I’ve recently had discussions with some colleagues about the user experience of the CRM Web Client, particularly in light of changes in behavior in IE 7. If you’ve been keeping up to date on the blog, you know from Michael Lu’s recent post that CRM startup behavior isn’t so smooth with IE 7’s tabbed browsing. And you learned we have two modes for the Web Client: “AppMode” “on” and “off”
AppMode – A Quick Recap
“AppMode” – In the default mode, when you access the URL for your CRM Server (e.g. http://mycrmserver), CRM launches a new “application window” and attempts to close the parent browser window, which causes a confirmation prompt in IE 7. This “application window” is actually a browser window minus all of the browser toolbars and menus. However, from a user’s perspective, they’re no longer in IE, they’ve started the CRM application.
As Michael explained, you can turn “AppMode” off via web.config. This will enable the CRM Web Client to run in the same IE window with all of the standard browser controls — just like when you visit a web site like Amazon, a SharePoint site, or your Hotmail account.
By the way, you can achieve the same result as an end user without modifying web.config. Just append “loader.aspx” to the end of your server URL (e.g. http://mycrmserver/loader.aspx).
Here’s what the current IE7 build looks like with AppMode off (or by accessing the loader.aspx directly):
A Little History…
This way of running a browser application in “AppMode” is pretty unique – even the plethora of consumer oriented web email clients don’t attempt this style of presentation. It wasn’t where we started in the earliest designs. As it turns out, the design choice is a response to usability studies that were run on early versions of V1.0.
In these studies, we found that the majority of these “first time” users in this study were attempting to perform CRM tasks using the IE Toolbar. For example, some tried to use the Tools menu in the IE toolbar to import contacts.
Given the time and resource constraints, the recommendation was to create “AppMode” to turn off the IE Toolbars and Menus, rather than exploring other, perhaps more radical design changes to address these issues.
Of course, all design decisions involve compromises. The follow up usability study showed us that while users were finding the correct places to initiate CRM tasks, there was now no obvious way to get to previous screen: A number of users got lost in the application and got out of this by closing and opening the application. In essence, removing the IE toolbar removed the easy method of going back to the previous page.
When is a Browser not a Browser?
So back to the discussions I’ve been having. AppMode has some clear advantages.
It creates an immersive application experience, free of browser controls. Users forget that they are running in the browser (less true in IE7, which will make it more apparent what URLs you are accessing, particularly over the Internet). By creating a more controlled “application” experience, in theory, it should reduce end user support issues as users won’t be tempted or confused by IE toolbars.
On the other hand, you give up on a lot that the browser has to offer. Backward and forward navigation is one obvious element (and would be a good deal more important if we had a flat UI model that didn’t open child windows so often…). But there’s more. In the same way that we asked ourselves how we can seamlessly tie into the Outlook experience in 3.0, what could the best experience inside the browser be? Can we conceive of taking more direct advantage of built in browser functionality? History, Favorites, Tabbed Browsing?
From a user experience perspective, are we ahead of the competition in that we’ve created a “browser-less” browser-based application? Do you know of any other web applications that do this? What’s your take? Can you conceive of what the best experience would be like inside the browser with the full IE toolbars available? What would we need to do to make it a great experience?