SPUG: Too ignorant to know what to ask

Andrew Sweger andrew at sweger.net
Thu Feb 21 14:27:48 PST 2013

Howdy folks,

I need to compose a question but I don't know enough about the subject
matter to even know what to ask (or even of whom to ask it). I'm turning
to you, my most trusted local source of technical knowledge, in the hope
that I can get myself pointed in the right direction or make connections
with the right people. As the subject is not really Perl-related, feel
free to ignore this or respond privately (no need to turn this into an
off-topic discussion). My apologies in advance if I have committed a
significant faux pas in your view.
I presently work at a small company that makes and services a web
application implemented in the [redacted] language. It's a perfect fit for
me because I know a little [redacted]. It's why I joined this group. I
want to improve our product by making it easier for my customers to use
it. One of the things my customers like to do is manage and revise MS Word
documents within this web application. The documents are held "inside" the
web application. Normally, to edit one of these documents, one would
download the file from the web server (over SSL) where it would then be
saved somewhere on one's computer. One would then locate and open said
document, making the little changes that one desires, and then saving that
back to disk. Then one would go back to the web application, tell it you
want to upload the revised document, click a button, navigate to the
file's location, select it, and tell the web application to upload it. But
many of my customers complain that this is a cumbersome process and prone
to error (and the ones that don't complain just stare and blink at the
Upload/Download buttons). So, I want to give my customers a thing (let's
call it a web browser plug-in) they can install that would show them an
icon of their document right on the web page. They could double-click on
the icon and, as if by magic, the document would open in their application
of choice (i.e., MS Word). When they were done making changes and quit the
application, the document would again, as if by magic, be transported back
to the web server and safely stored in the "cloud". The "magic" of course
is just the plug-in quietly downloading the document in the background,
telling the operating system to open the document in whatever application
is registered for that type, monitoring the file to see when it's been
modified/closed, and then uploading the document back to the web server
(all over SSL).

Is this even possible? Why, yes! Yes, it is. I heard of a legend of such a
thing that was installed as an IE Active X control that could be invoked
by an <object> on a page and it could interact with the web page through
JavaScript events. It was called a DropTarget (it was a drag-and-drop
control after all). It's all true, I swear. But I can't find it. I also
heard it was written in VB (not even VB.Net) and doesn't play well with
modern versions of IE or Windows (and has to be installed with local
administration privileges).

(Please note that SMB, CIFS, FTP, SFTP, SCP, NFS, AFS, BFP, ACKTHPPPT, and
WEBDAV have all been ruled out as either not supporting encryption,
involving more software to install, configure, and operate separately, or
requiring yet another authentication silo.)

So, now I'm trying to hire someone to make one of these things. But I want
it to work with IE 7 through at least IE 10 (desktop mode on Windows 8,
obviously). And I want it to work with Chrome. And Firefox. And maybe even
Safari (but maybe not). When I'm feeling particularly ambitious, I want it
to work with browsers on Mac OS X and even Linux (maybe using the
Firebreath framework). And I want the whole (Windows version) thing
wrapped up in an MSI installer package that can be installed by non-admin
users (in local user data) and that supports customization with MSTs by
enterprises that like to control every last bit of their employee's
computer use (with group policies, ability to install in local user data
or as a system resource).

(Note that I barely know what much of that Windows technology really means
and I've probably used the terms incorrectly.)

When I go looking for web browser plug-in developers, so far I am only
finding people (or companies) that write plug-ins that do things strictly
within the web page, like multi-media, graphics, sound, video, or look up
the price for something on the page at your favorite other site. I need
something that can break the security sandbox model (because the customer
wants it that way) bridging the gap between the DOM, JavaScript, and the
operating system shell.

Where does one look to find this kind of skill in particular? Does it have
a special name? What targetted keywords will get me closer to what I need.
What do I tell the recruiter to look for (they are the ones bringing me
multi-media hackers)?

Thanks for your time.
-- Andrew B. Sweger -- The great thing about multitasking is that several
                                things can go wrong at once.

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