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Choosing future-proof modern software

Chris Oswald

The rapid growth in use of mobile devices and the cloud means that we’re now witnessing the biggest change of computing architecture since the arrival of the PC. We all want to switch between using phones, tablets and PCs throughout the day; reaching for phone apps, web sites and Windows programs, with connections to servers at work and services in the cloud.  Quite a mix.

It’s all got to be easy to use. But choosing new business software for this hybrid world is not easy at all.

future_signpostWindows programs: the old way is broken

The days are gone when a Windows program on its own would be enough. IT administrators now seem to wince if there’s any new Windows desktop program to install, even with help from Microsoft with technologies like Group Policy and ClickOnce, as used in Microsoft Dynamics NAV.

Windows 8 offers new easy-to-install apps instead. Yet users have been as reluctant to upgrade to Windows 8 with all its snags and download new apps for it, as they have been keen to embrace Android and Apple’s iOS. Now, millions are gathering armfuls of new apps for these mobile platforms to help with most aspects of modern digital life.

I expect you are already using some of those smartphone apps in your work, and you probably started with email and calendar apps.

Browse through Windows instead?

Some suppliers have proposed web apps as the way ahead for business software. There’s no client software to install, updates are easier and web apps can be used on PCs and mobile devices. Just enter the web site address into a browser and you’re under way.

Web apps can be powerful, too: our Timemaster project software has a browser interface that can be used from anywhere. You can have your own server for it or we’ll host one for you in the cloud, saving you the cost and trouble of maintaining server hardware.

Web apps need phone apps, too

Yet it’s not quite as simple as just using a browser for business software. You probably want to use “dead time” effectively when you’ve got a few minutes between things or you are travelling. So it also needs to work well on a phone, and not just when you’re close to a mobile phone transmitter.

That calls for mobile phone apps, too, and we responded to that need by producing a mobile app for Timemaster. It handles synchronising automatically, so that you can record things immediately, while they’re fresh in your mind, and add detail later using a full-size screen and keyboard, if need be.

Browsing doesn’t have to be slow

While web apps are certainly quick to deploy, users have sometimes complained that they can be slow to use. This is because the first generation of web apps relied on web servers to update a user’s screen each time there’s a significant change to display. That can take a few seconds as the server prepares and transmits the new page, particularly if that’s across the internet rather than just within the office.

Web 2.0 brought JavaScript to help with this, allowing software to run in the browser in a safe and controlled way. As a result, a web app’s display can be updated locally as a user interacts with it, meaning that the web app feels more responsive, like a traditional PC program.

Both is best

So, when you are choosing new business software, you should look for a solution that combines using a web browser in a responsive way with the option of mobile apps. In fact we have already come to expect no less from consumer giants like Amazon, eBay, Facebook and Twitter, who have each produced mobile apps to complement their web sites.

The best business software also links to other new services that run in the cloud, like Office 365 and Microsoft Exchange Online, as well as to existing servers on premise that will be adhering to the rule of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” for a few years yet. After all, the real world is a hybrid one that hasn’t yet moved everything to the cloud.

In my next post I will take a look at how we are using the latest development tools to create that modern business software.

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