Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Maybe Google has it right...

A couple of weeks back I blogged 'Your desktop will get a facelift. Who is holding the scalpel?'. It got me some interesting feedback by email that I won't repeat here from proponents of a couple of the technologies mentioned. The post, and some subsequent discussions have led me to think more about the browser's role in applications, SaaS and keeping IT costs down.

The reality of the situation is that the browser is a big, bloated, resource hog of an application that business users' PCs can not live without. IT has to maintain it, keep it updated, keep it secure, whether they like it or not. So the benefit of SaaS running in a pure, unadulterated browser, whether it is Internet Explorer or Firefox (or maybe Safari, Chrome, Opera, ...) is that the application just works. No additional IT expense managing another application. No extra resource hog (one, in the form of a browser, is sufficient for most PCs).

If you ever present your IT group with the idea of adding a new installed desktop application to the standard stack of stuff users have on their PCs already, they cringe. Why? Its not just a one off cost of installing a hundred desktops that worries them, you can add to it:
  • maintenance and upgrades for the installed application going forward
  • updating the standard 'build' that a new employee gets when they join the team
  • keeping the standard build up to date as the new application is updated
  • ensuring that the application does not put the network, PC or other data at risk of security flaws
  • handling the issues with dependencies on other applications (where the new application breaks an old one)
  • installing additional components (such as Java, .NET, Adobe Air, Silverlight), thereby adding more hassles and costs
  • compliance with software licenses, and handling licenses embedded in the installed software
  • additional complexity of disaster recovery and business continuity plans that cover desktop environments (you can't easily move to a temporary facility if proprietary software has to be installed)
SaaS solutions are designed for browsers. They should not require plugins to work effectively, although power-users may benefit from them, they should also be able to work without them. If the user's laptop falls out of the overhead bin on a transatlantic flight, real browser applications allow the user to be up and running as soon as they get to the hotel business center and the battered desktop PC.

It seems that we are not going to get a precise scalpel with Internet browsers - they are often a sledgehammer against a nut. But for business applications, one sledgehammer should be quite enough.

A post from the Improving It blog

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