Benefits Of Web-Based Applications And Microsoft Announcement Of The "Live" Era
Microsoft announced yesterday that within a few months it will launch its first set of Web-based Office applications. According to BusinessWeek "this was arguably Microsoft's most important Net strategy announcement since it launched the so-called browser war against Internet pioneer Netscape a decade earlier."
This is a long awaited move from Microsoft, as early adopters and power users have already long discovered the many advantages and benefits of moving apps out of your hard disk and starting to use Web-based applications which can be accessed from any computer connected to the Internet.
"When we look back on the desktop software era, I think we'll marvel at the inconveniences people put up with, just as we marvel now at what early car owners put up with. For the first twenty or thirty years, you had to be a car expert to own a car. But cars were such a big win that lots of people who weren't car experts wanted to have them as well.
Computers are in this phase now. When you own a desktop computer, you end up learning a lot more than you wanted to know about what's happening inside it.
Ordinary users shouldn't even know the words "operating system," much less "device driver" or "patch."
There is now another way to deliver software that will save users from becoming system administrators. Web-based applications are programs that run on Web servers and use Web pages as the user interface. For the average user this new kind of software will be easier, cheaper, more mobile, more reliable, and often more powerful than desktop software."
Source: Paul Graham - The Road Ahead, 2001)
Web-based applications have several advantages over their more traditional downloadable software programs. Here are the key ones:
- Cross-platform compatibility. Web-based applications have a much easier path to successful cross-platform compatibility than downloadable software applications. Several technologies including Java, Flash, ASP and Ajax allow effective development of programs supporting all of the major operating systems.
- Updating. Web-based applications are always updated to the last release, without requiring the user to take pro-active action, and without needing to prompt or interfere with user work habits in the hope that they will be initiate new downloads and installation procedures (sometimes impossible when you are working inside a large organization).
- Immediacy of access. Web-based applications need not to be downloaded, installed and configured. You access your account online and they are ready to work no matter what your setup or hardware is.
- Ease of trying. Finally there will be no more obstacles to allow easy and effective try-outs of tools and applications before having to charge your credit card. Today, especially when we talk about expensive software, there is still a great deal of functionalities and small details that cannot be fully tested and discovered before committing money to a full purchase.
- Less memory requirements. Web-based applications have far more reasonable demands on end-user RAM memory than locally installed programs. By residing and running off a provider servers, these web-based applications use in most cases the memory of the computers they run on, leaving more space for running multiple applications at the same time without incurring in frustrating performance hits.
- Less Bugs. Web-based applications should be less prone to crashing and creating technical problems due to software or hardware conflicts with other existing applications, protocols or internal custom software. With web-based applications, everyone uses the same version, and all bugs can be fixed as soon as they are discovered. This is the reason why web-based applications should have far fewer bugs than traditional downloadable desktop software.
- Pricing. Web-based applications do not require the distribution, technical support and marketing infrastructure required by traditional downloadable software. This allows online applications to cost a fraction of their downloadable counterparts if not being altogether free, while offering additional components and premium services at an option.
- Data moves online too. Of course with the move from local applications to web-based ones also the data we create and access will need to undergo some profound changes. Nobody likes not to be able to access her own email when traveling, or to be able to retrieve a particular document when connecting from an Internet cafe 10,000 miles away from your office."Clients shouldn't store data; they should be like telephones. In fact they may become telephones, or vice versa. And as clients get smaller, you have another reason not to keep your data on them: something you carry around with you can be lost or stolen."
Source: Paul Graham - The Road Ahead, 2001)
- Multiple concurrent users. Web-based applications can indeed be utilized by multiple users at the same time. No more need to screen share or send a screenshot when multiple users can see and even edit the same document together. Web conferencing and online collaboration companies are in for some key transformations and users need to explore what it really means to effectively work and co-edit documents together.
- Data is safer. While hard disk crashes will not disappear, it is likely that users will hear a lot less about them. As companies take over the storage of users data, highly reliable redundant data storage farms will become the norm rather than the exception, and users will have much less of a risk of losing their data due to an unforeseen disk crash or computer virus. Companies providing web-based applications will provide extensive backups services either as an integral part of their basic service or as a paid option. You can imagine that if a commercial company will lose people's data it will be easily brought to its (financial) knees in a matter of days.
- Develop applications in the language you prefer. Once applications have been severed from local computers and specific operating systems they can be also written in just about any programming language. Since web-based applications are essentially a collection of programs rather than a single program, these could be written in any programming language out there. While for desktop software you are bound to use the same language as the underlying operating system this is not the case when the software application is independent of the operating system.
The "Live" era as Bill Gates has labeled it, is indeed already here, under your nose.
Look at the great successful working examples provided by some of the coolest applications available today, and you will see that they are already web-based:
- Write documents online - Writely.com
- Get a whole Office-compatible suite - Thinkfree
- Create spreadsheets - Numsum.com
- Manage your digital photo collection - Flickr.com
- Collect and discover bookmarks - Delicious
- Read, subscribe and search RSS feeds - Bloglines
- Track site traffic, visitors and conversion metrics - Hitbox
- Web conference, present live on the web - Presenternet
Key to the successful development and wide adoption of these new applications is the need for a greater understanding of the critical importance of effective user interface design, usability, and information/interaction design.
Last but not least, web-based applications and services will need to be supported by marketing communications strategy that more than ever severes the umbilical chord with traditional corporate, top-down communications and openly welcomes user feedback and participation in all the areas of product development and support. As the tangibility of products, packages and CDs gradually disappears, the web "face" and ability to truly interact with its customers will become the new key pillars of what we call today institutional branding and PR marketing.
What I am most enthused about the new Microsoft announcement is the final consecration of the truly outstanding value of Microsoft Start as one of the key pivotal points around which Microsoft may sculpt is web-based future.
Microsoft Live allows the creation of a personalized Web portal, the gathering of many information services including news headlines and local weather, access to e-mail and instant messaging, full RSS feed reading and even podcast playback support, in one custom web-based environment supporting open standards.
Check out the new Microsoft Live and what Microsoft web-based future may look like.