Web Informant #211, 14 August 2000:
A new way to test software online

http://www.strom.com/awards/211.html

Everyone likes to try out new stuff on their computer: the temptation to load just another program is great, and now with just about anything a mere download away, the number of people trying out new products is getting greater.

But what if you could try out a new software package over the Internet, inside the comfort of your browser without having to first download a trial version and install it on your own hard disk? Given that many products these days use a web browser as their principle user interface, it is a natural way to use the Internet and provide a quick first look at software. And while downloads can be easy, if you have a slow connection or are very impatient, they may not always be the answer. Plus, installing new software on your Windows PC can create problems sometimes: I generally avoid downloading anything on my production computers once I have them setup the way I like them.

A few companies are trying to make a go out of delivering this demo service. Here is how they stack up.

The largest group of demonstrations can be found at Intraware.com. They have two types of demos available: first are live ones where you can manipulate the software screens through your browser and get a feel for what the product does. They also have a large collection of static screen shots that have been annotated with comments and hints if you just want to get a quick feel for how the software is put together. You have to register to view the demos, and to get more comparative information you'll have to part with some cash to become a paying customer.

Demoroom.com is a second site offering something similar. They have just annotated static screen shots, along with links that will take you to the software vendors' web site along with information about the vendor and the system requirements to run the software. On their site are links that will take you to online merchants who will sell you the software once you have finished taking the tour. They have four separate areas, one of which is commercial software, along with a few demos of digital cameras and scanners. This is further broken down into individual categories, which eventually will lead to demos of a few products such as ACT, Filemaker Pro, Laplink Word 98 and other common tools.

A third site is Runaware.com. They make use of special Flash and Java tools to run the actual software inside your browser. There are a few products on their site, including Dreamweaver, Word Perfect, TurboCAD and Ventura Publisher. If you don't like downloading Flash and Java applets, or if you think that if you have to deal with downloading them then you might as well download the full product code, then this isn't the site for you. You also have to register before you can view anything, although it is free. And there are links to places to buy the products too.

None of the three sites has taken this to the level that I'd like to see in terms of diversity of products and incorporating a bit more analysis and scrutiny of vendor claims. I'd give Intraware the nod for trying the hardest and for covering the widest range of products. Their Compariscope service also seems to do more than just take the vendor's word for granted on the set of features found in each product, with some amount of screening and analysis before the information is presented in your web browser. The other two seem more like infomercials, with little attempt to include any analysis of the products.

Still, all three are a good step forward in letting you check out new software with a minimum of hassle. And while these services won't obviate the need to download and try out a product first-hand, they can help avoid the tedium of downloads and installing something new on your system.

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David Strom
david@strom.com
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