There is a land called “demo world” where solutions only have to ever run in small, pre-tested configurations, in ways that make them shine brighter than their competition. Applications in demo world only have to communicate with themselves and even then only for a handful of users because of course demo world doesn’t operate on any scale or have external links as that would be far too inconvenient to properly explore in the available meeting time.
Desktop applications in demo-world have very pretty interfaces which allow you to see lots of detail on at least say 5 or 6 other users in real time with gorgeous big graphical icons that are visible from the other side of the seminar room. Of course in the real world we often need to search, narrow down and communicate with 100s of contacts in the course of a day or week, but again that really isn’t a concern in demo world as all you need is a scroll bar at the edge of the screen to navigate around a practically infinite canvas of huge icons. In demo world those applications run on a very limited range of desktop software environments because it is of course much better that way (for the vendor anyway).
Large vendors dominate demo-world. Their carefully choreographed sales teams learn the scripted demos from specialist sales engineers and all goes well as long as they remember to stick to the script and do not allow too much time for inconvenient questions.
But we don’t live in demo-world. We have to design products that work well in the real world.
In the real world, users want the desktop app to run the same on any of the environments they use: PCs, Macs, tablets and web based on any browser rather than some particular version specified by the vendor.
In the real-world it isn’t how well an application performs when used to talk to someone running the same thing on the next desk that is important, it is how well it lets us shrink the gap when talking to someone using another system elsewhere on the planet that matters because these latter people are generally called “customers”.
So how do you tell if you are being sold a demo-world solution? During the scripted demo or Webex of the solution, ask a few questions that relate to how you actually need to use the system. Ask how well it allows you to see presence status for 100s of users at the same time, or quickly narrow down a contact search with two or three keystrokes whilst holding a conversation. Ask the salesman to demonstrate an instant message exchange to a customer on another system entirely, or to quickly configure a non-trivial call handling path with multi-line presentation. If any of that takes more than a few seconds or involves the need to “just check on that and get back to you” then you may have just dropped off the edge of demo-world.