Taking Software for a Test-Drive

Enterprise application vendors should be lauded for offering evaluation versions.

In some of my previous columns, I was hard on enterprise software vendors, bashing them for everything from poorly designed, bug-ridden code to unfair licensing contracts and activation schemes to misleading pricing plans.

But theres a new development for which Id like to praise some of these vendors. Im talking about the increasing availability of fully functional evaluation versions of enterprise software.

Eval versions of software have been around for some time, but, until recently, they were limited to desktop and productivity applications. For the most part, enterprise software vendors protected their code assiduously and made it very difficult for anyone but customers to get hold of it.

But, more and more, vendors of enterprise applications I look at—from portals to content management systems to security platforms to CRM products—make downloadable and fully functional evaluation versions available to potential customers.

This is due at least partly to the fact that many enterprise applications are based on open standards and common application server platforms, which makes it much more likely that a company will have the infrastructure to effectively test the application.

But this development is not completely altruistic on the part of vendors. Increasingly faced with competition from open-source products and service-based options—both of which are readily available for evaluation—enterprise software vendors have had to loosen the ties around their products to make sure they get included in companies eval shortlists.

/zimages/5/28571.gifClick here to read eWEEK Labs review of three hosted CRM systems.

Whatever the reasons for this change in eval availability, its welcome. After all, there is no better way to see if a product will meet your organizations needs than to load it onto your test infrastructure and see how it works with specific application requirements.

It says something about a vendors confidence in its products when the products are made available to anyone who wants to test them and directly compare them with others in the market. Conversely, it says something to me when a vendor resists providing fully functional evaluation products or declines to participate in reviews. Vendors that withhold their products make me wonder about the quality of the products being withheld.

Some of you may be curious why someone like me, who makes his living reviewing products, is glad that enterprise software vendors are making it easier for anyone to review their products. Should I really be glad that companies can test things for themselves, cutting out the middleman (namely, me)?

Im not worried. In fact, I think the availability of fully functional evaluation software makes independent reviews such as eWEEKs even more valuable.

Think about how it works with cars. I mentioned in a previous column that I had been shopping for a new car. I recently bought one, but during the months before I made my decision, I test-drove lots and lots of cars.

The fact that I could drive these cars myself—sometimes for an entire day—didnt mean I had no use for the independent reviews in Motor Trend, Car and Driver and Edmunds.com.

In fact, the complete opposite was true: I was able to read these reviews and then look for the pros and cons myself (or vice versa).

I also was able to determine who the most reliable reviewers were by comparing my findings with theirs. This eventually led me to purchase a car that was not on my original list but that I ended up evaluating because of a positive review from a reviewer I trusted.

As I see it, a review from a resource such as eWEEK Labs helps companies find and choose which products they should evaluate, and it helps serve as a checklist for companies when they test the product themselves.

So, to all the enterprise software vendors that make their products available through downloadable evaluations: Good job—youre making life easier for your current and potential customers by letting your products speak for themselves, which often is the best sales pitch.

Now, we just need to work on those licensing, pricing and security issues.

Labs Director Jim Rapoza can be reached at jim_rapoza@ziffdavis.com.

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