Allow me to describe the typical scenario for a first time user for the Application Compatibility Manager component of ACT 5.5:

Get an inventory, press send/receive, discover that you don’t find as much data on there as you expected, then send an email to an alias (that I’m probably on) which either questions whether you’ve done it right or accuses us of being some variation of useless and/or incompetent. Then, you give up on the feature and feel indignant.

So, let’s review that history to get some perspective, and then talk about what we’ve done to improve things in ACT 5.5.

We know that we don’t want everyone to have to go to every vendor site in the world and look up everything that they own. Plus, you could discover that it isn’t supported, but what if you don’t care, and you just want to know if it works? So here’s what we came up with.

Plan A:

Let’s make a level of logo certification so darned easy that absolutely everybody would do it. We’ll call it Works With Windows Vista, and *all* you have to do is tell the world that you support the app on Windows Vista. Boom – you’re done. No third party testing, no checks to write for that testing, no requirements to meet. You support it, and we’ll tell your customers that you do. How easy is that? Everyone will do that, won’t they?

As it turns out, not so much. Based on the inventory I have of around 50 machines, it looks like it’s pretty much Microsoft and the Google Toolbar who will do that. Yikes. That’s … not … quite … everybody …

But not to worry, we have a plan B! (No, really, we did! We anticipated that there was some probability of failure!)

Plan B:

Hey, even if vendors don’t some to us in droves, we can still get the IT Pros of the world to share their experiences, right? We may not know if the application is supported, but at least we have some sense on whether people think it works or not, right?

But, as it turns out, human nature applies to … humans. Drat. What did the first person who hit sync find? That’s right – nothing! So, how much of a debt to “society” do you think this person felt? After they have voted on all of their applications, we’ve got to convince people to hit sync one more time, even though that time (the time that matters to the next person to come along) can do *absolutely nothing* for the person who is helping that person. With no sense of debt, it turns out this doesn’t happen very much. Unless, of course, you think 10 people using Adobe Reader is rather a lot (personally, I’m guessing their market penetration is slightly higher).

Well, crap – that’s strike 2. And we didn’t have a plan C.

The comeback

So, given that things weren’t shaking out quite the way we had planned (we hadn’t expected both ideas to fail quite as spectacularly as they had), we had to scramble to come up with Plan C. If the vendor wasn’t coming to us, and the people at large weren’t either, well heck – we’ll just hire some people to do the exact thing we were trying to spare you from: just browse one vendor site after another looking for support statements. So that’s exactly what we did. We threw all of that together into a website called appreadiness.com, and eventually we made a website that actually looked nice (like I said, the first go-around was our rush job because it simply wasn’t an option to have nothing) called the Windows Compatibility Center.

http://windows.com/compatibility

That works great when you want to know about one application, but what about when you need to know about all of the apps you have? Searching one at a time is better than searching one at a time on every vendor web site, but not by much.

So, we make things available to download – you can find “the list” here:

http://www.microsoft.com/downloads/details.aspx?FamilyID=9df23606-7276-4ce2-8993-143e101ddbcd&displaylang=en

One great big giant Excel sheet with everything we’ve looked up so far, and you can fuzzy match against them.

Initially, it was a crusty old one from appreadiness.com, but now we’re updating it regularly (hooray!). 8000 apps and counting.

ACT 5.5 Improvements

ACT 5.5 does that Excel sheet one better: it now automagically pulls in all of that vendor data and matches it up to your applications! (It’s most of the way done now, too – we just got this lit up in time for a demo at MMS.) So now, you can benefit from the group of folks whose job it is to do the searching on vendor web sites so you don’t have to.

We also revisited Plan B, because we still think that has a place (not everyone needs support for all of their apps, but it sure would be nice to know if it worked or not). Some of the biggest complaints we got?

“Even if I say not to send my vote on an app, you would send the fact that we have the app, and its mere existence is a trade secret.” Fixed – we now don’t even send the fact that you have it. (Of course, that also means you don’t get any vendor or community data, but if its very existence is a trade secret chances are it’s not commercial software anyway.)

“Wait – who are you quoting above that knows it sent the existence of the app? What is this thing sending anyway?” Fixed – you now have the option to preview the exact XML that we’ll send up, and you can inspect it thoroughly and audit what it’s sending to ensure that it’s kosher before you go syncing with a web service.

Are we there yet? Not completely – it still takes a lot of effort, because there is no one source for everything that is known anywhere on earth about any given app. But we’re trying to close that gap in ways that make sense to you. Keep giving us feedback, because we are listening, and reacting just as quickly as we can!