Microsoft Web Applications 2010 bring the cloud to the enterprise

July 13, 2009 | 1 comment

In advance of the announcement later today, I Started Something have uncovered videos about the new Microsoft Office suite.

Microsoft Office turns to the web

As anticipated, Office 2010 includes web-based versions of applications contained in the suite. These don’t have the complete feature set, but are designed so that company employees can create and make changes to documents (including Word documents, Excel spreadsheets and Powerpoint presentations) on the road.

Web applications: now running in the enterprise

Centralized cloud applications have a difficult time gaining traction in most enterprise environments, and Microsoft have wisely taken note of this: it appears that the web-based versions are installed as part of Sharepoint. By doing this, they’ve allowed organizations to keep tight control of their data, as well as legitimizing web-based applications in the enterprise and revitalizing Sharepoint as an organizational product. In other words this is big news, with sweeping implications across the entire software industry.

Open standards must work for everyone

This is another reason why all open web standards must be browser agnostic. I always argue hard for a transparent browser: one that contains support for web standards, but doesn’t carry any extra baggage for any specific purpose. As web applications move into the enterprise, it’s important that a standard that works on a souped-up Firefox or Chrome browser also works great in Internet Explorer. By integrating web applications into Sharepoint, Microsoft are actually leading the industry, and have made themselves relevant on the web again. In doing so, they’ve opened up an important market, and that can’t be ignored.

Here’s a video introduction (although it keeps going down for me): See What’s New in Microsoft Web Applications 2010.

Opera Unite: a great idea, wrong center

June 16, 2009 | 2 comments

Opera just released Opera Unite, a version of their web browser that also contains a built-in web server. As Harry McCracken explains over at Technologizer:

While it’s impossible to judge at this early date whether it’ll “forever change the fundamental fabric of the Web” as Opera promised, it’s a very big idea. Web browsers have always been about bringing information from the Web onto a PC. With Unite, Opera 10 still does that–but it can also fling information from the PC up to the Internet. [..] It launches with some apps that Opera developed itself, including a file-sharing service, a chat room, a music player, a photo-sharing tool, and a note-taker.

Engadget has a video introduction to the application.

This is yet another entrant into the decentralized social web space, but it violates one of my key rules of web application development: keep the browser invisible. Here’s why I think this is important.

I own three computers – two Windows laptops and a Linux machine that runs Ubuntu – as well as an iPhone. All can access the web. At any given moment, I can be connected with any of these devices, depending on which is the most appropriate. For example, I use a 17” laptop at home, but if I’m travelling I’ll take my 12” model; when these are switched off, I might use my iPhone to quickly check something on the web or write a swift email. Additionally, sometimes I connect using other peoples’ machines, or computers in offices I happen to be visiting.

One of the exciting features of the web is that I can use my applications and access my data from any of these. Although I have my preferences as to which device I use, my applications and my data don’t care. They’re agnostic.

As soon as I require a particular browser to be used, I limit myself. I can only access this functionality from the devices that have it installed – which in the case of my iPhone or someone else’s computer is an impossibility. The Opera Labs announcement provides a pretty sound reasoning for decentralized, user-centric services:

Our computers are only dumb terminals connected to other computers (meaning servers) owned by other people — such as large corporations — who we depend upon to host our words, thoughts, and images. We depend on them to do it well and with our best interests at heart. We place our trust in these third parties, and we hope for the best, but as long as our own computers are not first class citizens on the Web, we are merely tenants, and hosting companies are the landlords of the Internet.

However, Opera Unite provides a different kind of centralization and locks us into a particular way of accessing the web. It still yields useful functionality but is a far cry from the cloud-based social architecture that most web application providers are working towards.

Update: To clarify, you don’t need Opera Unite to access services someone else is hosting using Unite. But then aren’t you only half-participating?