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VB6 to Web: an ISV's journey

by John Browne, on Mar 23, 2017 5:06:29 PM

Today I watched a demo of an app we are finishing up--this belongs to an ISV who serves a vertical market and like a lot of those kinds of apps it sort of does everything for the customer. We are going to have a full case study on this soon but it was such a great story that I wanted to share immediately.

What makes it so interesting? Remember the 90s? PCs were really taking off and there were tons of opportunities for low-price vertical market solutions and Visual Basic was the tool of choice for people with domain expertise but who weren't professional developers.


Domain knowledge + market opportunity + Visual Basic = instant ISV

If that seems unlikely remember that eBay started out as a way for Pierre Omidyar's girlfriend to make it easy for Pez collectors to trade dispensers for a $.25 fee. As Grandmother Dortch used to say, "Mighty oaks from tiny acorns grow."

This particular ISV found a sweet spot and over the years became the market leader. Their technology wasn't that different today than it was 20 years ago: desktop computer connected to a cash drawer, credit card device, and receipt printer. VB executable running on Windows and talking to a single Access database on the C:\ drive. UI with mouse-friendly buttons and function key shortcuts.

While this was cutting edge 20 years ago it's a sadly dated lashup today. And this ISV had a SaaS competitor who was cutting into their market share.

(We interrupt this program to bring you a concise comparison of the classic software license model vs SaaS/subscription model:

Classic license model: Bad

SaaS/Subscription model: Good

We now return you to your regularly schedule program.)

Clearly to stay competitive, this ISV needed to have a SaaS offering. However, as we have written about in this space previously, there are some pretty big jumps from desktop to web. It really is orders of magnitude more difficult than VB6 + Access + Windows XP. You have to support multiple sessions from multiple users (who you have to authenticate). You have to have a true database with multi-tenancy. You need to move your business processes to a server, and host that server. You have to keep track of state between the client and server. You have to build your UI with JavaScript and HTML. And on and on.

But you get so much in return. No more DLL hell. No more configuration testing. No more drivers. No more shipping or downloading installable executables. No more installer. And forget about trying to get customers to upgrade to every new release; just collect a monthly fee and push out updates to the server. Badda bing, badda boom.

This particular ISV had a tough choice. Do nothing and continue to lose customers to a newer alternative. Rewrite the application for the web, which would take perhaps years and cost more than they could afford. Or migrate using WebMAP.

They chose door number 3.

Using WebMAP (and our people), they were able to build and deploy a new version of their VB app that has the following characteristics:

  • Looks identical to the VB version, so no retraining of users
  • Uses F1 through F12 just like the original app
  • Connects to the cash drawer, Verifone terminal, and receipt printer locally from the browser
  • Runs on any and all modern browsers
  • Is hosted in Azure with seamless elasticity and resource management console
  • Uses a multi-tenant SQL Server DB on Azure, automatically backed up
  • Has a modern web architecture, using ASP.NET MVC with a JavaScript/Kendo/HTML client presentation
  • Has zero dependencies on OCX components
  • Allows the company to manage everything remotely, hire contemporary developers, and build additional value from having all their customers run from a single app instance (via gathering metadata that provides real business intelligence).
  • Can be deployed by a simple push from a staging environment to production (throwing one switch on Azure) for seamless upgrades for their customers.

This is the promise of WebMAP made real. This is the salvation of thousands of small to mid-sized ISVs staring at desktop computers running their stuff while new SaaS competitors built with open source components by skinny-jeans-wearing hipsters who happily pay $10 for a cuppa from beans pooped out of a civet--you know those guys. WebMAP resets the game, reboots the whole business model landscape by making it feasible--in time and money--to move from desktop to web.

And stay in the game. Get yours today.

Topics:application modernizationWeb Application DevelopmentWebMAP


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