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Oct 25, 2006: Major web app runs on Windows IE only?

WARNING: narcissism aheadI think it'd be fair to say that Intuit is a very, very large and successful software company. Their popular accounting software applications are designed to run on multiple platforms. Like many small business owners, I happen to use Intuit's QuickBooks for my own business accounting and bookkeeping.

Because I'm moving east, and I'd like to continue working with my Michigan-based bookkeeper and accountant, we started investigating the QuickBooks Online Edition. It seemed to make sense to use a web-based service so that we could remotely access the same data, and continue to use QuickBooks (albeit now hosted by Intuit rather than living on my bookkeeper's hard drive). After all, we already do this with all kinds of other financial services, from my company's online bank account to its MasterCard and AmEx accounts.

Ah, but I use a Macintosh. Even though I'd be accessing QuickBooks via the web, Intuit has chosen to not support Macintosh users. In fact, they won't support users of browsers other than Internet Explorer, with all its wonderful security options to help protect my precious financial data. OK, I realize that no matter how hard Jeffrey Zeldman and friends try, browser developers aren't working from the same book, and that makes life harder for web and web-based application developers.

But IE only? No Macintosh support whatsoever? We're talking Intuit QuickBooks here, not Larry's Naked Bungee Jumping Trajectory Calculator. I don't pretend to know anything about software development, but this just doesn't add up. So I asked Intuit customer service for an explanation, and here's what they told me:

If you're interested in knowing why Online Edition chose to only support Internet Explorer, our reasoning is as follows:

QB Online Edition is a web based Software Application, not just a Web Page that displays static information. While designing a Web Page to be available cross platform is very routine (though still presenting its challenges), creating a Software Application requires tremendous cost and effort to develop and maintain for any one single platform.

For example, AutoRecall is a feature that allows you to begin typing a name and QuickBooks Online Edition fills in likely selections. This requires a lot of interaction with the browser and is not standardized across platforms, browser versions, or browser brands. Writing a web application places far more requirements on a browser than even a highly-interactive web site. We're not 100% satisfied with Internet Explorer on Windows, but it comes the closest.

So, given the challenges of application development, we made a very simple business decision to target the platform with 95% of the market, so that we are available to the widest range of Small Business Customers who need a web-based accounting application. At this time, the effort from both the engineering and testing perspectives is too large an undertaking given the market share of other platforms and browsers.

I hope you understand our decision even if it isn't what you might have hoped. For a full list of system requirements, please go to: http://oe.quickbooks.com/system-requirements.shtml

So, does this sound like a reasonable explanation? Does this make business sense for Intuit? It sure doesn't for me, and I'm stuck with either an imperfect Intuit-provided solution or looking for a new accounting application. Dang.

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Comment: Brice (Oct 28, 2006)

Hi Lou,

We've been using QB Online for several years. Its been a fantastic solution for us, great for working with remote accountants or offices. About one year ago I met with some of the product management team for QBOL and this issue came up.

They all kind of grimaced and nodded when we told them QBOL was the only reason we ever used Internet Explorer. They did indicate that efforts were underway to *possibly* support Firefox/Gecko browsers. I'd encourage you to investigate one or two steps further. There might be something on the horizon that front-line support cannot cut and paste into the help ticket.

-Brice

Comment: James Mason (Oct 28, 2006)

The technical issues with cross-platform web development are fairly minor, and the example Intuit gave you is one of the simplest features to implement. If they really are having technical challenges developing for other browsers, they either have the wrong tools or the wrong people.

The big headache (and cost) in cross-platform web development is the testing. Every browser/platform has its own quirks, and uncovering all of those takes time. It's quite possible that the extra revenue from supporting other platforms wouldn't be worth it for Intuit.

As for solving your immediate problem, have you looked into Parallels or Boot Camp? Both allow you to run Windows on Mac hardware.

Comment: Simon (Oct 30, 2006)

The introduction of IE7 may actually make such "IE exclusivity" even more exclusive.

IE7's security and rendering engine enhancements seem to break a lot of the web apps that were built for use with IE6 only. As a result, companies like Reuters and PeopleSoft have issued directives warning users of their "IE only" web apps not to install IE7.

So instead of "IE only" we now have "IE6 only"!

Doesn't look like there's much hope of getting that Mac version anytime soon then Lou :(

(PS. We’ve just completed a study that examined these types of compatibility issues by comparing the homepages of 100 major websites in both IE6 and IE7. The results are available at http://www.etre.com/blog/2006/10/ie7_were_they_ready/ and suggest that around 12.7 million websites could be broken in IE7!).

Comment: Todd Warfel (Oct 30, 2006)

You've got to be kidding me. Not that I've done exhaustive research, but I would bet that Win/IE doesn't represent 95% of the small business environment. That 95% comes from corporations mandating Win. Many of the small business I know run Macs - at least a lot more than 5%. If they're really targeting small businesses, then they shouldn't be using corporate research data.

And these cross browser issues, uh huh. Funny how smaller companies, many doing the Web 2.0 thing, are able to do this "cross browser/platform" thing w/o nearly the manpower or budget that Intuit has.

So, just another bad corporate decision based on bad data.

Comment: vanderwal (Oct 30, 2006)

Brice, has it dead on with the people or tools problem. It should be a rather straight forward solution.

Oddly, I am finding that every project I am running across they are clamoring for web standards developers. Everybody with a web application is also moving toward standards compliance (many did this because of security problems with IE in the past two years, but realized this a standards approach is not only doable, it saves money). I have to look really hard to find a company in the US or the UK that has not moved to standards or is in the process. The problem is finding skilled people.

You should encourage QuickBooks to be more browser compliant. Not only does it allow people to use they browser they use best, but it allows for options when there is a security problem or other issues with just choosing one browser platform. This is what moved Citibank years ago, as they only supported IE, but a huge security problem with IE at the time caused many of their customers to push for broader support.

Paralells and Boot Camp only run on the new Intel Macs. I think Lou has been quite busy this year and may not have had time to buy a new Mac.

Comment: Lou (Oct 30, 2006)

...or the inclination; I'm (finally) happy with my current iBook G4. Hard to see giving Apple more $$$ because Intuit is shortsighted...

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