What to do when a software vendor eliminates an important feature

When a software vendor changes direction, you may not have a great option or even an adequate one

Dear Bob ...

Yeah, I know examples of bad management at Microsoft aren't exactly a rare commodity.

[ Get sage advice on IT careers and management from Bob Lewis in InfoWorld's Advice Line newsletter. ]

But I've been in and around microcomputers since before IBM's came out (the days of Northstar and Vector), and don't believe I've ever seen a more arrogant or incompetent software team than the one Microsoft has running its ExpressionWeb package.

In case you haven't followed the battle that's been ensuing for the past two years between Microsoft and its Expression Web customers, here it is in a nutshell:

About two years ago, Microsoft announced it was discontinuing FrontPage and replacing it with Expression Web. FrontPage was notorious for producing non-XHTML-compliant code, so most of us longtime FrontPage customers were happy with the announcement.

But to our horror, the single most valuable FrontPage tool had been dropped from its replacement: the ability to see a Web site as in a graphical org-chart view and to drag and drop pages from one place to another. Instead, the company reps advised to learn ASP and CSS coding, and we'd have no problem. Of course, for 99 percent of us, that was useless advice.

The battle has been emotional on both sides, with customers furious that Microsoft would arbitrarily decide that a feature we were telling them was essential was not needed at all. The Expression Web folks have pilloried their customers, calling us stupid and old-fashioned, and telling us that we need to let go of our FrontPage crutches.

Instead of figuring out how to create an XHTML equivalent of FrontPage's Navigation View, they've spent many times the number of man-hours trying to explain to users why they shouldn't want such a feature and calling us all morons for insisting on it. Having a Web site management package without an ability to actually see the structure of the site is like building a car with no steering wheel. Instead of realizing their mistake and adding the steering wheel, they are expending all their time talking about how fast and modern the car is, and how steering wheels are old-fashioned.

Microsoft has always been known for arrogance and shoddy programming, but those two qualities are at their zenith in the Expression Web department. They desperately need to fire every manager in that group and hire some competent programmers.

I, for one, am switching to another Web management package and finally resolved to start weaning myself of Microsoft products once and for all. It will take a while, but now that I see they are getting worse, rather than better, it's obviously the only sane route to take.

- Disgusted

Dear Disgusted ...

This isn't a subject I follow closely. It seems to follow a well-worn trajectory, though: Start with user-friendly tools that make things easy to do, then replace them with professional tools that eliminate the user-friendly part in exchange for industrial-strength functionality.

Interestingly, it appears Microsoft is now avoiding any suggestion that Expression Web is the successor to FrontPage, a replacement, or in fact has any connection at all.

It's simply discontinuing FrontPage (presumably due to lack of interest -- something I find remarkable) and simultaneously launching Expression Web, abandoning its FrontPage customers entirely in the process.

Unfathomable.

For CIOs and CTOs, this sort of situation can be particularly challenging, because the challenge goes far beyond losing a critical feature. Potentially it means having to run on obsolete software while charting a project to convert entire applications to a new platform; finding third-party solutions to fill the gap (making the architecture more fragile in the process); or developing work-arounds in-house (also making the architecture more fragile in the process).

You didn't ask for advice, which is just as well because I don't have any useful advice to offer. Your alternatives are obvious -- accept Expression Web's limitations, or find a better alternative.

I just thought you might feel better, knowing that other folks in IT face equivalent challenges on a regular basis.

Misery does love company, doesn't it?

- Bob

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