble navigating the My VMware portal? You’re not the only one. It was intended to simplify licensing, but the clunky interface leaves much to be desired.

The new My VMware portal was supposed to help customers better manage licensing and support, but so far, it hasn’t

lived up to its potential.

For as long as I can remember, most VMware customers that I have worked with always dreaded when they had to use the now-defunct Licensing Portal on VMware’s website. Finally, a few months back, VMware introduced the new My VMware Portal, which was designed to alleviate some of that pain and make working with VMware easier on multiple levels. Let’s take a look at some tips on using the portal, along with some gripes that VMware can improved upon.

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After the beta testing was complete and VMware publicly launched the My VMware portal, many folks had a hard time just navigating the site. VMware created a large base of webinar training and frequently asked questions to ease some of that pain, but then the issues started to flow in from users.

To address these concerns, VMware created a rather large collection of VMware Knowledge Base (KB) articles, which reference the My VMware portal. I would suggest bypassing their Top 10 things to know about My VMware article, as it makes things more complicated to understand. The folks at VMware who write those articles should really consider their wide audience and make things easier, not harder, to understand.

Using the My VMware portal interface
During the beta testing , the first thing I noticed is that the My VMware portal seems to be more stable using Google Chrome than with Internet Explorer 9. I’m not sure why, but I’ve had IE crash a few times while using the portal – even after the public launch. I have never had a stability problem while using Chrome. On my Mac, the portal worked well in both Safari and Camino. I don’t use Firefox, so I can’t comment on the portal’s performance in that browser.

On this same topic, for those of you that have not yet seen Josh Atwell’s video on his peculiar and very funny browser issue with My VMware, check it out. This issue spurred a VMware KB article. The KB article suggests  clearing your cache to fix this problem. This eliminates quite a few issues with the new site, and has worked for me when something quirky is happening with my browser.

I like the interface, and it is much better than the previous licensing portal. It’s easy on the eyes and looks cleaner, for example. I suggest that you follow the breadcrumb navigation links in the upper-left corner, because you can easily get lost trying to find your way back home, when going deep into the site.

A word of caution when using the site: Remember to always save your changes! Because of the site’s programming, it sometimes appears that you have made a change, even if you have not confirmed and committed it, because you are taken away from where you were working and brought back to the start. As an example, when you go to organize a large amount of license keys and place them in folders, you are brought back to the initial license-key screen instead of where you were. And this can be confusing.

My VMware portal usability tips
Use dashes or numbers in folder names to organize important folders  to the top so you can find them easier. Also, remember that text you enter in the Notes field do not carry over to licenses that are divided or combined. This isn’t any different from the Licensing Portal, but it should have been fixed. Once you divide or combine licenses, be sure to change the Notes field.

A valuable tip for the Users & Permissions element is to look for the gear symbols with the dropdown arrow whenever you open a user, folder or contract. You can find more control options for those objects in the dropdown menus. Creating folders to organize these objects is especially helpful for folks with larger accounts and many objects.  The concept of folders also expands to other parts of the portal, such as licenses, for even more convenience.

The Users & Permissions element was the most controversial and discussed element during the beta testing. Even after the release, it remains one of the toughest aspects for people to learn and understand. I believe that VMware, by trying to make permissions management easier for users, actually made it more confusing. Attempting to assign users to contracts, and altering the permissions for those users, seems more difficult than it needs to be.

More My VMware portal gripes
When I click on the Support icon, I should be able to quickly see what support tickets I have open, along with the other options that are available today. Why can’t I do that?

By far, my biggest complaint during beta testing and one of my pet peeves with licensing portals in general is that the My VMware portal does not allow a customer to print or export a listing of licenses, contracts or keys. At least with the old interface, you could create a scrolling screenshot or print the page as a PDF to get your information. Now, you can’t even do that because you can only have one license or contract open at a time.

I was told by a VMware representative that  the ability to export a list of licences would be included when the portal was released to the public, but it never happened. C’mon folks, it can’t be that hard to code a simple Print or Export button in. How much did you spend on this thing?

Additionally, the mobile app is a good idea, but it really serves very little purpose because you cannot actually do anything with it. It is read-only and it requires you to go to the Web portal to make any changes to your account. It also requires WiFi for the initial connection, which in today’s 4G world, is a bit ridiculous. Nice try VMware, but no.

All in all, I do like the look and feel of the new portal, but it still has some nagging quirks and programming issues that leave me wanting something better. I know this will be tough for VMware to swallow, but it really should consider taking a cue from Microsoft and its LiveID integrated portals with Volume Licensing and MSDN. The overall requisite should be to “keep it simple, stupid” and make the lives of your customers easier, not harder. If your account portal site requires training just to use, you’re doing something wrong.

This was first published in July 2012

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