Last week I wrote about some issues that were raised at a recent CloudCamp I ran in Australia. Last week I looked at the contention (of some) that Software as a Service (SaaS) is no more than the Application Service Provider (ASP) approach of the nineties, albeit with a different name.

This week I want to look at a contention that some who were at the CloudCamp made about “functional completeness”. Some in the room contended that;

SaaS will never be functionally sufficient for real world use. No one will ever run their business on Google docs.

The upshot of their argument was that users need full functionality and that the ability to do that within the browser is little more than a pipe dream. It is for this reason that one of the attendees, GoPC foudner and CEO, Graeme Speak believes the approach his company takes – that of virtualizing full versions of desktop applications and providing them remotely via a virtual desktop – is optimal.

The 80/20 Rule. Again

In a previous CloudU report, we looked at the 80/20 rule of the Cloud, in that case in relation to Cloudonomics. When it comes to functional completeness, and how it relates to suitability for purpose, the 80/20 rule once more comes into play.

Look into any organization that is a user of desktop software (for ease of use let’s say Microsoft Word). How much of the incredibly complex functionality that word provides do users actually need? And how much of that core requirement is actually missing from SaaS alternatives like Google docs or Zoho. My contention is that for the vast majority of cases, SaaS alternatives more than provide the level of functionality that people actually need.

True there will always be power users who actually use the full range of functionality provided by desktop software, but I contend that for every one of those power users, there are a significant number of users who would be just as well served by a SaaS alternative, as by a full desktop package.

Add to the fact that SaaS delivered software brings advantages that desktop software can’t offer (accessibility anywhere, collaboration etc) and the equation tilts strongly in favor of online options.

Iteration Soon Catches Up To Lethargy

I’ve been using Google Docs for five years or so – in that time I’ve seen the offerings move from being seriously functionally limited, to serving the vast majority of my needs – be it for spread sheeting or document creation. I’ve seen regular updates to the applications with new functionality being rolled out at an amazing pace. In the same time, and not to belittle Microsoft Word, an application that has, after all, incredible momentum in the marketplace, I’ve seen Word stand still in terms of functionality, and start to look seriously flawed in terms of the ever increasing requirement for online access and collaboration.

Extrapolate this trend out over another five years and it’s not hard to imagine a time when the balance is flipped – when Google docs (for example) provides ALL the functionality that the vast majority of users need, and does so in a way that enables collaboration and anywhere access. At the same time I can imagine Word sitting where it does today – as a big (really, really BIG) application that is the metaphorical typewriter to today’s sleek laser printer. All the while not really offering what users want – to be able to work on documents where and when they want.

Someone once said to me that it’s not the big that eat the small, but rather the fast that eats the slow. The analogy works well in the software space, desktop software may be big and powerful, but SaaS moves fast – watch out!

We’re covering these areas of Cloud Computing on an ongoing basis at CloudU, an educational series aimed at increasing the knowledge and skill that SMBs have about the Cloud.

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Ben Kepes

Ben Kepes is a technology evangelist, an investor, a commentator and a business adviser. Ben covers the convergence of technology, mobile, ubiquity and agility, all enabled by the Cloud. His areas of interest extend to enterprise software, software integration, financial/accounting software, platforms and infrastructure as well as articulating technology simply for everyday users.

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