Well, time for some more rants. It seems that pretty much everywhere I have been looking over the last month, from the arrival of .NET magazine through to searching web news sites, has been going on about how great it is that we can get all our software online as a web app instead of having to buy and install it ourselves.
For those with a memory span longer than a goldfish, you will remember this was the “next big thing” in the 1990s and fell flat on its face. However, with the widespread adoption of broadband and the advances in internet technology, the dream is now possible. For example, sites like 30boxes.com, ajaxWrite and all manner of google offerings are gaining popularity all the time.
I can see why the pundits are heralding this new wave of “next big things” (even if it is a second hand idea), as at first it does seem like a good idea. If one discounts the facts – such as dumb terminals are nothing new(30 years ago all “computers” linked into a mainframe which actually ran the software) people didnt like them and wanted their own computers – and accepts this is an old idea rebadged then there may be some reasons to go down this route.
For some, technophobic, customers there can be advantages to having all your software remotely hosted. The host can automate backups and upgrades and you can pay only for the things you use.Software manufacturers certainly like the idea, being able to keep selling you the same thing, over and over, is fantastic. It is like hiring a car instead of buying your own. No maintainence costs, no road taxes etc. Isnt that computer utopia?
Well, no. The same as hiring a car, you dont “own” anything. This is worse than it may first seem – given that the “ownership” of software is a very grey area.
Let me give you an example, you (CTO of XYZ Company) have decided to save costs and run all your company’s office-like applications on a web provider service. (Eg, ajaxWrite). Everything is great. You have saved a fortune and all the share holders are cheering. One day you log on to write a memo and the host is down. Instantly, you have lost your ability to work. Your office staff cant do anything but sit around. This can happen with an offline application, but generally you become responsible for taking protective measures to prevent it happening. Anyway, on with the example:
After the smoke has cleared, and the MD / bosses stopped trying to kill you, the descision is made to go with an expensive host which has a penalty clause in the contract. Great. Savings are down though, so people arent as happy as before, but still – this is all very Web 2.0 and the terminology has kept them quiet.
One day you come into work and there is a problem connecting to the internet. (ISP / Telco etc). The lines were eaten by a wild, rabit rat and wont be repaired for a week. All your office software – more importanly ALL YOUR DATA – is unavailable for that time. All those off site backups the host has made are worthless and the all high tech kit in your building is sitting silent.
More hell. The shareholders demand you get a leased line with even more penalty clauses. More costs. Now you are hardly making any savings (unless you previously bought new software at the drop of a hat). But at least everyone is happy and you are still “Web2.0ing.”
Another fateful day, you come into work and you web host gives you notice that due to demand, it is changing its T&C and limiting your bandwidth. In addition, because it has a virtual monopoly it is going to increase prices. Outraged you try to move to a different host, only to discover the data you have stored remotely has been stored in a proprietary format. After some furious debates the share holders accept this and allow the extra costs but demand you find a new host. Now you are on the same costs as previously.
The next hurdle appears when you discover all your data has become “intellectual property” of the host (not as far fetched as it sounds), and to make matters worse the host is being bought out by ABC company – your arch rivals. There is nothing you can do at this stage to regain control of your data. You chose to allow a third party complete and utter control over it and now will bear the consequences.
Ok – this is just a hypothetical story. But seriously, what real advantages are there to having all your data stored by an effectively unknown third party? It isnt safer – if you want to be safe, then ensure YOU are running proper security measures. 99% of people connected to the internet are less likely to get hacked than a large application service.
Bottom line – this isnt a new idea, not even an old idea whose time has come. It is stupidity all wrapped in a Web 2.0 cloak.