Google Apps – a future trend?

August 16, 2007 at 11:04 am | Posted in Online services, Technology, Web Apps | 3 Comments

There is a trend taking place in computer technology you may have noticed. Or may not have. Its been underway for over a decade. The basic idea is to migrate to a platform where the hardware is of minimal importance. Applications are available anywhere at any time. In this way, you can access your files and data from your fridge, your cell phone, or even your eyeglasses.

The local phone company had an ad that ran a little while ago, showing such in action. As the person walked down the street, they chatted on the phone, called up a screen that floated in the air in front of them, made some decisons, then went on their way. All without pausing a step.

Thin Client applications are one such variant where a simple computer the size of a book logs into a central server and all the applications and data are stored there.  One secured and updated application serves many.  A model similar to the old-style terminal/ mainframe concept. This is quite effective for secure corporate environments but requires control over connecting devices for consistent results.

A more recent trend allowed by broadband is web based applications. Applications where you log onto a web site and the application is provided for you. You can store the data locally or online but the application itself does not require a local install. Just a web browser with appropriate settings. I’ve highlighted some of these new apps on this blog.

One of the very unique features of a web application is that they can be integrated into other applications, online or off. “Mashups” are arising that multiply the ingenuity. Many build on Google Apps, like Maps for specialized but effective new tools.

There are several consequences to this trend that will change the computing landscape considerably, depending on how it plays out.

One is that the operating system you use won’t matter – only that you’re using a Web Standards based browser. Like on Linux. So you can choose the one you like or the cheapest or whatever it happened to come with. Another is that applications access can be embedded in many devices, like fridges, TV’s, and so forth. An actual stand-alone computer may become a geek-only thing.  If you can browse from your couch on your LCD-TV, correct photos and answer email, why would you want to sit at a desk?
Some organizations are way ahead of this curve. Google has been collecting and developing such apps for awhile. Many are excellent, although I prefer Yahoo Groups and WordPress. Their recent purchase/development of an online Office suite (Docs and Spreadsheets) and online sharable Calendar show their focus. And make Microsoft very nervous.

Microsoft has once again not seen a developing trend and is playing catchup. About 8 years ago, Microsoft tried to block application serving clients by manipulating the expensive Terminal Services licenses in Windows 2000. Their senior-most technical adviser tried to push us to a desktop application. So we dumped them and went to a Linux web application. Our costs plummeted, our reliability skyrocketed, and our tech support issues dropped by 90%. The applications now serve the majority of the Canadian construction industry and touch most publicly bid projects.

It appeared to me Microsoft was trying to reserve the space for themselves. But they weren’t sure what to do with it. I got the sense they had several failed initiatives. It took them quite awhile to finally launch things like OneCare, which has not been warmly received.

I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out.  Wouldn’t it be great to lose all the stuff about anti-virus and updates and backup? Then we just have to migrate to the better email technology and loose the spammers.

But heres wishing the leaders continue to lead the way. Otherwise, we’ll end up with rental applications. Fine for occasional use, but do you really want pay as you go, never ending bills for what you used to be able to download cheaply or free? Thats what Microsoft is experimenting with.


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