Are Business Applications Dead?

In 1995 Larry Ellison (CEO Oracle) announced his “Vision” for the future of computing, “The Network Computer” or NC as it became known.

In the intervening years there have been many debates about what constitutes an NC but the fundamental concept was simple, (think Mainframe Terminal meets PC and plugs onto the Internet).

As with most Visions, this one was ahead of its time and for many commentators just a pipe dream. Their scepticism was probably justified at the time because it’s true to say that the concept envisaged, a world where devices connected to the Internet, and where all information and applications were available online, was fanciful in 1995.

Fast forward to 2007 however and the situation has changed dramatically. Broadband speeds are now in the multiple MB’s and only recently this Guardian Article revealed exactly where the future is heading.

What has struck me in the past 6 months is the number of clients I meet who are looking for time recording, expense management and billing solutions that are totally “Web Based” or “Zero Footprint”. Such demands have historically never been easy to deliver, (put simply the technology was not up to it), but of late with the advent of AJAX and advanced browser scripting, the situation is changing rapidly.

When we launched [email protected] and [email protected] we recognised that end users would be drawn to the simplicity and pervasiveness possible in a browser and so all our applications use Internet Explorer for time and expense capture. More advanced functionality (as required by Invoicing, Resource Planning, Budgeting etc) was simply not achievable using this zero footprint approach and so like all other software providers we developed a hybrid model comprising a thin client front end and a thick client back end.

About 2 years ago we began the embryonic work of migrating our back end functionality onto the browser and although it continues to be a hugely complex project, the experience gained over this time and the advancement in browser technology is enabling us to move into new and exciting areas of software design.

Our development roadmap for Version 3 and beyond was published earlier this year (email me for a copy) and through it we aim to shape the way in which our [email protected] and [email protected] solutions will address these growing demands for a browser front end.

Such developments have understandably led to debates about the future of Business Solutions Software. Companies such as salesforce.com have championed “Software as a Service” and regularly proclaim that desktop applications are a thing of the past. Google’s entry into the online apps market was for many observers another nail in the coffin of Microsoft and the other organisations who sell software as atoms.

For my money, the jury is still out. Performance, security and regulatory issues make this vision of the future a long term play. That said we will be launching a hosted Time Recording and Expense Management Solution later this year and the developments I mentioned earlier will only enhance our ability to deliver these solutions.

Interesting times ahead.