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Working with ActiveInk



Since meeting up with Steve Hoffman of ActiveInk Software during the Mobile Partners Brief several weeks ago, I’ve been playing with their forms based software on and off over the past couple of weeks. I’ll have a full review and a screencast coming up in a couple of weeks after I get a feel for how I would use the software in my day to day meanderings, but I wanted to tell you a little about what makes this company tick and why I think they will continue to be successful in the tablet pc space.


Before I do that, I want to fully disclose to you that Steve gave me an eval license of their software several weeks ago so that I could get a full taste of how it works, etc. I’m also evaluating this software for a client of mine that could have get some real-world benefit from it. I’ll be demoing it for them next week. I get a lot of eval software, some of it I write about, some of it I don’t. I never let that color my reviews. I’ll call things as I see them. That said, on with it

Last week, I blogged about how Microsoft is relying too much on the TIP to solve inking interactions with the tablet and how it sends a bad message to the ISV market, not to mention their own internal product teams. Well, ActiveInk is a piece of software that helps with the user transparency experience.

First of all, it allows the user to very quickly create an ink-enabled form template directly from a Word file, Excel document, (name your source), or scanned image. Open the form template and start filling out forms (credit apps, patient file info, work orders, etc) – in ink without the TIP! then when you are done filling out the form, you can convert the ink to text or keep it as is. Use that same form template over and over. You can even tie those forms to a database or import the XML files directly into Excel and Access for common data collection purposes.

ActiveInk is a company that recognizes relying on the TIP to fill out forms (think PDF forms, Access forms, etc) is a bad move. They seized an opportunity and buck the trend in terms of ink-enabling software.

All of that said, there are some rough edges around the software that I’ve run into and communicated to Steve: their help system just plain stinks, several UI issues, and a few other weird bugs that I encountered. I’ll get more into that in my full review, but it leads to what I think will continue to make this company successful.

People like Steve Hoffman are running the company. Case in point: I shot off an email to Steve last night about some bugs I was finding. Early this morning (on a Saturday) I got a response with each item addressed. He then calls me to go over the issues more in detail. Later in the day, when he’s not able to duplicate my bug, we setup a GoToMeeting so that he can see exactly what is going on. All of this on a Saturday.

Now, I’m sure your reading this and saying: sure, you write this blog that gets a lot of exposure, you bet he’s going to follow up with you on a Saturday and give you all the attention you want. Sorry, but I’ve gotten to know Steve well enough over the past several years to know that this is how they run their company. If you are interested in their software or buy it – you will get a call from Steve and they will be there to help along every step of the way. That is the kind of differentiator that will make ISV’s like ActiveInk succeed. How I was treated this weekend is how they treat their customers. Bottom line.

There is another company like ActiveInk that understands customer support in the same way: Josh Einstein of Tablet Enhancements for Outlook. Ask anyone on about Josh’s support follow through. Often times, he’ll email you within minutes after getting your support request.Why? Like Steve, Josh’s livlihood depends on you being a satisfed customer and they will go the extra mile to ensure that you are satisfied.

Josh’s TEO product is another fine example of seizing an opportunity to present the user with a TIP-less solution. I’m doing some testing with Josh on TEO 3.0 and it is going to rock your world. Look for something very special from me on TEO 3.0 in the next week or so. Come to think of it, look for something very cool and exciting from Dennis and I in the next week or so.

Well, I think you get my point here: ISV’s like ActiveInk Software and Josh Einstein are customer oriented and are providing solutions to meet some gaping holes. In addition, they understand customer service and go the extra mile. Check them out, download their trials, give them some feedback, buy their software if it fits your need.

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