To Support, Or Not To Support, That Is The Question

If you remember seeing Grease in a movie theatre, you might also remember the Atari line of home computers.    Somewhere buried deep in my parent’s garage is a box labeled, “Atari 800XL.” My family’s prized 800XL boasted a 1.79MHz CPU, 64K of RAM, and an operating system that you had to manually load with a series of 5 1/4 “ floppy disks every time you booted up.

It was magnificent.

I would spend hours copying hundreds of lines of BASIC from “3=2=1=Contact” magazine.  Then I would stare in amazement as my code would execute and print “Jason Rules!” in giant cursive letters across the screen.

As I got older the 800XL had practical uses, too.  I would load WordPerfect 4.1 (insert three floppy disks, please), type out my homework, and print it on the trusty dot matrix.  Back then there was some serious street cred in having a printed version of your English homework.  Well, “street cred” in the circles I ran with, anyway.nerds

Here’s the problem: the next major computer purchase in the Scheil household wasn’t for another 10 years, when we got a Gateway2000.  Sure, my dad was born in Sioux City, and so was Gateway.  On that level it made perfect sense.  What didn’t make sense to the young, (unemployed) Jason was why we waited soooo long to upgrade!  I got tired of hearing:

“The Atari still works.  What’s wrong with it?” 

“We already know how to use this one.  It’s good enough.”

So by the time those massive, cow-patterned Gateway boxes arrived in our living room my friends had long since left me in their technological dust.  They were dialing into online bulletin boards with their 2400-baud modems, programming MIDI sound files, and playing Wolfenstein3D—they were getting things done!

Now that I’m older and (arguably) wiser, I get it.  There’s a balance to be struck between keeping up with the latest technology and sticking with the tried-and-true, even when it starts to feel more like tired-and-true.  Sometimes the decision to delay is monetary (as anyone considering an Apple product upgrade can attest.)  Or maybe you’re waiting on compliance testing by the Infrastructure team at your office.  But often the decision is driven by wanting to stay inside the comfort zone.

As the Product Manager for Capella, our platform for managing customer feedback, I see the same thing in our business today.  We try to challenge ourselves—and sometimes our clients—to avoid getting stuck in that comfort zone.   Let’s look at a couple of examples.

Browser Support

In product development we naturally want to keep up with all of the awesome new browser functionality.  It allows us to inject our CEM reporting sites with the speed and style that users have come to expect from other websites that they use outside of their offices.  That means we program and test in all of the major browsers—Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Apple Safari, Internet Explorer—as well as the mobile browsers for Android and iOS.

But what happens when your company’s desktop computers are still inside the comfort zone?  Running, say, Internet Explorer 8 (IE8) when the latest version is IE11.  (StatCouter reports that less than 7% of global desktop users are running IE8.)  statcounterAll too often, however, your company has invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into building internal applications that worked fine in the old browser.  But when the browser is upgraded you find yourself “losing” functionality that you have come to rely on.  In truth this is not actually a loss of functionality—more likely it is a lack of backwards compatibility in the browser for a feature that was custom-built for the internal application.

So you are faced with the decision to either stick with an outdated browser (free) or re-build the internal application to adapt to the new browser version (decidedly not free.)

Sticking with the old browser will work for a while, but eventually you do not have a choice.  I recently opened my Gmail account in an IE8 browser.  It worked okay, but it looked tired compared to what I see in Chrome.  Software providers generally offer friendly-sounding messages warning users that support for that browser is waning.  Some developers are even maintaining “browser death clocks” that eagerly anticipate the day when certain browsers are no longer.



Mobile Support

A related topic is mobile device support for applications.  Being in market research, I make sure to take every survey I can get my hands on.  Despite the fact that mobile devices will soon outnumber PCs, I am consistently surprised by the seeming lack of consideration certain companies are placing on designing a survey that renders properly for my Android phone or my iPad.

To be fair, there is additional time and effort involved in building a survey that can detect a user’s device and display the correct version.  My colleague Andy Wand wrote a recent blog post that describes the important difference between a survey that merely displays on a mobile device versus a survey that has been optimized for mobile.

Our Approach

Capella takes advantage of the latest features in browser functionality and mobile reporting.  This allows us to offer such things as interactive data visualizations, a cloud-synced mobile app, and our proprietary SmartProbe tool.

And while I’d love to tell you that Capella solves the problem of users running outdated browsers, that would be a lie.  In practice, our implementation teams work closely with our clients to determine which browser(s) are being used in their organizations.  Since Capella is built on a configurable platform we can assess the impact that older browsers will have on usability, and then develop views and functionality to accommodate those specific situations.  And as those users upgrade to newer browsers and mobile devices, they will be delighted to find all of the “new” features at their fingertips!

Finally, speaking of outdated technology, once every few years I get a bit nostalgic and threaten to dig that 800XL out of my parent’s garage and boot it up.  Maybe I’ll call the Atari support hotline and ask them why I can’t watch my favorite YouTube video!