Hitting at the very top of my FAQ list is still, “hey, I just did a sync with the ACT Compatibility Exchange, and the match rate was (insert number between 2 and 6 percent here), and that makes me angry and/or sad. Please explain to me why you suck so much.”

First, let’s get the expectations straight. 2% to 6% is what we typically find in terms of vendor match, even today. So, if you’re hitting that number, then you’re doing pretty well. Why is that number so low? Well, there are a couple of reasons.

First, the vendor data we are reporting is based on vendor support for an application. If you don’t have vendor support, then you don’t show up in the database. For sound financial reasons, it behooves vendors to say as little about support as possible. It’s like insurance. If you say you support it, then you have to take the call and work the case and fix the bug. All of those things cost money. So, you do it as seldom as you can. If you are building a niche product, and all of your customers are on an older version of Windows, you’d prefer to not bother to invest in a platform your customers are not using, and use that money to generate business value that helps you sell more products. At some point, though, enough of your customers are there that suddenly it starts to make sense to offer that support, which at that point might even be a competitive advantage. If you’re a larger or more important app, then you’d prefer to have your customers give you some more money (in the form of a new version) before you give them new support, if you can possibly talk them into it. So, if you’re using a slightly older version, it won’t map up to a support statement, even if there is a newer supported version, because you’re not using the one which would match.

Second, we have a significant long tail problem. There are an awful lot of apps out there. Simply trying to get your arms around the scope of the problem is non-trivial. While I’ve seen as many as 110,000 applications in use within a single organization, an average number is probably somewhere in the range of 3,000 to 5,000. Now, multiply that by the number of companies that there are. Let’s see – so, in the US, there are a bit over 24 million companies. Projecting that out to 195 countries, many with fewer companies but some with more, let’s say that’s a nice, even billion companies. Assuming a 30% overlap in applications between companies, that’s about 2.8 trillion applications. Totally a guestimate, so let’s assume that I’m off by an order of magnitude, and it’s only 280 billion pieces of software.

Long tail indeed. I don’t actually know the number, so I’m totally making this all up, but logically, you can see the point – there’s a lot of stuff out there.

OK, so, we have a hard job. Of course, in my view, those are the only jobs worth doing, because they’re the ones that change the world. So, we’re forging ahead anyway. What have we been up to lately?

First, we’ve been increasing the overall number of apps which we have data for. After a big data-collection push, we increased the total number of apps for which we have data by 16%. Focusing in on Windows 7 (which is what most people care about – the Windows Vista data [shockingly] isn’t nearly as popular), the total number of apps for which we have data there is being boosted by around 25%. Not 25% of all apps, mind you, but 25% higher than the number we had before. So, that should give you a higher hit rate to start with.

Second, we wanted to increase the perceived hit rate. Because, most irritating to many is the fact that it looks as if we are missing stupid, obvious stuff. The glaring omissions that always lead people to paste a screenshot into their email to me. Stuff like Office 2010, Silverlight 4, and Adobe Flash Player 10. (“Why aren’t these apps in there??!!”) Now, those are still hard to get perfect, since some are updated rather a lot (and version number goes into the calculation of the ACT application ID, so a version rev means a new appID), and Office in particular maps up to dozens of AppIDs for a single app. Our goal is to make sure we hit at least one of those, not necessarily all of them. So, if you see only one or two of the entries which represents Office 2010 showing up, consider that success, hide the rest with a filter, and move along for now. We’d like to clean it up, of course, but we’re more focused on getting the rest of the completely unidentified ones handled first. (Office 2010 is compatible with Windows 7, by the way, I promise – you don’t even need to sync to find that out.)

We are committed to continuing to make this better. If you have feedback, or more obvious stuff you think should be there, you can provide this feedback to us – the alias is actfeedback@microsoft.com.

Thank you for your support of ACT, and we look forward to working to help you save even more time locating the vendor data which helps you accelerate a migration. Because, we agree – even though we didn’t make the software, and thus can’t say anything about whether it works or not, if we can save you a few web searches on the vendor website, we think we both win. The higher that number goes, the happier we both are.