Is Web Based Software In Your Future?

If they start to offer some real applications plus solve some of the problems associated with this concept, maybe...

One of the first things they need to do is change the initials. Web based software providers are properly called Application Service Providers (ASP) which also happens to be the same initials of a web page process known as Active Server Page (ASP) and this is going to confuse people. It certainly confused me!

An Active Server Page is a special, fast loading web page, while Application Service Providers offer "Productivity Portals" (I suppose "P - P" isn't a better replacement). These "Productivity Portals" let you rent or lease applications and storage space over the internet. Business and productivity software like word processors that donít sit on your computer, so your hard drive space doesnít drop by leaps and bounds every time you install something new. This can be a nice concept.

You also get the latest version of a particular type of software, which is also great. How many of you went out and purchase some brand of "office" for $300 only to find a new version coming up a few months later with new features and a stiff upgrade price? Well, at an Application Service Provider site these word processors, office suites and presentation programs run on a remote web server (computer) and you log-in with a password. Much like you do for My Yahoo, Tripod, Geocities and MSN.

One of the drawbacks is you really need a fast, broadband access to the internet, like cable modem, or DSL (Digital Service Line) to use these with the same speed and efficiency of a dedicated desk-top application like Microsoft or Corel Office. You also canít run most, if not all of these rental software programs from Web TV at the current time (this may change in the near future).

Thereís also an issue of security. Every day we hear reports of someone breaking into a web site, including secure sites designed to store credit card numbers. Even the CIA and FBI get hacked! So, what of your business and personally sensitive letters and presentation?

What happens if youíre late on making a rental payment? Do they wipe all your files off the server? And what of major breakdowns? Even with those in-tandem disk drives (known as RAID -- Redundant Array of Inexpensive Disks -- systems, dual hard drives that store the same exact information so if one breaks down the other can be used for data recovery) mass failure can still occur. (This can certainly happen on your own system as well, so the day your hard drive eats the big-one is the day you lose everything on your system if you donít back up your information to something like a Zip, CD-R or Travan tape storage unit.)

On the positive side, rental based applications allow groups of people at distant locations to work on similar projects. A department head in New York can review customer service letters written by the various branch offices without formally requesting copies. Bank presentation departments at the various branches can pool their efforts on some new project.

Of course, some companies already do this using their dedicated WAN (Wide Area Networking) system. But smaller companies who canít afford a dedicated WAN now have an opportunity to work collectively from remote locations, even at home. If you need to see some letter you wrote a month ago on Sunday night you simply connect to the ASP site, log-in and find the file you need and read it, but you may not be able to print it out on all ASP systems. There are still some printer problems some providers have to overcome.

There are also few, if any, "hot" applications readily available. The high-end stuff, like Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop, Auto CAD and even the esoteric offering like the fancy (and expensive) professional animation program MAYA, which, if available on a rental site, would open up a whole new world to schools, students, artists and casual home users who would never purchase such a program, but might want to play around with it for say $20 or $50 a month. Programs like these could, of course, become readily available if the concept of web-based rental applications catches on with the masses.

Apple and others are pushing home video production and editing on the computer, so a professional application like AVID would be a hot item with cable access producers, in-house training film units, students and private filmmakers. Or Pro-Tools for the producer, singers and bands so they could work on recording music with the same software found in expensive recording studios.

A web-based Turbo Tax is available and a nice idea since this software is a one-use home offering that you must upgrade each year at a new fee. Again, security considerations will leave many people and businesses afraid to pass their financial information or tax payer identification numbers over the phone lines, no matter how secure the site may be Ė and these sites can very well be ultra secure!

Itís already been pointed out that you face a higher risk going into a store and handing them your credit card, which, more often than not, gets run over a telephone line to the credit services bank. How secure is that? Does anyone know how secure your favorite store's credit card phone lines are? And the clerk gets to see your number as does the accounting department. That signed document passes through a lot of hands and you never know how they will store or dispose of that document! A big part of the success of web-based rental applications will be fighting user fears over security and storage.

We eventually need to see the world of applications to non-computer users such as those with PDA (Personal Digital Assistants Ė handheld and wireless mobile units) or Web TV families. This is a strong potential market for Application Service Providers. This, plus some very high end applications that normally would cost a user a thousand dollars or more to own (and then more to upgrade next year when the new version arrives) might help boost the popularity and usage of ASP sites.

Right now they are, at best, a novelty. So were CD-R burners a few years ago, now they practically come packed on a new computer! Large 17" monitors were only for major users, now you can buy one for as little as $150 and many new computers come with a 17" screen. In a few years flat screen monitors will replace the current, big, bulky, hot picture tube units. So as costs go down and offerings increase people turn fads into the common and ordinary. Rental applications may eventually catch on so well that store-bought programs might become a thing of the past!

Microsoft compatible web based rental applications

Java and Microsoft based rental applications including PDA

Free and fee based rental applications

Multi-platform, wireless and PDA applications

A web-based version of Office is planned

Turbo Tax for the Web.



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