Web apps aren’t

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I have a client who moved asked me to help move her client/server-based case management software to a web-based service. After numerous conference calls and demos, we selected the vendor with whom we felt comfortable.

When it came time to install the client…oh, what? There shouldn’t be a client app for web-based products? Yeah, that was our reaction, too. Turns out that their product requires three pieces of software – MSXML 6.0, a Word integration app and eWebEdit Pro. Still can’t figure out what that last one does, but the ISV (independent software vendor, or what we used to call “third-party”) requires it.

OK, so fine, I go to each workstation and install the apps. Done. Except that the one of the programs is user-dependent, and while these users don’t migrate between workstations frequently, it happens. These users, btw, are all local admins so that’s not the issue.

All better, every one can… I’m sorry? There’s an ActiveX Control that has to be installed? Ok, we’ll just click on this, this and this. Oh, it asks you to download it every time you need to perform that function? Ahem.

And, since the users on a terminal server (yes, they said it would work) are never admins, pretty much nothing would install, even if I, the admin, installed the software first. Often, the users had to agree to download the software for their session in IE but that would fail because they’re not admins.

Back on the phone with Indian (yes, this ISV is there) tech support (who answers questions such as, “Should I do A or B?” with “Yes.”) says there’s “something” wrong on our end, and it’s up to us to figure it out. Says no one has the problems we’re having. We begin to wonder if we’re their first client.

Here’s what I figured out. I created a GP linked to a user-based OU that added the ISV’s *.domain.com to the “Local Intranet” zone using the “Site to Zone Assignment List.” This allowed the ActiveX Controls to run without prompting more frequently than once per-user, per-computer. For the purposes of other IE extensions, we had to also allow “Third-party browser extensions” with help from GP. Give that a shot, too.

At this point, my client had lost many thousands (I’m guessing tens of thousands) of dollars on lost production. She was frustrated enough that she just wanted her money and data back. Oh, they can’t give her data back because…just because. They say they can’t extract the DB without it getting corrupted, somehow. So now they’re effectively holding her data hostage, and if she ever wants it back she has to upgrade to their more expensive, yet still web-based product.

My recommendations when considering a SaaS product:

1) Demos are not good enough. They let you see only what they want you to see.
2) Get in writing acknowledgment that the data is yours and you can have it back in X amount of time for free.
3) Test it on your production system, particularly on your terminal server. Doing this will reveal whether it’s truly web-based only.
4) Remember to test it on your Macs, too. (Remember, some of your employees might use Macs at home, where you might want them to do some work.) If the ISV’s software requires ActiveX Controls, your Macs are out of luck. If the ISV recommends you spend more money to install Windows on your Mac, tell them to take a hike.