- This extension requires registration to download.
Features at a glance:
• More than 70 payment processors built in (Manual Transfer handling, Paypal (& Pro!), Google Checkout, 2Checkout, Authorize.net (& AIM, ARB, CIM!), iDeal, CCBill, Worldpay, Moneybookers...)
• Extensive Registration & Subscription workflow handling
• MicroIntegration API to attach PHP code to payment plans
• Already features more than 80 MicroIntegrations, including: emails, htaccess, mysql queries, assignment of Docman or VirtueMart groups and many more
• Multiple payment plan options (Paid, Free, Lifetime, Trials...)
• Integrated Registration and Subscription process with JomSocial and CommunityBuilder (amongst others)
• Professional features: Tax handling, Shopping carts, Discount Coupons, Plan Groups
Please check out our Tour - It will give you a much better insight into what AEC can do for you!
As other reviewers have mentioned, the configuration possibilities are endless in terms of how you can set up your subscriptions, the payment gateways you can use, and the integrations to other components really give you some power. The sheer fact that I can fire off just about any kind of action (db, email, web, sms) from a custom script in response to subscription events makes this a very powerful tool.
But AEC's greatest strength is also it's weakness - vast configuration. So much time has been spent trying to cover every angle that alot of polish was missed on just getting the very basics solid.
Here's an example, in the US, Authorize.net is utilized heavily. AEC recently moved from using Auth.net ARB based subscriptions to the more powerful CIM system at Auth.net - a good move in my view, but the implementation was very sloppy. The "happy path" works for checking out, but things get confusing when you run scenarios like a "failed" credit card at checkout, or incorrect handling of the messaging coming back from auth.net - like a cv2 code problem, or mismatched billing address (if you're using that verification in Auth.net, which you certainly should be). AEC also doesn't utilize the "preauth" feature (or at least offer it as an option) with CIM where you can validate the card at checkout time - you could as a result end up giving a customer access to a paid service until the first payment is attempted on the billing cycle. Offer a trial, and it compounds the issue. On failed transactions at checkout, the screen that comes back is insanely confusing to the end user. It displays the "profile" that was created in Auth.net (why do they need to see this? The customer doesn't care) with a cryptic message about having to re-enter their cv2 code and credit card number if they are changing their profile..."huh? profile? I just want to check out man!" This is where alot of the polish is missing - an attractive, but solid and functional end-user interface that handles all the permutations. The basics. But - I can sure create "fallback" subscription rules and "subscription limits" and coupons to my heart's content....if anyone's using that. My opinion only of course, but those advanced features are nice to have and should be developed after the basics are good and solid. I suppose that having to support so many checkout gateways, causes this problem as it's pretty common in most of the subscription management components out there - lots of the "basics" of operation just miss.
Aside from that the other real problem here is the business model. As others have stated this just has to be thrown out if the masses are going to take AEC seriously. I have no problem paying, and continuing to pay for upgrades and direct support like any other software model. AEC is mature enough that it's worth paying for. It's absolutely maddening though that I have to keep paying to get access to the documentation for a version I've already paid for, and especially access to a forum that is end-user driven ONLY. I lost count of the times I ran into an issue (i.e., custom code cleanup to fix that end-user interface html 101 stuff - come on guys, get a designer!) and wanted to visit the forum to see if any other users had suggestions or similar problems, only to find that my subscription had "just" run out. This is probably the single reason we finally walked from AEC and went with another tool. That's just absolutely re-donk-ulous.
As an aside, the ultimate future and direction of AEC is/was really unclear. David, AEC's creator (I believe) often saw it fit to turn the AEC site into a soap box for complaining about technology this, and process that, and often wrote long essays on how depressed he was and needed a vacation and yadda yadda. The problem is, you're users see this and wonder "ok, is AEC dying? Is this project stable? We've all invested alot of time into this so are you going to stop working on some of these issues that are so close to really working well". Really unprofessional in my view. Take the rants to Facebook - and keep the AEC site focused on AEC.
Aside from those negative points, again AEC is probably the most advanced and moldable Joomla paid subscription manager out there. Some of the bits are in fact REALLY well thought out, and you can see that when you dig into the code. I won't say it's the best solution out there - because everyone's needs are different. There are simpler and more attractive components out there if you're needs are simple, and you need it to "just work".
If you're going to use AEC, prepare for a learning curve, and have some html/php/Joomla skills on hand. It's really got the potential to be THE BEST component in this class, if Valanx and crew get that business model more realistic (even if it ultimately costs the end user MORE - let me pay for software upgrades and support - not documentation and end-user forums!), get some of the permutations with checkout and profile management in line, and get an artistic designer in there to fix the front end blah. It's close guys! Help me come back to you -
I submitted a support ticket and expected that it would be addressed in a few days. Nope, within the hour Jake had responded and said that the version my site was running did not support 1.7. He upgraded to the correct version and then spent some time reviewing the configurations. He made some changes per Best Practices and answered my follow-up questions promptly. And the email responses were almost as quick as online chat.
What a wonderful experience. I've had software maintenance from major manufacturers that I paid much more for and had not received near the level of support that I had from AEC.
First please do not believe the owner reply if they reply to my comment as I am a PHP, Java developer myself and I am 100% sure of everything I say, of course they will try to make their software and company look good in here and customers like me are “inexperience enough or they did not know how to fix the issue the right way…”
I personally think after buying and trying AEC for few months it is full of bugs and especially the "subscription has expired page"
I have seen this ugly page many times and in different occasions! Sometimes it comes up when someone tries to register on the website and sometimes it disappear and another time when I turned SEO on …….much more to say here and I am not making this comment to get the issue solved here!
When i contact support they always put the blame on joomla and vanish or try to give you some unprofessional work around to make it work “as it should”!
I found the way they talk about their component as if AEC is the professional content management system and joomla is a silly small under development component!
If the problem with joomla, then why don’t you make GOOD PHP FIXES for it? People like me paid you MONEY and I really expected a better service and software.
When i submit a ticket it takes long time for them to assign to someone to response.
They are very slow and seem board when they reply to messages or response to tickets.
Currently they have one person who replies to messages on the “dead “forum “he is just a guy who has a general knowledge about programming and ok knowledge about AEC” he only reply if he feels like it and if you really insets! And he always promises to refer the issue to the main developer to look at in the “soon future”
I had this problem and many other problems on joomla 1.7.2 and 1.7.3 i have the latest AEC installed.
Finally I can’t deny it is a very good effort they made to bring this software up which looks very professional at first but sadly it needs good programmers to finish it off as it is incomplete component.
I am going to make a PayPal claim to get my money back as I did not get what I have paid for and what the discretion of the software say in here!!
Do not rely on this component and make a business website with loads of customers!
You will end up hiring a private programmer to fix many issues and bugs with this component which will cost you a lot!
You might as well find a better component or a professional company to do it for you from scratch!
Starting out by saying that you are the expert and I as the developer am not to be trusted is an... interesting way to begin your review. You certainly do seem "100% sure" of what you say. Let me just state I have no reason to lie to make myself look good - I have built my business for a number of years now and if I had built it on such lies, I wouldn't have it anymore, by now.
You say that AEC is "full of bugs" and then you mention a single one - and you also say that we claimed Joomla had bugs. Both is, of course, absolutely possible - software has bugs, nobody is perfect. However, talking to Jake who handled the support with you, I found out that you not only hacked AEC up, you also hacked the Joomla core. What we actually told you was that you needed to update Joomla because your outdated version had a number of bugs that caused issues on your site and could be resolved by the update. But you didn't want to do that because of your modifications. Initially, you didn't even want to file a support ticket, stating in our forums that you don't want to /because/ you modified the code. Well - how, then, do you think either people on the forums or in support are supposed to help you out?
Furthermore, you mention that the big issue was users running into the "your membership is expired" page too often - but there is no mention of that in any of the support tickets. This might be an example of a problem with Joomla since AEC mostly just amends the "you need to log in to see this" message to be a "please subscribe or log in" message.
On one ticket, we tried to access your server to look into the issues anyhow and requested login details. You sent us the details and we tried to log in with them, but they did not work. We told you they were wrong and then you closed all the tickets. Again - how are we supposed to help you?
As for the forums - once again, as our disclaimer states - it's a community forum, not a support forum. We do our best to keep up with it, but the support ticket system is where the support happens.
As for taking too long to respond - the only time we took longer than half a business day was when we took 5 days. Over Thanksgiving holidays.
As I work with many excellent components like Sobi my expectations are pretty high! I will try to be brief and summarize pros and cons and some summary at the end :
+ It is most extensible component I know, this is huge advantage! You can integrate it with almost any other component (community builder, sobi, newsletters..).
+ Fantastic flexible backend with lot of setup features, maintenance tasks (this is something what can be done only with huge experience of developer and many releases)
+ Integrates with all core payments processors (paypal, google checkout..), and some country specific payment processors (for those who are so lucky and are in these countries)
+ It has advanced setup of signup plans
+ It has advanced setup of coupons (dynamic or static)
+ Support namely Jake is able to fix any issue you have with AEC (for sure not for free, and also it may take some time as he is busy)
+ Very good integration with ACL components (in my case FUA)
+ Reliable component which seem to be also very safe
+ Micro integrations - great idea which will help you to integrate AEC with almost anything, or to write custom MI
+ Very good backend for invoices
- Forum is accessible only for paying members. Also structure of the forum is really, really bad No categories, hard to find anything.
I recommend to David to look at forum of Sigsiu team (thousands of users) to see what I mean.
I believe good forum is must have for joomla components, and that users can help each other, create microintegrations and share knowledge.
Good forum can only help to developer to improve his component.
- Documentation is online and accesible only for paying members. If you do not have subscription, you do not have documentation. No matter you paid
10 EUR or 90 EUR (like me). You have to have active subscription to access documentation or forum. Documentation is not completed yet, but most important articles are there.
- Multi-language support is limited. Unfortunately there is stil many people not able to understand english.
Although there is some support of Joomfish (for translation of plans) it is not enough.
This is weakness of joomla and most components. What I do not like in AEC that you can not have different buttons (images) in different languages
without additional hacks of core AEC files. Good example of limited langauge support is when you want invoice in multi-language and word "Tax" is hardcoded and thus you are not able
to translate it without core files changes.
- Exact oposite of AEC backend is AEC frontend. Backend is so nice and proffesional that it could win 1st price in joomla components backends.
What I do not understand is design of Frontend (html, css). It is not only looking bad, I think that it can confuse end-user.
So without any change of core HTML and CSS you will end up with really ugly checkout pages (pages which are most important for your business!!!)
Modification of core HTML files is not described in manual (so far) therefore it is up to you to do it yourself.
- If you want own modern pricing table (very important thing, also integrated on VALANX site), you can integrate it only with Jquery workaround.
- They are increasing subscriptions price and also current price is quite high. It would be perfectly ok if documentation is final and issues above are removed, but not now.
I would prefer higher price for component+documentation, lower support prices (less needs to hack and customize)
Advanced component for advanced joomla users/developers. It not ends with purchase of AEC - this is only beginning.
In my case I needed to hack HTML, one microintegration and core class in order to have multilanguage support and correct format of invoices in multilanguage.
I had 3 support tickets and spent one month with integation and modifications of AEC (and now I'm almost done with its integration).
Final word - It is very good component without competitor. Other components are not so flexible, extensible and advanced and this is biggest advantage of AEC.
In my case it was my only option and If I should decide again, I would pick AEC again.
On the other hand it would be better if this component would have real competitior, because it could help to force Valanx to improve things which are neccessary (turn good component into perfect).
Thank you for the excellent extension AEC.
HOWEVER I absolutely DO NOT agree the developers requiring users to have an active subscription in order to access the user manual.
I have never before purchased a product and been required to pay again later in order to access the manual for it. As a business owner myself, I think it's horrible business practice, and I encourage the developers to offer a downloadable PDF version of the manual for customers OR make the user manual open to the public.
I've had a very interesting discussion with this reviewer (he contacted me the same time he filled in this review).
The bottom line for me is this: At Valanx, we offer a business service with commercial GPL software. There are some concessions that we have to make in order to afford to run our own business and the way we structure our support material is one of them.
We used to have a print-out manual a while ago and we still have problems because of that one pdf - as people somehow use it with our current software and end up messing up their system. That's a business risk for both sides and we don't want to make the same mistake again.
To conclude: We already offer our software at a very low price and we consider the price for getting access to our manual as very affordable and sensible. Nevertheless, because we value the input of our users, we will reconsider our pricing to make a membership more affordable for our long-term members.
It seemed a little daunting at first but the more I used it the more I realized that it was very well presented. Coupled with this were the excellent video tutorials available to those who purchase the component.
I made my first Paid Access area site within a short space of time and all my requirements were met.
I also use Front End User Access and it links up perfectly with AEC.
**** MY REVIEW FOR AEC (with correct 4-stars this time) ****
Ok, i'll try to be as objective as possible.
First of all, people stop submitting 1 sentence reviews with "AEC is crap, this dont work, that dont work, dont buy it". If you don't go into details what exactly went wrong in your situation - you are NOT helping anybody. You're not helping the people who want to know more about this product (including it's problems), and you're not helping the developer to fix these very problems which offended you so much. Be constructive in your critisism. If you don't have time to write meaningful review, don't write at all - 'cause one-sentence verbal bashing of components that you dont like is really not JEDs purpose.
HOW I ENDED UP WITH AEC:
This is first time i had to use Subscriptions/Memberships component along with Joomla. I picked AEC on some remote recommendation from ages ago, plus i already had AEC 'cause some time ago i just bought membership to the site to try out the component and to support the developer by sending some money his way.(It's not much for a single person, but if more people would do it then developer might be able to make AEC better.) During my first test run months ago i saw that AEC had loads of good options and it's Micro-Integrators system immediately looked like an amazing solution for 3rd Party Component Integration.
IS AEC PROBLEM FREE or NOT:
Then couple of months ago i picked up a project that required AEC, i re-newed by site subscription got latest version and got started working with it. At first it seemed smooth and "willing", but as i started adding more stuff and memberships gotten more complicated - some problems started. SO IS AEC PROBLEM FREE? No it's not, but RARELY a component that is THAT complex is problem free. If you didn't know AEC's com file is 3MB+ and it's not loaded with crap load of graphics, its really big and complex in it's entirety.
PAID SUPPORT QUALITY:
Since this is a paying gig that i'm working on, i decided to invest some money into support and get the pros to solve my problems. Since i've dealt with their support, naturally I have to say something about Valanx/AEC support... Their support IS excellent. There is a separate person who handles most of AEC's support tickets, his name is Jake and he's helped me more than anybody has ever helped me on ANY joomla component before. He is a AEC professional who uses AEC for his own projects and HE KNOWS HIS STUFF. Most of the time he answers within 1 business day (unless he's swamped with support requests) and he solves problems like nutcracker *snap* *snap *snap* done. So kudos to him.
Plus if the problem that you are encountering is in fact a bug in AEC you don't get charged for support time - which is fair on their part.
FORUM, MANUAL, HOW-TO VIDEOS:
Not that i've dealt with it much but i think its so-so. Access to community forum is only with paid subscription to AEC site, which is horrible and unheard of. I hope the developer/owner will change it to be available openly, AT LEAST the part where you able to read the forum openly, even if only read and post for subscribers only - that would allow to read about problems people have had in the past and solutions to them which are posted in response.
Manual for this component is ALSO only viewable by registered members. Quality of the Manual is not bad, but problem is there are 70% of it missing. According to Headers which are present in the manual anyway. NOTHING pissed me off as much as lack of good manual, and the fact that when you click a header in the manual expecting to see instructions and you see just empty page with a template around it.
Good "compensation" for the manual is the set of "AEC Instructional Videos", where they show how to do certain things and explain settings panel and it's options, they show how to use CB Micro-Integrator, and many more things - thanks for the videos, those were a good idea. But problem is Videos do not show everything. You still endup going to the manual and seeing if the section that you need actually has information in it.
AEC, WHO IDEALLY SHOULD USE IT:
-People who have a big project that requires a complex setup of subscriptions
-People who ALOT of other components in Joomla which need to cooperate with membership subscriptions (Like i said Micro-Integrator system is great)
-People who need/want flexibility of their memberships/subscriptions component
-People who want to be 100% sure that whatever expansions will be done in the future, the Memberships/Subscriptions management component will be able to perform any of them
-People who are working on paid projects and that CAN invest money in paid support of AEC (It's not much for a commercial project, especially if your client can cover that cost of the support.)
AEC, WHO SHOULDN'T USE IT:
-People who THINK they are web developers, because today's CMS systems allow anybody to make a site and administer it. (Heck my 7 year old brother made himself a joomla site). If you're not a web developer, don't expect such complex components to work just 'cause you snapped your fingers.
-People who are building free/personal sites, 'cause at this stage AEC requires some investment into Paid Support like i said.
-People who are NOT willing to invest some time into making it work, though result of AEC working like you want it to seems to be worth it.
-Spoiled teenagers who like to flame people on the internet with 1-2 sentence reviews with word "sucks" appearing more than once.
MY SUGGESTION FOR IMPROVEMENTS:
All these suggestions are intended to be in respectable "IF YOU CAN, PLEASE" format, even if they dont seem like it :)
1. Complete Manual preferably with possibility of users comments (Like MySQL online doc)
(I know Manual is under re-write, but i feel like it's hasnt been updated in months since i first joined AEC site. Maybe Joomla community members who use AEC can help with it, to make releasing it earlier. I offered to write a white paper on the project i'm working on, to add it to AEC docs so other ppl can benefit from it, but i received no comment on it)
2. Open the Forum for visitors/free members. I think your forum is not as progressive exactly 'cause it's closed.
3. Post updates/bug fixes to AEC more often, i got 2 improved builds from Paid Support and you still have older version on your release page
(You don't need to make a full release, just files for update of bugs that have been fixed recently)
4. While manual is not complete (and in general), some of the options tool-tips need better descriptions.
6. Let community participate in AEC more, i'm sure now and even in future there will be some people who are willing to share their knowledge. That will take off some weight of developer's shoulders.
AEC is complex and flexible component FOR SERIOUS PEOPLE - It's not for everybody. It has it's problems but if you use it for a commercial project that can cover the support costs, you have nothing to fear. As i said - PAID SUPPORT IS EXCELLENT. After problems are solved you'll be happy with AEC and you will be able to feel safe that in future when project will get more complex requirements you wont need to re-do who subscriptions system 'cause you are forced to upgrade to another component.
Let me make this clear - there are NO subscriptions/memberships component which is as complex/powerful/flexible as AEC is... BUT you have to be willing to pay the cost. And i dont mean price alone, i mean the "cost". 'Cause you will spend time, you will be aggrivated, you will have to ask for paid support's help, but if you're working on serious project that is NOTHING special.
Some people from Joomla community got spoiled a bit with cheap extensions prices - you're forgetting what software/webware usually cost in this business.
I hope i didn't offend anyone (much anyway), and i hope this review will give better idea to people who wish to learn more about working with it.
Thank you for reading this review.
But above the user interface and the user experience was mot as elegant as we wanted it to be, which lead us to take a nother look AEC, and we just found everything we needed. One of the biggest things we looked at what is the check out experience, to get a conversion rate as high as possible. And we found that AEC handle this extremely well.
Above this important issue AEC has been easy to integrate and the little support we have needed has been addressed in a very professional and timely manner.
Thanks! Just to make sure that this is not misunderstood by others: AEC no longer needs to "patch" and files, like we needed to in Joomla 1.0. These days, you only need to install our plugins.
I have no idea how you managed to miss the manual. Going to Support -> Manual on our website seemed rather straightforward to me.
Yes, if you cannot figure it out by the Manual, the FAQs or the Video Tutorials, there is paid support which, by the way, I don't make any money from as the money people pay for support goes directly to my support staff. Put differently: I have set up the system in such a way that I do not profit from support because that would encourage just the behavior that you are suspecting. And I don't want that to happen.
Next you write that you did not get any reaction to your ticket. Well, I'm not sure how that was supposed to work out - I searched our system and found your ticket - you had closed it right after opening it.
Then, you entered a refund request on the 11th - at 8pm my time, which is not really standard business hours. The next day, you file this review and claim that we didn't answer you. Even more than that, you claim that this is somehow a way in which we rip of customers to make money. I have no idea how you imagine that we have pulled this off for years, now.
Needless to say, you signed up for your account more than a month ago, which technically puts you far beyond our 14day money back policy.
I won't even go into the Forum thing because a Forum that tells you straight away: "Please do not expect support like on the ticket system here" should be rather simple to understand. We do participate in the forum and try our best to keep up. But if you want support, that's just not what it is there for.
If you just want one or two levels of payment for access to your site, this may not be what you're looking for.
If you have several different subscriptions, all with access to different parts of your site, this is the only component I have found with such a capability.
Sorry, but pretty much all of this is not true. AEC installs just fine on all of the Joomla 1.6 installs we have tested, which of course includes non-vanilla deployments. (I'm really not sure how you imagine that AEC is the only component in Joomla to require a system from scratch.) The only scenario I can come up with here is that the servers you tried it one were different - maybe your "plain" test was on a local server and the ones you deployed it on before were servers that had a number of restrictions? Did you test with the latest version that ironed out a couple of minor bugs?
Now, I cannot make out what ticket you are referring to as I don't find anybody with a username like yours in our system, but I'm certain our support did not tell you that AEC only works on a vanilla Joomla. I'm even more certain that Jake tried his best to help you on your path, but maybe you were too frustrated to follow up with us. Feel free to email me directly if you want to discuss this in more detail.
As for the matters of support - yes, our smallest "starter" membership comes with 15 minutes of support time that you can spend on hands-on support. Apart from the fact that you are mocking something that you yourself decided to buy, 15 minutes is actually what we have found to be sufficient to get most people on their way. Then, of course, there is the manual, video tutorials, FAQs and so forth that can also help you along. So yes - the direct, hands-on support is kind of rationed. But saying that "if you need any help whatsoever, you need to pay extra for support" is just false.
Next up - I have a hard time figuring out what your real issues were. Apart from your installing trouble in 1.6, you write things like "There's nothing in the settings that will make it work with anything." - How about the "Integrate Registration" setting that does just that, with the Joomla registration (and JomSocial, CB and a bunch of others)? What about the 50+ MicroIntegrations that specifically target other components?
Finally, there is no need whatsoever to "hack" anything in Joomla to make it work with AEC. We do have a file hacker, but that is a remainder from Joomla 1.0 days and largely unused (it's only there to support some legacy integrations with other components that we cannot integrate with unless we modify their code - something we of course try to avoid at all cost).
I must conclude that what you were experiencing really does seem like a bad dream. Do you really think that we have stayed in business for more than four years now, servicing all those clients on thousands of sites, all while selling a software package that does not work?
Selling it, actually, using the very same software that you claim to be so broken to be unusable?
AEC gets a thumbs down from me. I won't go into full details but it just did not work for us, too many bugs and issues that we gave up!
We just had to find another payment solution so we ended up trying RSmembership and it worked sweet without any issues!
The developers blog is also pretty useless. Instead of actually explaining problems, bug fixes and new features which I believe they were doing in the beginning, now they dedicate more time to simply rant about complaints with other customers and problems.
This does not help at all when you seek assistance nor does it look professional IMO.
They expect you to email them and when no support is forth coming for days on end, they say your email must have got lost somewhere!
When you pay for something, you expect it to work out of the box - Something the developer always say's is not the case here. Well we have used hundreds of extensions here on JED and most actually do work out of the box, even the free ones.
Personally I do not recommend this extension. It might work for other but for us, it was a total waste of time, money and just banging our head.
Advise to developers, stop arguing and whining with your customers on your blog and actually get problems solved. If you can do that, we'll come back and give you 5star ratings!
Till than, oh well..
Too bad that you didn't go into details, because of that, it's hard to make out what your issues were. Had you included them, others might have been able to make up their mind on AEC based on your review, but now they kind of have to decide whether they rather believe what you write or what I reply to it.
My blog is a personal blog and yes, it does include frustration with clients. I do not write those articles to rant about customers and I think if you read it again, you will see what I mean - I even explained very clearly that I was adressing a very small number of people, not because I want a fight with them, but because I think a lot of the problems that come up stem from some simple misunderstandings that I would like to get out of the way.
I'm also not sure what you mean that the blog isn't helpful when you seek assistance - that's really not what a blog is for, which is why I'm sorry to see you not even mentioning the support, manual, faq or forums. After all - those are what we have in store for helping you out. And no, we do not expect you to email us. I'm not sure where you have that from - we make it very clear that the place to get support is our support ticket system. I will try to work on making that a little more obvious.
Yes, I do say that for some cases, AEC does not work out of the box - that's just the way it is and it would be disengenuious of me to say the opposite. If another software solved your problem for you right away then I'm happy that it worked out for you. But please don't blame it on us because there are a lot of other users who do have the same experience - with AEC.
Whether any software package works out of the box for you mostly relies on how long that software has been developed for sites similar to yours. You went with RSMembership, so I would guess (again, cannot do much more than guessing here) that you needed some built in (file) access management, which is the biggest difference. In AEC, we try to do as little of that as possible because there are other extensions that are so much better at it and we don't try to be like them - just to integrate with them very well. Now, if you NEED direct management of access controls then yes, AEC will look like an incomplete package to you. But it's really more a question of your own focus and not so much of the software itself - because in both cases, the two packages have good reasons to be what they are.
Membership software is not a simple thing - it has to sit very much inbetween a lot of other packages and mediate efforts between them. It's not like a forum that you just install and that either has the featureset you need or not. In a forum, you might have problems like "does it allow me to send personal messages to other users" and it would either do it or not (and you'd probably know in advance). In Membership software, you have problems like "does it allow me to grant a user access in this document management software that I use to offer premium downloads", which is an issue that cuts through several layers.
What I'm trying to say here is: I can absolutely see why you say that you were surprised that after installing a lot of other components, AEC is the first one that didn't do what you wanted right away. It's very much about what you want to do that determines how simple it is to achieve, but it's by far not as simple as "it either does it or not". Again - I'm sorry, but it just isn't.
You conclude that AEC was a waste of time and money but I don't even know whether you contacted our support at all. That might have saved you some time because we could have either helped you right away, or told you that what you want to do is not possible in AEC and would have recommended you another component to do it or given you a refund.
I really do not want to belittle your efforts and that you spent a lot time trying, I just don't get why you didn't have this conversation with us right away. I also do not rememeber having told anybody that their email got lost recently, but this review has been published 18 days after it was filed, so it might just be that I forgot.