Credit where credit’s due…

You may remember that I raised an issue earlier this week regarding Connections 2.0 compatibility with the newly launched Firefox 3.0 and Flock 2.0 beta browsers, effectively causing the Home Page and Profiles modules to stop rendering.  At the same time as posting the entry, I also emailed a number of members of the Connections team in IBM to make sure they were aware.

To their credit, the response was instant, with several comments on the blog post, plus a number of IMs, tweets and emails to discuss the problem.  Adrian Spender has now responded formally on the Synch.rono.us blog:

Hopefully many of you are now exploring the features and capabilities of the newly released Lotus Connections 2.0. We are very proud of it and we think you’ll like it too.

I suspect many of you are also enjoying the newly released Firefox 3 browser. I know I am. I have been very impressed with the speed of the Gecko 1.9 rendering engine in particular (I’m not so sure about the way it handles self-signed certificates though.)

Those of you at the bleeding edge have probably tried running Connections 2.0 in Firefox 3. If you have you may well have noticed that there are some problems, particularly with the new Home Page and when viewing people’s profiles. In fact that is putting it mildly – Home Page in particular just won’t render much of its content.

He goes on to admit that:

Yes, we knew about this before the product shipped.

and<blockquote>So, guilty as charged. The good news however is that there will be an ifix to resolve this particular issue in the very near future. What we cannot promise is that every aspect of Connections 2.0 will work seamlessly on Firefox 3, because at the end of the day it hasn’t had the level of testing we give the supported browsers. After all, we did actually ship before they did!

So, on the positive, IBM have reacted very quickly this week, and are promising an ifix “in the very near future“.  Well done guys.

So what about the “we knew about this before the product shipped“…  I personally hope that this relatively minor issue may have changed a few attitudes in IBM.  In my opinion, it is no longer acceptable for this kind of problem to be kept quiet within the IBM walls, particularly when it relates to Web2.0 software such as Connections.  This isn’t a product that will sit entirely within a carefully managed customer network, with 100% locked down PCs running a set build of Windows XP Service Pack 2 with mandatory IE7 browsers – it will be accessed by users from home, on mobile devices, on hotel internet kiosks and far more places besides. It is a different ball game now.

As Adrian points out in his post, IBM has made great strides with their support for the other browsers (Firefox, Flock Safari etc.) and platforms including Linux and Mac OS X. However, sites such as Facebook, Del.icio.us, Wikia and Linked In aren’t in a position to solely support a small number of browser devices, they must be continually on the lookout for the next one on the horizon and be dealing with whatever issues arise. More important than that however, is that sites like these look to be open to their users in identifying problems before they become an issue, informing them via blogs etc. and then fixing them ASAP.  In short, they need to be one step ahead the whole time.

I don’t think we can reasonably ask IBM to support every browser or platform that is out there, much less every new release and/or beta from the day they are available, and I’m not targeting the Connections team with this – I think that it relates to all the Lotus products and many more IBM SWG products besides.  However, we can ask that they tell us as soon as they know of a problem (in this case as soon as they downloaded and used the first FF3 betas), and forewarn us of the likelyhood of issues that can be avoided or workarounds that can be used – in this case suggesting that regular users of Greenhouse, www-949 or internal Connections deployments hold off upgrading to FF3.  This is the era of the collaborative vendor/partner/customer relationship, and we need IBM to lead the way.

Stuart McIntyre is a Senior Strategist at Fostering Community Limited. He curates a number of product-focused news sites, is a lapsed podcaster, founded the Social Connections user group and regularly speaks at conferences and events. This blog represents his own slightly-eccentric and usually-controversial opinions!