Yesterday I sat down and talked with Entellium, an on-demand CRM company that has recently gone away from a purley browser-based model and moved into a desktop smart client application. In doing so they saw a big increase in conversion numbers and the customers have responded well to having the application on their desktop instead of inside of a browser. So it's a great desktop RIA story, but I chatted with them about the new version of their desktop application, called Rave, which uses Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation for the user interface. It's a sexy application and it shows that regardless of what you're doing, a great user experience can make a big difference.
What I thought was very interesting about the company is the way they went about deciding on a UI. They wanted to capture as much of the video game experience as they could. They wanted their users to be able to just "pick up and play", something that's important for video games for obvious reasons. They also wanted to make it fun and engaging just like video games and make it really easy for users to accomplish tasks and control how the UI was laid out. So wanting to capture that video game feel was something that had to be done with really great, expressive RIA technologies. They went with WPF because the old application was a Win Forms app and they were familiar with the Microsoft stack.
They had a lot of good things to say about WPF and the .NET Framework. It was very interesting to hear their take on the designer-developer workflow problem. I like Microsoft's solution, and it sounds like it's mostly there with a few quirks. It's a tough problem to solve, but as we start to see more consumer-like experiences in all walks of the IT world, we're going to need to solve it. Adobe's working on it, Microsoft's working on it, so it's going to be fun to watch.
Another thing I like about the application is how they leverage the desktop and the cloud. The desktop application allows them to tie into existing data, like the ability to hook directly into Outlook contacts with an Outlook add-in. You can then keep your Outlook contacts AND your Rave data in synch. On the browser side they have an application that lets you view data and create reports that you could access from anywhere if you needed to. The desktop application also provides the ability to go offline as you'd expect.
Any company focusing on the user interface is one I'm happy about, but the fact that it's coming from a CRM company with great numbers is even better. They're looking at how to leverage that same kind of experience across devices and the "deeper" web so I'm excited to watch what they do. Hopefully it's the start of a bigger trend on good-looking business applications. It makes a huge difference and it makes Rave and Entellium stand out big time.