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5/31/2005
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Review: Web Services Client

Smart Company's Turbo 1.0 .Net-supported smart client is subject to Microsoft vulnerabilities, but its pivot-table paradigm makes up for the time you spend patching.

Web applications may reduce operational costs, but they don't always increase productivity. SmartCompany looks to do just that in Turbo 1.0, a hybrid smart client that complements its subscription-based, on-demand CRM (customer relationship management) offerings.

Smart client is Microsoft's term for .Net client applications that interface with back-end services using Web services. SmartCompany Turbo uses .Net to give its CRM service a richer user interface than it has in the service's browser. By mixing Web services functions with Web content, Turbo becomes a hybrid client for users who need capabilities such as pivot tables, and allows for deeper integration with desktop applications such as Microsoft Word and Outlook.

Because Turbo looks and feels like Outlook, it will seem familiar to most end users. Unfortunately, that strength is also a weakness: Users have often confused Turbo with Outlook. Eventually, the vendor says, the smart client will change its look entirely, alleviating this problem.

Good
• Integrates with Outlook and Word for contact and task management
• Synchronizes with data entered through the Web interface
• Richer client experience in a familiar Outlook-type interface

Bad

• Interface is so like Outlook's, it may confuse users
• Navigation problems
• No offline or synchronization capabilities

**SmartCompany Turbo 1.0, $100 to $400 per seat. Available: June 15.
SmartCompany,
(800) 709-SMART,
(925) 934-6355.

. www.smartcompany.net

I tested the beta version of Turbo in our Green Bay, Wis., Real-World Labs®. I installed and enabled the required Word and Outlook with .Net programmability support, which gave me access to features such as merging contact data with documents and duplicating tasks/ appointments created in Turbo within Outlook.

Slowdowns

Although Turbo was responsive when using Web services, it didn't take advantage of SSL to secure server communications. This is a beta issue, SmartCompany tells me--in released versions of both its CRM service and the Turbo client, all communications will be SSL-encrypted, though the vendor warns that this may hamper the "snappy" performance of the Web services. But even using existing Web components, the embedded browser control was as sluggish as Internet Explorer--no surprise since Turbo uses the same internal browser control as IE. That means Turbo probably also has the same security vulnerabilities, so patch often.


SmartCompany's Turbo 1.0
Click to Enlarge

Opportunities, leads and orders, as well as additional goodies such as associated notes, tasks and transactions, are available for management in Turbo. But the biggest reason to use this smart client is the ability to manipulate lengthy lists, such as contacts, leads and opportunities, using pivot tables. I could sort these lists by any column value, such as Status and Owner, which rearranged the lists into expanded, clustered lists (see screenshot). This is a powerful organization method that isn't possible without complex programming in a Web interface.

SmartCompany's on-demand CRM allows all the functionality, including administrative of users, roles and report generation, to be handled through Turbo. In addition, Turbo has a small disk footprint for a client--only 9 MB.

Lori MacVittie is a Network Computing senior technology editor working in our Green Bay, Wis., labs. Write to her at lmacvittie@nwc.com.

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