Part 1 of this two-part series on Web applications — that is, software hosted in the so-called cloud — takes a look at the breadth of this new space and identifies some of the category niches developing within it.
Part 2 continues the discussion with consideration of the Web 2.0 effect.
By Any Other Name
Some “applications” are misnomers of a sort, which may indicate how undeveloped cloud computing is currently, said Charles King, principal with Pund-IT.
“Oddly enough, I’m not sure that true cloud innovation is happening quite yet at the application level,” King told TechNewsWorld. “Instead, we’re seeing a variety of what people call ‘cloud-enabled’ or ‘cloud-oriented’ apps and services that don’t seem terribly different from pre-cloud-hosted apps and services. ‘Cloud,’ in these cases, seems more a marketing term than a technical differentiator.”
Still, there are Web 2.0-style online communities and collaboration tools that are supporting some intriguing means for users to seamlessly access and share information, he said, “and there are a number of companies leveraging high-speed Web access to ease or simplify complex and mundane chores and processes.”
Some of the most interesting advancements have come in what King described as “the socialization of the business world.” He listed LinkedIn as a popular choice for managing careers but also noted that Facebook has made strides in supporting business-focused activities.
“IBM’s Lotus Collaboration suite has featured Facebook-like features for over a year now, and Microsoft’s recent Exchange and Sharepoint Online announcements indicate that this trend is broadening,” said King.
Twitter is also playing an increasingly important role in business communications.
“It’s an amazing tool to allow people to exchange information quickly,” Jonah Stein, principal with ItsTheROI.com, told TechNewsWorld. “[For some companies], brand perception takes place on Twitter.”
The most innovative application won’t necessarily be the most dominant.
Indeed, that may be beside the point, said Jack Gold, principal with J. Gold Associates.
“For business users, I think in the short term it’s not so much about what the most-innovative apps will be as it is about how to transition from existing client-server apps to client-cloud apps,” he told TechNewsWorld. “Getting what we have to work in the cloud is more important right now than reinventing the app paradigm — especially as it relates to running your businesses.”
What’s New, What’s Cool
For consumers, it’s all about getting new features and functions — and coolness factors.
“That’s why Facebook, MySpace, etc., did so well,” said Gold. “The consumer doesn’t have to manage anything, and new functions just show up. Very attractive for the consumer.”
Networking has been a major component of cloud computing up to this point, he noted.
“This could not have taken place in a traditional client-server world — at least not very effectively,” Gold maintained. “YouTube, Facebook, MySpace, etc., have all been groundbreaking in their ability to garner millions of users. And with an opening up of their [application programming interfaces], peripheral apps have been built and added, giving users a smorgasbord of functionality.”
Even if some are probably not all that good, he said.
Google’s progress in developing cloud applications has earned the company a lot of attention and generated some worry among rival developers, Gold observed.
“Google has also provided some great cloud functionality crossing both consumer and business — at least smaller business — needs, through its Google apps and online storage of information,” he pointed out. “Personal productivity remains a key component of all of our lives, so Google apps adds a dimension to this that allows me to manage my personal and work life without the need to be a systems manager.”
Microsoft has taken notice and sees it as a threat, Gold noted, and is moving into online productivity apps of its own.
For business users, Salesforce.com has added a new dimension to functionality in a complex piece of software, which companies no longer have to install and manage, he said. “Even Oracle and SAP are following suit.”
The cloud revolution will surely continue.
“Clearly, users want to continue using familiar applications that they have grown accustomed to,” said Gold. “But new added functions that add real value and that users don’t have or don’t want to manage, or only use occasionally, are not going to be installed locally. So having them online for use when I need them is attractive.
Where will all of this lead?
“It’s much like the Internet itself,” Gold said. “Lots of experimenting and creativity.”