Will HTML Force You to Lie?

OK, our company, Farata Systems has created this nice application using Adobe AIR, and our customers are happy. It’s not a simple CRUD though. We’ve implemented some cool stuff replacing tons of paper forms with PDF documents processing. PDF documents are being scanned, the OCR software processes them to automatically figure out what type of document is it to properly save it in a database. Customers’ checks are scanned, digital signatures are flying, reports are being created… All is integrated into one Adobe AIR application. No external Acrobat Reader, no nothing. I’m not saying that it’s not doing some traditional grid/form processing, but there is something to be proud of.

Yesterday, one perspective customer asked me if we have an HTML5 version of this application. I said, “We can create one for you”. The next moment I realized that I lied and added, “I mean, most of it can be turned into HTML/JavaScript, but some heavy duty stuff we’re doing now would be too expensive to re-create in HTML/JavaScript”.

I didn’t start questioning why they even wanted to do a pure HTML5 version. I know what the answer would be: “Everybody goes HTML5, we want it too, and we want it now”. You can’t piss against the wind. You shouldn’t attack windmills unless your name is Don Quixote.

In my 25+ years in IT I always stuck to one rule – give your customers an honest technical opinion, but if they decide to overrule it for whatever reason, do what they want. This strategy allows me sleep well at night knowing that I didn’t lie. I also know that I would have won more project bids if I wouldn’t stick to this rule.

After thinking of this yesterday’s conversation I felt like deja vu – it was happening in the past and will be happening all over again. I’ll be saying to our perspective customers something like this, “We can do it in HTML5/JavaScript, but it’s going to be a lot more expensive than if we’d in Adobe AIR”. But the next day a salesman from another consulting firm will meet with the same perspective client and, without thinking twice, will answer, “Yes sir, we can do it in HTML5 at the same or even lower cost. Promise.”. After that the salesman will give a strong handshake looking straight in the eye of a customer for about three seconds. They’ll win the bid… Said I loved you, but I lied.

Only six months later it’ll become obvious to everybody that the entire project budget is drained, because of “some unforeseeable technical difficulties”, and they’d need to substantially increase the budjet of this project. But hey, they’ll figure out something. And what do I get? I didn’t lose self respect and sleep well at night, which are not a bad things too, don’t you think?

6 thoughts on “Will HTML Force You to Lie?

  1. “HTML5” and the accompanying tech blogsphere has tragically devalued industry expertise. No longer does a client expect you to know the technology better than them and make generally well informed decisions based on vendors’ promises and past work; instead there is a swelling legion of trade-hack’s and self-proclaimed new-tech-gurus who are willing to promise snake oil, and clients are being duped into buying it and expecting any expert to sell it to them. If you fight the grain and give the client a reality check that contradicts this view, you are punished instead of rewarded for your expertise.

    Like you, but for the first time in my career, I’m having to choose between the best option – one that will make me proud – and the option that pays – one that will make me ashamed and saddened, knowing that I could have done far better and the product will not withstand time.

    Frustrating times.

  2. I’ve said no to html5 about 3 times in the last 3 months for thing that simply won’t work, generally games, but some heavy animation. It’s a shame adobe did such a disasterous pr operation as we are fight perception and not just the html5 ‘it can do anything’ wave.

  3. Totally agree with the post. I have the same policy. I do have to wonder if my estimations are accurate though. I recently bid a project doing it all html (a web application to work on tablets) and since it was fixed-bid I bid it at about 5x. Once I figured out what the client really needed (an app on tablets) AIR wasn’t just a better choice it was going to cost about 3x. Again, it was a fixed bid and I’d have definitely turned it down if they hadn’t agreed to my price. Am I afraid of someone under bidding? Not at all. In fact, if a competitor could deliver then he/she is obviously better than me. The product I am selling, however, is usually the fact I’ll build something that works.

    Totally agree with Grant that the Adobe story is an unfortunate one. At this stage, it’s making choosing AIR a risk (IMO).

    If it’s true clients are self-appointed experts (which I don’t think is any more/less true today) but if they’re all asking for HTML5 even if they don’t know what it is–I’ll give it them. I’m happy to have the opportunity. But, yeah, providing my opinion (solicited or not) is something I always do.

  4. I started working in sw engineering in 1969. I’ve seen these shoot first, struggle with the consequences later shifts many times in my career. I worked for a long time in operating systems, then at Avid technology on the Media Composer video pipeline. It is very frustrating. Managers are always thinking there is a cheaper, easier solution, than what is available, while at the same time wanting more and fancier faster. It is too bad.

    I’m still looking for a way around the demise of Flash. Anyone looked at Edge?

    A big problem is that a lot of people simply don’t appreciate the problem of players and the sophistcation required for good playback – e.g., rolling text. I have no confidence that browser playback will do a good job and think that we will be down to the lowest common denominator, i.e., the low end.

  5. Our company will continue using Flex/AIR, but we are already having issues with finding qualified Flex developers. Young developers want to move to the technologies that look hot today, and you can’t stop them. Draining job pools will force us to use another less productive but coller technology.

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