EPPI-Reviewer version 4 runs in the Microsoft Silverlight browser plugin. This has enabled us to provide a ‘desktop-like’ application experience in a web browser across the Windows and (Mac)OSX operating systems.
Unfortunately, with the advent of mobile devices, Silverlight has become outdated, and new browsers – even on Windows and Macs – are no longer supporting this type of plugin.
In view of this, we are currently engaged in a rapid development effort to provide access to the EPPI-Reviewer 4 database through web pages – and not just the Silverlight plugin.
What does this mean in practice?
On Windows machines, Silverlight remains available through the Internet Explorer browser. This is available on all current versions of Windows, and will remain available at least until the end of 2021. Unfortunately, the same does not apply to Apple computers. On Macs, Firefox has stopped supporting Silverlight in September (even on their "extended support" ESR version). Apple has followed suit shortly after: EPPI-Reviewer won't work in the latest version of Safari. Workaround exist and are described in minute detail in this "How to Guide" (see also below).
We are naturally well aware of how inconvenient this is for all our (numerous) Mac users, and thus, are very busy working on a new User Interface that uses web pages and isn’t dependent on the Silverlight plugin. It will/does access exactly the same database, so you can work on the same review using both programs. The first version of this App (the EPPI-Reviewer "Coding" App) is already public, and described here. It enables all EPPI-Reviewer users to do screening and data extraction on almost any device. This App is modeled around the Coding-Only interface, which offers limited functionality. Thus, for the time being, it is still necessary to use the main EPPI-Reviewer 4 Silverlight interface to set up the review.
In the immediate future, we will keep supporting and developing EPPI-Reviewer 4, as well as gradually expanding the coding App so to allow more and more activities to happen on any modern browser. More specifically, we intend to optimise the current coding App for mobile use (so to make it more suited for small screens) and concurrently write a "full" version that will support all present and future features of EPPI-Reviewer. This version will work on small screens/ mobile phones and similar, but will be initially optimised for desktops and laptops (because many EPPI-Reviewer activities require to show and manipulate lots of data in a single "view").
What is our development timescale?
This is a notoriously difficult question. Writing software means creating something new, so it is very hard to predict how many obstacles we will find along the way. Our current aim is to introduce features that support the initial phases of a review by the end of the year, or shortly after. These features include:
- Import items (via tagged files and PubMed).
- Import existing codesets, create new codesets, edit codesets.
- Create work allocations.
- Use all the coding functions already present in the "Coding App".
Hopefully this approach will allow more and more people to work in a Silverlight-free environment for more and more time. It is also an approach that will inform our decisions on what to implement next: right now, we expect to progress by allowing comparisons / coding-records / and related functionalities. We will then move onto reports (quick reports, frequencies/crosstabs, configurable reports) and so on.
A feature that will require a special effort, and might take longer to implement, is the ability to assign codes to text within PDFs.
Our overall development strategy is described in a recent post in the EPPI-Centre Blog, along with some hints on what new features we are currently developing.
What about EPPI-Reviewer Version 5?
As you may know, we have been partnering with NICE to develop a completely new version of EPPI-Reviewer. The software is now being rolled out internally at NICE, but is currently more attuned to NICE’s needs than other external users, so we are concentrating our immediate development effort on giving our users an alternative entry point into the existing EPPI-Reviewer database.
Mac Users: what should you do now?
Given the lack of browsers that still support the Silverlight plugin (on Macs), the quickest solution we can currently offer is to maintain a separate installation of Firefox which should be used only for EPPI-Reviewer. This is entirely possible and safe, but does require an initial configuration effort. We have written a document that explains how to configure your Mac accordingly; it is available here.
An alternative solution is to install a Windows virtual machine on your Mac. This can be done easily and with limited cost/effort; there are many online guides that explain the various options: you may start from these two, from MacWorld and ComputerWorld.