Apps Apps Apps. Oh and web services

31 08 2011

The growing demand for smart phones, and the ever growing number of us who now own one, and almost rely on one, means we (as consumers and end users) now expect to be able to consumer content and work in different ways. It’s amazing that “culturally” many of us now come to expect certain possibilities from our mobile devices, and that means we expect certain things from the content we wish to access or the solutions we wish to use to work. With this in mind, we need to architect solutions and user experiences not just for the “web” or the desktop, but for both, and not just for both, but also for mobile devices…

 

Apps, Apps and yet more Apps

It really all started with the iPhone, the drive for “there’s an app for that”, which means many of us now use apps for so many day to day type tasks. Apps deliver a far greater user experience than any web based “app” can in a mobile browser, even HTML 5. Keep in mind this fact, as it means consumers expectations are higher than ever, which ultimately means software developers need to provide “App” solutions, and not rely on HTML 5 for cross platform compatibility.

This same expectation on our mobiles means we expect similar from our desktop experiences. So while HTML provides cross browser capabilities and the newer HTML 5 provides richer experiences, it doesn’t quite hit the expectations consumers and users now have.  So what does this mean? Well it means that the desktop application is not dead, rather it is evolving, throw in the cloud and we can see where things “should” be going…

The Cloud

The cloud and SaaS opens up new doors, especially for “Apps”. Relying on HTML 5 to deliver cloud based applications is simply mad, simply because user’s expectations have moved on. For me, HTML 5 is simply 2 years already too late. The solutions then should be delivered in “app” type fashion, and this is where I believe Silverlight and Flash will lead the way. Both can deliver almost desktop type solutions and user expectation, but be deployed over the web. With Silverlight you can run it within the browser or out of the browse, as if a real desktop application installed on the machine. This surely is the way to go…

I know Apple goes on about HTML 5, but do we really believe that Apple sees people using HTML 5 apps on their iPad, when a user can access a far better experience, more features etc. by simply using the “App” for that?

Web Services

Good old web services play a pivotal role here, allowing any form of application (desktop, HTML 5, Silverlight, Flash etc) to communicate and essentially “work”. It seems that all these technologies are starting to “align” which means that these are exciting times…

One architecture for all?

With the cloud, web services and the drive for apps, we essentially have a single architecture that is already drawn out for us for so many different types of solutions. The only down side is that “apps” need to be developed for individual platforms, though Flash and Silverlight cover a few of the basis. But, “Apps” are essentially the front end of the solution, all the work is still being done down in the engine room and via web services, so it’s not as big of an issue as many may try and claim.

New ways of doing business

This architecture, and mobile devices, along with their apps, opens up so many new avenues for the ways in which we communicate, we consumer content, we play and how we work. It even means so many business processes that we believe are fixed in “stone” can be changed, and be changed for the better and at a cost that isn’t astronomical.

I think Apps, along with the cloud and web services will change the way in which so many day to day processes and tasks are done, I also firmly believe that there are a number of technologies in the pipeline that will take too long to evolve and will be overtaken by the “app” monster…I feel the big HTML 5 could well be one of them, with many organisations not investing in new HTML 5 websites, or applications, rather opting for real “Apps” leveraging web services…

What do you think will suffer at the hands of apps?

It would be interesting to know what other budding technologies, or big ideas, that you think may potentially fall by the wayside, because we now have such an architecture and consumer expectation for Apps…

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Redefine the way we use the web, to unlock its potential…Web 3.0?

6 02 2010

This is something I have been thinking about for a number of years now, but more so recently with a lot of talk of HTML 5. Basically we haven’t really changed the way we use the internet (from a technical point of view) since the web became mainstream shall we say. Sure, we now use it in new ways which we hadn’t dreamed of (habits and the way we communicate with each other), but essentially the web still works the same way it always has. We use the web as content rendered as HTML that is displayed back to us in a web browser. Even if HTML 5 is the magic version and delivers so much more in terms of animation and streaming has it actually changed the way in which we use / the web works for us? No…

Let’s not go back to the good old Mainframe environment…

It seems more and more IT professionals and large organisations see the web as the new mainframe, especially when you start talking “thin client” and “cloud computing” (the cloud could be seen as our mainframe..scary). When you start looking at mainframe environments and then cloud and thin client computing, you see that the basic concepts are very similar. So what do I mean, well, all of the processing happens on a server, the machine you actually use to access it, doesn’t really have to do anything. In a mainframe environment we have dumb terminals, in the new way of thinking (trying not to laugh, sorry) we have a PC that run’s a browser (this could be a very low spec machine), and if all we did is “cloud compute” we perhaps wouldn’t need anything else?

Sure I see benefits, some of which are green, but the negatives are so obvious to see. These are essentially the same problems we have with mainframes and the same problems that lead us to using the “PC” and the “Network” to replace mainframes?

Some thin client issues?

Let me give you an example. Imagine you and I are working as designers, creating 3D computer models of pretty much anything. We may even be responsible for animating these 3D models (think something like toy story, I don’t know why, it just popped in my head). Ok, now imagine you are part of a team of say 20 working on these models, of course you are designing Buzz, someone else Woody etc. Let’s think just how much “processing” power do we need for this – just you and your requirements? The answer, quite a bit, well a lot. Now image having to times that by 20. Oh, and now let’s have that processing carried out in a “thin cloud computing environment” (of course your application is written with the fab HTML 5 which means we can do anything), which at the end of the day needs a hell of a lot of work going on at the server, oh and traffic across our network… Do you see the problems?

Well basically, even with the advances of our hardware, the server will be doing too much and things won’t go well. The system will be going slow, maybe crashing, you as a designer will be going mad with frustration, along with the rest of your team, oh and not to mention you are working to a deadline so the project manager is now going mad. Let’s throw into the mix too, that our team is distributed across the States and the UK, and some of us love using Internet Explorer, some FireFox, some even Chrome…Hmm though in theory the web is great here, it is no match to a good old client desktop, some distributed servers…

Now I know I am focusing here on a situation that doesn’t lend itself to “cloud computing” or “thin clients” but if we believe all the hype of HTML 5, cloud computing why shouldn’t we be thinking this is possible? But, as our hardware advances so does our software (though at a slower rate granted) and we as users (be us general public users or business) expect more and more performance and capabilities. So while some of our user requirements do seem to lean us toward a cloud computing way of working, soon our requirements will no doubt swing back the other way (and wont we be repeating the Mainframe and PC story all over again?)

There is an answer

The answer is pretty simple to be honest and it is something Flash showed us the way to a number of years ago when it first started popping up on the web. The answer is a mixture of the two.

So let’s start evolving how we use the web properly (not just our habits) but how it is used. The web becomes a communications network and in some ways returns to its roots. We can still use it in the way we are used to, as in we find websites and we view them in a web browser, however, those websites that aren’t just presenting us with some information, or basic shopping facilities, websites that are more “applications”, get themselves installed on the client machine. So think MS Office on the web. Why install on the client? So that the user experience is not restricted by the web architecture, nor the browser, and that “processing loads” are removed from the server and distributed back down to the client PC.

Isn’t that what Flash was doing, installed and running on the client, err years ago? Yes, and that’s why Flash has worked so well to now…The problems with Flash are not what it visually looks like, nor its basic architecture (running on the client), the problems are that it doesn’t lend itself to being able to deliver “applications”. So it is great for the web to show animations, and funky banners, slick movies etc but don’t think it will be great at delivering that 3D modelling tool we spoke about earlier…

So let’s go back to our 3D modelling requirement in the designer’s studio. In our new web world we are now working with a RIA that actually runs on the client machine, uses local storage on the machine and uses the web only for bare communications and maybe storage of files that are to be shared. All of a sudden, all of the issues with “thin client” and “cloud computing” and server loads are removed, yet essentially we are still using the web and “cloud computing” to an extent…

So the answer is RIAs that use the client processing power and that do not run in the web browser.

Is this available…

Yes it is. Since Microsoft launched its Silverlight platform (which many see only as a competitor to Flash) it has been working towards this type of scenario, where we can maximise the benefits of the PC and the benefits of the web and cloud computing. Silverlight 3 was the first version to deliver an out of the browser experience and this has been taken further with Silverlight 4, with it being able to run as a trusted application on the client machine. Oh it also runs on Mac’s and PCs and if in the browser, any browser…

Silverlight, though in some ways similar to Flash and even the old Java Applets, is a new way of using the internet, rather than us re-inventing the same way of using the web with more bells and whistles. Like flash and Java applets, Silverlight essentially runs on the client PC. Which means we can utilise its processing power to do our work, it doesn’t need to go back to the server for updates to the UI, business rules or anything like that, and it can be done there on the client machine? However, it is connected and delivered essentially through the web as a communications network, so its data and files can be easily pulled and pushed across the web and stored there. Updates to the software are also delivered through the web, with the user being able to get the latest versions of the software just by using the software itself.

At present this is all still young, but the potential is there to change our web experiences and what we realistically should be using the web for. MS Office could be delivered as nothing but a Silverlight OOB (out of browser) application, allowing us to purchase it online and using it within moments. And it would look and feel just like the version we currently have from a CD (not the slightly less functional web version). Business applications could be delivered through organisations intranets, or their “cloud providers”. Websites that provide “secure” trade or partner areas would essentially have these installed on the client machine. Twitter, Facebook and other types of highly interactive websites would be delivered as RIAs installed on the machine (there is a prototype for Facebook already built and made, which you can download and use at http://www.silverlight.net/content/samples/apps/facebookclient/sfcquickinstall.aspx). You havent used the flexibility of the web at all, if you were on a new machine and wanted to get to facebook, still visit the website where you would get prompted to install the client, which would be a simply and quick install…and away you go, back on facebook.

The future then is…

Re-defining the web as a communications network and moving RIAs out of the web browser and down onto the client. By using the web in this fashion we get a truly distributed environment that has the benefits of the web, but also the benefits of the client machine…





When the cloud provides savings

18 06 2009

Many organisations are looking at possibilities in which “cloud computing” can provide savings. However, many IT people themselves will resist migrating large areas of their IT to the cloud, and for good reasons. After all, there are so many considerations:

  • Security
  • Accessibility
  • Potential Expansion costs
  • Support
  • Migration
  • Etc

When looking into cloud computing, it makes great sense for consumers and small businesses. For medium organisations and larger corporations, the numbers just don’t add up, and there are far too many “concerns”.

This is something I have posted about in the past; https://andrewonedegree.wordpress.com/2009/04/20/does-cloud-computing-save-money/ and is something that more and more people are talking to me about…So, does the cloud provide savings on storage? Savings on software? Administration?

Storage savings in the cloud?

Errrmmmm. Probably not. Not even if you are a small business or it’s just you on your own. Storage space and storage devices are so cheap now, your far better off just plugging in a removable hard drive and using that as a storage device. Ok, so it’s not a mirrored drive, but you can automate your backups quite easily and you can even take them off site, all this at almost zero cost monthly.

If you look to use the “cloud” for your storage, you may well find that your monthly outlay will be creeping up. My own company has stopped providing these services to small organisations simply because there isn’t a saving to be made. On top of that, if you have large “lumps” of data to store online, it can take a hell of a long time to upload.

So when does the “cloud” provide savings?

Basically, if your volume of usage is low, then the “cloud” makes great sense. Let’s look at Microsoft Office running in the cloud. Small businesses basically all purchase an Office license, and with it they use Office to run large areas of the business (in micro-businesses maybe all of the company). However, Office in the “cloud” provides them with pretty much the same functionality at a vastly reduced cost. So instantly there are savings to be made.

SaaS (Software as a Service) really can provide genuine savings, especially for small organisations. There are also the added benefits of “sharing” information through “cloud” based applications. Though again, please be careful, not all SaaS provides savings, especially over the longer term. Many applications that operate in the “cloud” also store your information in the “cloud”, and as such can mean a cost for using up x amount of space.

Our own workFile ECM solution can be used in the cloud as SaaS. There are great savings to be made for smaller organisations, as the amount of content they access; store etc in the cloud is small enough not to have any impact on cost. However, if their requirements got to a level where storage and bandwidth becomes real issues, it makes great financial sense to purchase and implement the system internally.

 

Conclusion…

The “cloud” can deliver you and your organisation great savings if the volumes are right. Always, always, always, monitor and make sure you know what volumes of usage and storage you may / are using. At a point, the “cloud” stops delivering savings and starts providing you with added costs…