Picture Credit: 3ibizsolns.comBrowser based apps or native apps? I am going to harp on the same topic I touched yesterday again but from the desktop angle. I apologize if it appears to be repetitive but I want to drive home this point again. To begin with, let me give some background on the debate and go on to highlight my point quoting a news that came out today as an example. As the world moves more and more towards SaaS, there is a debate raging between two different schools of thoughts in IT.
On one side are the SaaS guys who argue that when we can have an user experience similar to traditional desktop software on a browser, what is the need to buy expensive bloated applications. They argue that most of the desktop applications are now available as browser based applications and eventually the remaining categories of apps will also be made available on browsers. Under such a scenario, pushing a native app is a meaningless exercise. This is the pure SaaS argument made by vendors like Google, Zoho and others. The other school of thought is of the view that tapping the cloud is good but there is no point in not using the unused compute power available in the desktops, mobile phones, etc.. They argue that native apps tap into these unused resources to offer better user experience than the browser based apps. This is the S+S strategy dominated mainly by Microsoft and Apple.
Even though my personal choice is to have the data on the cloud and access it from whatever way I can, SaaS is very attractive to me because I don’t have to upgrade my device to keep up with the demands of native applications. Just look at the way native apps demand resources as they get upgraded to newer versions. Why do I have to spend money on powerful devices when I can get an experience almost similar to what I get from native apps? More importantly, the rate of innovation on browser based apps is much higher than what we see in the traditional desktop software. This fact can be seen in today’s Youtube announcement. They now support HD video up to 4096p (4096 x 3072), a video quality similar to iMAX movies.
Today at the VidCon 2010 conference, we announced support for videos shot in 4K (a reference resolution of 4096 x 3072), meaning that now we support original video resolution from 360p all the way up to 4096p. To give some perspective on the size of 4K, the ideal screen size for a 4K video is 25 feet; IMAX movies are projected through two 2k resolution projectors.
To give a further perspective on what this means in the traditional terms, I will quote the same article where they talk about the size of projectors that are needed to show such videos.
First off, video cameras that shoot in 4K aren’t cheap, and projectors that show videos in 4K are typically the size of a small refrigerator.
To view this on a browser without using any powerful desktop computers and high end software applications is definitely an innovation. This just goes on to show what we can achieve using browser in the future. Yes, today’s SaaS applications are still immature. Yes, today’s SaaS applications still can’t do everything a desktop application can do for us. But there is a higher rate of innovation on the SaaS side and it is just a matter of time before they catch up with desktop applications on the user experience angle. Remember, the desktop apps from a decade or two back? Think about how long it took for them to mature. Think about the rate of innovation on the desktop apps side. Compared to the kind of innovation we saw on the traditional software side, there is a much higher rate of innovation going on with browser based apps. Dismissing SaaS applications by comparing them to bloated desktop apps is naive at best.
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Krishnan Subramanian

Krish dons several avatars including entrepreneur in exile, analyst cum researcher, technology evangelist, blogger, ex-physicist, social/political commentator, etc.. My main focus is research and analysis on various high impact topics in the fields of Open Source, Cloud Computing and the interface between them. I also evangelize Open Source and Cloud Computing in various media outlets, blogs and other public forums. I offer strategic advise to both Cloud Computing and Open Source providers and, also, help other companies take advantage of Open Source and Cloud Computing. In my opinion, Open Source commoditized software and Cloud Computing commoditized computing resources. A combination of these two developments offers a strong competitive advantage to companies of all sizes and shapes. Due to various factors, including fear, the adoption of both Open Source and Cloud Computing are relatively slow in the business sector. So, I take it upon myself to clear any confusion in this regard and educate, enrich and advise users/customers to take advantage of the benefits offered by these technologies. I am also a managing partner in two consulting companies based in India. I blog about Open Source topics at http://open.krishworld.com and Cloud Computing related topics at http://www.cloudave.com.

13 Comments
  • Why not both? Native, Thin clients that can run on premise or over the internet, inside or outside a browser on any device?

  • and “SaaS” means…? What?

  • @benkepes #apple? There’s only one mention of Apple in that article, and it’s a pair with #microsoft.

  • @benkepes Odd article arguing for the sake of arguing and even then not doing it well.

  • I think you need to delve into some of the themes in this article more.

    “Just look at the way native apps demand resources as they get upgraded to newer versions.” Isn’t the same true for browsers and web-hosted apps? As we push the capability of web-based apps we need more and more from the browser. At some point SaaS push the browser so much we have to upgrade the software, or the standards, or look at Flash, Silverlight etc.

    “Compared to the kind of innovation we saw on the traditional software side, there is a much higher rate of innovation going on with browser based apps.” This isn’t a fair comparison. Apple’s (and there are others) own SaaS for delivering native apps to mobile devices is actually making it easy to distribute apps on a frequent basis. This approach was never really adopted back in the day. Things have moved on; the landscape has changed. Your use of past-tense limits the validity of your statement. And what about all the innovation we are seeing in apps and I’d say we can expect a lot more as more mobile platforms compete with one another.

    You don’t really mention consumers and isn’t that important? Take Twitter as an example; SaaS with a perfectly good website that runs on mobile browsers. But look at all the apps out there and the diversity you can expect all from the same set of web services. It’s almost as though consumers want it…

    This one made me laugh: “… the pure SaaS argument made by vendors like Google…” Is this same Google making Android, a rich set of libraries and tools for getting more of that SaaS into native apps? When players this big are on the native apps bandwagon you should be mentioning them for a more balanced, less biased article.

  • Thomas Lukasik |

    Browsers are themselves “native apps” — and if the user allows it, browser based apps can take advantage of most of the resources normally only available to desktop apps.

    IMHO, maybe we should be talking about a possible convergence instead?

    TJL

  • I am on the browser being the Operating System too. After all the OS wars we had where the innovation was divided amongst diehards in the MS camp versus Apple Camp vs Sun camp and the consequential wastage of productivity in cross-platform porting I think making browser the standard platform is the right way. With the browsers all but becoming standards driven, and advent of rich delivery technologies like Adobe Air and HTML 5 having bloated, proprietary desktops or OS native applications is totally self-serving (to the vendors off course).

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