LightSpeed 3.8 – The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly

LightSpeed 3.8 has been out for almost two months now and we’ve had a good chance to review it’s pros and cons. Here’s some of the things that you should know, if you’re considering upgrading.

Version 3.8.1 was released about two weeks after the initial major release and the list of fixes was a long one. I am predicting that we’ll see another long list of fixes in 3.8.2 which I expect should be ready before month end given their history of releases to date and some of the known issues that have surfaced.

First, the good. As much as people love to hate the new Browser (er, I mean ‘StoreMaster’), it really is a step in the right direction. Features such as the dashboard, customizable columns and the new integrated toolbar are things that I’ve been wanting for a long time and I’m really happy to see them finally happen.

Credit Card Processing for Canadians

Yay! I raved about this in a previous post so I won’t gush on about it here. Simply to say that it’s awesome to finally have integrated credit card processing that our neighbours to the south (and Australia) have enjoyed for many years.

My only beef with this feature is that the clerk must still pick the payment method. You would think that, with the technology available, the fancy little card reader could have told LightSpeed that it was a Visa card and not an AMEX. But, sadly, no… this potential for error still exists and you’ll be logging in to your Moneris portal to find the issue if your End Of Day report doesn’t match up.

Cash Rounding

Something else that may only matter to Canadians at this time is the addition of cash rounding for countries that have chosen to get rid of their pennies. In an effort to make life a little easier for the average Canadian LightSpeed user, Cash Rounding has been added to the Company setup panel.

Stupid pennies. Who needs 'em?

Stupid pennies. Who needs ’em?

The Dashboard

LightSpeed 3.8.x features a customizable dashboard that gives you an overview of your store's performance.

LightSpeed 3.8.x features a customizable dashboard that gives you an overview of your store’s performance.

I could show you the email that I sent two or three years ago asking for this feature. One of the reasons that I made kgSTATS.com was because LightSpeed really needed a ‘birds-eye’ view of a store’s sales numbers. Of course, it doesn’t have some of the more advanced widgets that kgSTATS.com has, nor will it pool data across multiple locations, but it’s a great addition to LightSpeed and I’m thrilled to have it.

The interface is slick. With a dark wood floor background and transparent widgets that ‘flip’ for setting changes, it certainly qualifies as eye candy that I’m sure will boost LightSpeed’s sales. Clicking the ‘Add’ button at the bottom right-hand corner will give you several more widgets that you can add.

I would have liked to have seen more graphical widgets. Pie charts, bar charts, and line graphs are much more interesting than lists of top products. It’s still a welcomed addition to LightSpeed, regardless.

My only word of warning here is that anyone that is still on Mac OS X 10.6.8 (called, ‘Snow Leopard’) won’t be able to see the dashboard as 10.7 (Lion), or 10.8 (Mountain Lion) is a requirement.

Customizable Columns

Just find the 'gear' icon at the bottom of any list in StoreMaster and you'll be able to pick and choose from the available columns!

Just find the ‘gear’ icon at the bottom of any list in StoreMaster and you’ll be able to pick and choose from the available columns!

The new StoreMaster features customizable columns. I can’t begin to tell you how much I love this new feature! Not only can we get rid of some of those columns that we never use but we now have the ability to include some of the more useful data… including custom fields!

Of course, resizing columns and sorting by columns is still possible by simply clicking on a column header (click a second time to reverse sort) but we can also rearrange the order of the columns as well.

My first comment here is that the cursor should change to indicate that resizing, sorting and reordering is available when it passes over the headers… or in the case of resizing, when it passes over the seam between headers. This is sort of a standard interface convention and something I would have expected.

Additionally, I’d love to see the ability to change the status from the list without having to open the document, change it, and then save it. Imagine being able to select multiple products and instantly make them non-current! Or browse through a list of quotes and mark old ones as expired without having to open up each one in turn.

Integrated Toolbar

I never liked the toolbar in LightSpeed. In fact, the only thing that I liked about it was the fact that I could turn it off. The icons were not intuitive and, as a floating palette, it often interfered with other programs.

Now, you’ll find the toolbar integrated right into the top of the StoreMaster window. At first glance, there still isn’t any indication of what these little icons do or represent but if you take the time to hover over one and wait for a second or two, you’ll get a clue. My problem has always been that it’s not clear, to a first-time user, that these create new things instead of viewing existing things. By all standards of interface design, there should be a little plus sign next to each icon that indicates that by clicking here, you’ll be creating a new object of some sort. Until they see fit to add such things, I’ll just have to recite my usual lesson to every new user that I watch as they click on one of these icons because they’re looking for something.

‘Cover Flow’ vs ‘Gallery’ and “Where is my preview?”

One of the first things that you’ll notice in LightSpeed 3.8, beyond the fact that the Browser is now ‘StoreMaster’, is that the preview pane is gone. Replaced, instead, by something called, Notifications (see below). The CoverFlow feature has also morphed into what is now referred to as the Gallery. Instead of the flip-book style album covers of CoverFlow, we’re now presented with an assembly line of customers, products, or suppliers… with no real indication of which one we’re currently viewing. A little experimentation will teach you that the details that you missed from the preview pane are now accessible by hovering over one of the pictures. However, since the gallery doesn’t appear for documents such as Quotes, Orders and Invoices, you’ll be left missing your preview pane with no way to view the contents of such an object without opening it up every time. You also won’t be able to double-click on an image in order to open it as might have been assumed.

The preview pane was a major selling feature of LightSpeed’s ease-of-use. Fortunately, they seem to have acknowledged this on their customer feedback site so we should see it’s return at some point in the near future.

As for the gallery… call it whatever you want, I’m still going to turn it off.

The one, useless thing that could have been removed, is the ‘Parking’ area. If someone can please give me one good reason that this feature exists, I welcome it. Until then, it will continue to waste space in my window.

‘Search All’ Reborn

The new Search All feature drops down a list of items to choose from just like SpotLight!

The new Search All feature drops down a list of items to choose from just like SpotLight!

I’ll be honest, I never really used the ‘Search All’ feature before. I have say, the new search all feature is very nice with a SpotLight-style drop-down result menu that is a pleasure to use.

You can open up a single item or view all of a specific type of items such as all Quotes, or all Invoices.

I’ve yet to see how this feature performs with a large or very large database but since this feature is programmed with the new, optimized code for the new database, I have high hopes.

My favourite use of this feature is when I don’t want to destroy the custom search that I’ve currently got in my list, but I need to perform a second search at the same time. Instead of performing a new search that wipes out my current search (only to have to re-enter it later), I can simply use the Search All feature to go find that one thing quickly and easily and then return to my main search. Nice!

Sadly, searching for serial numbers doesn’t seem to work here. Oddly enough, the 3.8 demo is devoid of any serialized products at all. I actually had to create one in order to test this but sure enough, using the Search All feature to look up a serial number doesn’t work.

Notifications

The new Notification panel replaces the Preview panel... for better or worse.

The new Notification panel replaces the Preview panel… for better or worse.

Instead of the preview pane, you’ll find an area called, Notifications. At first glance, this space may seem wasted (and if you don’t use Web Store, it certainly is), but it’s a new feature that should prove to be very useful in time.

Currently, it only shows a notification if a Web Order has been downloaded. This is a great feature since many of my clients asked how they would know if they had received an order from their Web Store. Of couse, the usual methods are still there such as the Tracker and Smart Finds but this gives an instant alert that something has happened and a Web Order certainly is something that we like to hear about.

Unlike Notifications in Mac OS X, clicking on these notifications doesn’t seem to do anything. I would have expected that clicking on a notification that a Web Order has been downloaded, would have taken me to that Web Order… or a list of Web Orders. But it doesn’t. Instead, hovering over the notification shows a little ‘X’ on the right side that allows you to clear it out of your notification panel. Go find it yourself.

What I do find a little odd, is their decision not to use the operating system’s built-in notification facility. An argument could be made that users with older operating systems would not receive this feature but that didn’t seem to stop them when it came to the dashboard. So, why then, would they use up precious space in the StoreMaster (at the expense of the preview pane) to display a bunch of notifications, that only Web Store owners will get and that don’t do anything when clicked?

Future plans for this feature haven’t been publicly released but I’m told that new notifications are in the works so I’m remaining cautiously optimistic in regards to this feature.

The Tracker

Setting up a tracker can be a confusing experience at first.

Setting up a tracker can be a confusing experience at first.

The trackers have always, in my opinion, been an under valued and under used feature of LightSpeed. Part of the reason may be because while they seem useful, the options are limited to a degree that they fail to actually be useful. Unfortunately, none of that changes with 3.8. Only that the interface for setting them up is even more confusing.

Although, the little ‘gear’ icon next to the Trackers is in keeping with the rest of LightSpeed’s interface… and that should help people figure out how to setup the Trackers… the actual setup isn’t much better than the old setup… in fact, it might be worse. My biggest problem with the setup is that once you ‘activate’ a tracker by checking it’s box, the tracker seemingly disappears! Of course, if you scroll to the top of the list, you’ll see that there is a group of items at the top that you’ve activated. I don’t understand this at all. The very nature of a check list is that when something is checked, it is active. When it’s unchecked, it’s inactive. There is no need to move it! Please don’t move it.

It should also be noted that, unlike all of the other lists in the new StoreMaster, you won’t be customizing any columns when viewing a Tracker. Sorry.

Say ‘Good-bye’ to your Smart Finds

At least temporarily. One of the things that LightSpeed will warn you about when upgrading to 3.8 is that your Smart Finds will get wiped out. They’ve been nice enough to save descriptions of them for you in the /Users/Shared/LightSpeed directory, but they are only text file ghosts of once useful smart finds that are only meant to help you remember what they were and how to rebuild them.

This is a minor annoyance in my books and a small price to pay given that I understand that it was necessary in order to move to a new interface.

Delete Multiple is gone!

Anyone that has ever screwed up an import or created a bunch of products by accident will have discovered the relief of being able to simply select a bunch of products in the browser and then click the ‘Delete’ button. Equally, this same group will be horrified when it happens again and they realize that the ‘Delete’ button no longer exists. Hitting the delete key on your keyboard doesn’t work either. Nope, it’s not in the Edit menu either. Sorry. Not even if you’re an administrative user.

My advice here is to perform all of your product imports after hours with no one logged in, and with a complete backup in place in case you have to restore your system after a botched import.

Drag & Drop is gone!

One of the very ‘Mac-like’ features of LightSpeed was the ability to drag and drop items from the Browser into a document such as a Quote, Order, Invoice or Purchase Order. With the new StoreMaster, drag and drop is a thing of the past.

One of my fellow resellers, pointed out that, like previous versions of LightSpeed, you can still drag and drop items onto the titles on the sidebar. For example, selecting a bunch of items from the product list, dragging them over to the sidebar, and then dropping them onto the words ‘Purchase Orders’ will create a new purchase order with those items on it. But you can’t add items to an existing document the way that you once could.

As a programmer, I understand why this isn’t available in version 3.8. It’s not that the development crew at LightSpeed collectively screwed up and forgot to add that critical feature. It has to do with the fact that, while the StoreMaster has been re-written with shiny new Mac OS X code, the document windows have yet to experience this wonderful transformation. This is a requirement of the cross-window communication that occurs when you drag and object from one window to another. Once the entire program has been re-written, I’m sure that we’ll see this much loved feature return.

Right-Clicking

For those of you that used the ‘right-click’ feature in order to quickly create a document or print a label, you’ll be sad to see that the right-click menu is no longer as useful as it once was. I expect that this fell victim in the same way as drag and drop, and that we should see it return some day soon.

Tab-Return

I’m really upset about this one. One of my ‘power-user tips’ was to press tab after searching for something to see the first item in the list selected. A subsequent press of the ‘Return’ key would open it. This resulted in a type-return-tab-return combination that was fast and efficient since no use of the mouse was required to quickly search for and open something from the list.

This feature seems to have been forgotten in version 3.8 and I miss it.

Sell-through report in Intelligence

I don’t know what to say about this other than the fact that it was not hyped in the same way that all the other improvements in 3.8 were hyped. In fact, I almost forgot to include it in my report here.

Sell-Through reporting is something that people have been requesting for a long time but I’m left speechless at their implementation of such a critical feature.

First, I challenge you to find it on your own. Give up? Ok, it’s a way down at the very bottom of the list of reports in the Intelligence window. The ‘what’ window? Look under the Tools menu, just above ReportMaster.

Second, I challenge you to run it. When you pick the Sell-Through report from the list, one of your date-picker calendars disables so you can only pick a specific date in time and not a date range. I failed to pick a date that worked more than once as it gave me an error saying that there was no data. Once I finally picked a magic date, it allow me to save the report as a text file.

Third, I challenge you to actually use it. That’s right. It saves it as a text file on your desktop. It doesn’t display it in some meaningful way within LightSpeed. It dumps it into a text file that you must then open in another program. Preferably a spreadsheet program such as Excel or Numbers. Then, you’ll be able to see the data in proper columns but you still may not understand the data as no description exists that I could find that would help me decipher it.

In Summary

I love LightSpeed 3.8! No, I really do. I think that it’s easy to complain about missing features and interface decisions that don’t seem to make sense but I still think that LightSpeed is a step above anything else out there and that this latest version, regardless of it’s short-comings is a step in the right direction as we see the entire program optimized for Mac OS X.

If you’re still on the fence about upgrading to 3.8.1 from 3.7.x, I think you’re well advised to get yourself upgraded if you can live without the preview pane.

If you’re still using LightSpeed 3.6.8 because you’re afraid of losing your custom reports, you may have to wait a little longer as ReportMaster still has it’s limitations and the API hasn’t exposed everything. I expect this will change before the year ends so sit tight for now.

Either way, as always, I recommend downloading the demo version of LightSpeed on to a non-critical machine (not your server!) and trying out the new version with some sample data before upgrading to any new version.

Anyone that isn’t sure about this should contact my office to book an online consulting session during which I’ll walk you through the new version and we can discuss what it means to your business.