Should you buy software from a web-storefront-only operation?

A client had a demo web site developed by someone else and they were really excited about the interactivity. It was a very rich client application, with drag-and-drop and sizers and interactive widgets. The client wanted my team to use the same platform, which they thought was something-Dot-Net. Once we were finally able to chase down the developer, it turned out to be a commercial Javascript library. We looked up the vendor, and it is a curious site.

They have an online store, one of those generic things with box-shots of a product that’s download only (there must be an add-on for Photoshop or GIMP to make these fake boxes, don’t you think?), an “About Us” page that has the usual mission-statement-ish stuff, but no “Who We Are” or where they are, a “Customer Support” page that lets you submit a ticket online, no history, no searching. The only contacts are email addresses (generic, “marketing,” “legal,” “info” not “bobsmith@example.com”) and an 800-number I have no doubt is an answering service. There’s no online forum. It looks like no one’s home.

Searching about them in Google, there’s their web site, of course. There are a couple of mentions about XSS (cross-site scripting) and a few other exploits posted to the usual security sites, a good sign that someone is actually using the code. A couple of echos of their press releases. And… nothing. No user communities, either a forum on their web site or an ad-hoc third party set of posts. No additional information. No one posting anything, anywhere from @example.com. This is pretty strange.

So, what’s the deal? My best guess is that this is an off-shore operation without any US representation nor tech support, perhaps even no ability to provide support in English. Between a proprietary license and questionable support, I’ve recommended we do some more research and see if some of the open source or openly-available Javascript libraries can fulfill the client’s needs.

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3 Responses to Should you buy software from a web-storefront-only operation?

  1. bill_mcgonigle December 6, 2007 at 12:20 pm #

    Is it obfuscated? Maybe they’re selling Prototype and it’s just a sham?

  2. tedroche December 7, 2007 at 4:50 pm #

    I had thought of that, too, and did a couple of quick code sample comparisons. It does look to be original work, likely based on some of the original Javascript libraries. A lot of work in there.

  3. tedroche December 15, 2007 at 11:19 am #

    But it’s not the investment in the original libraries that matters as much as the ability to get ongoing support, whether it’s my fault because I’m using the libraries incorrectly, there’s a bug in the libraries I find, or I want to extend the libraries to do some new shiny thing. The existence of a vibrant community of fellow developers to support any software package is arguably the most valuable measure when acquiring new software.

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