Topics include: programming, Apple, Unix, gadgets, large-scale web sites and other nerdy stuff.

Firefox support required. Sorry.

2006-07-24 15:58:21

[This post has a number of vague references to avoid embarrassing certain people. Including possibly me.]

At work we are in the middle of buying this really big, important and expensive piece of enterprise software. It's the kind of thing that you need to have when your business grows to a certain size. In this context, "important" means that having it will improve our revenue by probably millions of dollars over a few years. And "expensive" means that it will cost more than $100,000.

This particular kind of software has a relatively large number of vendors who sell it; there were four top-tier vendors bidding on our contract. They are trying to differentiate themselves on their capabilities, each claiming something the others don't have. In some cases, they are all claiming the same feature as uniquely theirs. In reality, they are largely all the same in their capabilities. Some do seem slightly better, but none seem so broken that we couldn't make it work and live with whatever warts it has. So it's all down to price.

I was on the phone with one of the vendors the other day, confirming a face-to-face meeting where they would get more detailed requirements and then be able to make a bid. Eventually, the sales rep casually asked something like, "I see you asked about FireFox support. We don't currently support that, but are looking into it. Is that a deal-breaker?"

I thought for a second, said "ummm..." Then: "Yes. We need FireFox support. I think we should cancel the meeting. Thanks for bringing that to our attention ahead of time."

I think the rep was pretty floored. He even said that he had never had this come up as a blocking issue. He asked if we could use virtualization, or if we had Windows PCs with IE that we could use. I basically said, yes we could do that, but why would I pay $100,000 for a piece of software that I need to use every day, then use some ugly hack to access it? Especially when all the competitors offer the support I want? I explained a bit more that about 80% of the people who needed this software didn't have Windows computers; they have either Macs or Linux. And the remaining 20% really don't like to switch out of FireFox in any case.

What amuses me most about this scenario?

1. Rule #1 of being a sales rep: never ask the question "is X a deal-breaker?" if there is any chance at all of hearing "yes." Don't give the mark a way out. (Not that this would have mattered in the long run. As soon as we found out it was a Windows/IE only application, that would have been the end.)

2. It's not so freaking hard to support FireFox and IE. All you need to do is not use some stupid ActiveX control, and have at least one engineer use FireFox. They both have great DHTML, Javascript and XML-HTTP support. They both support Flash and Java fairly well.

Actually, the second reason is a really important one. If you are not smart enough as an engineering organization to avoid proprietary, lock-in technology to the extent that supporting users beyond that is too costly, then I don't want to use your stuff.