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Web Services and SOA - Sexy Clients and Programatic Oaths

The prototype system would talk to the customer's actual back end systems using web services and SOA

Recently I was called in at the last minute to help out with a sales opportunity.  The team had been working hard on a proposal for many months, during which they’d built a large working prototype system that talked to the customer’s actual back end systems using web services and SOA.  To their surprise however it had been slammed in the demos, because the user interface (the last part the sales team had put together) had been thrown together using just default fonts and colors, and basic text boxes and buttons.  Even though the whole tender was based on who could put together the most robust system that recognized the customer’s complex IT architecture, it had all fallen down merely because it didn’t look good enough.  The developers were disheartened, much the same way that a car engineer must be when no-one is prepared to look under the hood and appreciate the quality of their work because there isn’t a cupholder and CD player.

To fix things a colleague and I had two days before the sales team could go back before the customer.  We told the manager who’d asked for our help that all we could in that time was sex up the GUI.  He insisted that we shouldn’t do this, and instead should provide more engineering so that the prototype could work in a fail safe disconnected mode, because the customer had insisted that they didn’t want glitz and could only be wowed by substance.  Cause we’re wise and arrogant though, we instead spent two days doing nothing more than adding tissue paper sparkle to the existing GUI.  We replaced the widget toolkit for one that had a flat web look and feel to it, as well as adding stuff like images of credit card types on the payment screens together with twisty expandable GUI sections using gradient colored separators.  One part of the system involved booking a hotel room for which we painted a map of the hotel floor with hover help for room numbers and types.  It was total and utter fakeware, and had we not run out of time we were going to have a background thread that would draw animations to show which rooms were occupied and empty in real time.  Finally we threw in an obligatory embedded web browser and a splash screen before the sales team went back to the customer.

It was a total hit.  The client bought it and signed us up for the whole project. Our competitors felt cheated, and I got nice ego warming e-mails from senior management saying how grateful they were for my efforts, etc…

In some ways thought I felt rather like I’d broken some kind of programmer’s equivalent of the Hippocratic oath.  “I will respect the hard-won scientific gains of those programmers in whose steps I walk, and I will remember there is science to code as well as fluff, and that warmth, sympathy and understanding will outweigh the animated GIF or cheap piece of GUI smoke and mirrors”.  Yeah, right.  At the end of it we’re all just descended from apes, and how something looks is always going to trigger some atavistic assumption about how well it tastes.  I’m torn between bemoaning this fact, or accepting it and unashamedly maximizing it.  Magazine publishers who want someone to buy or read their stuff work this to their advantage when they put eye-candy pictures and silver bullet attention grabbing headlines on their front cover.  Maybe I should do likewise for a blog entry and call it “Sexy clients ?”.

posted Tuesday, 18 April 2006

More Stories By Joe Winchester

Joe Winchester, Editor-in-Chief of Java Developer's Journal, was formerly JDJ's longtime Desktop Technologies Editor and is a software developer working on development tools for IBM in Hursley, UK.

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SYS-CON India News Desk 04/18/06 02:31:22 PM EDT

Recently I was called in at the last minute to help out with a sales opportunity. The team had been working hard on a proposal for many months, during which they'd built a large working prototype system that talked to the customer's actual back end systems using web services and SOA. To their surprise however it had been slammed in the demos, because the user interface (the last part the sales team had put together) had been thrown together using just default fonts and colors, and basic text boxes and buttons.

SYS-CON Italy News Desk 04/18/06 02:02:07 PM EDT

Recently I was called in at the last minute to help out with a sales opportunity. The team had been working hard on a proposal for many months, during which they'd built a large working prototype system that talked to the customer's actual back end systems using web services and SOA. To their surprise however it had been slammed in the demos, because the user interface (the last part the sales team had put together) had been thrown together using just default fonts and colors, and basic text boxes and buttons.

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