Software As A Service

Bill Burnham writes: “Outside of lower costs, three other developments have helped make software a service much more attractive. First, developers have created new applications that have been engineered from the ground up to be offered as a hosted service and even many existing applications have been re-engineered to make them more hosting-friendly. Second, the advent of XML and web services has made it easier for companies to integrate hosted applications and data into their own legacy systems. From a technical perspective, this has removed one of the last major drawbacks of hosted software. And finally, 10 years of exposure to the web has made many corporate managers much more comfortable with the idea of hosted-applications. Even many IT managers, who at first resisted hosted applications as a potential threat to their jobs and influence have now warmed up to hosted-apps as a way to quickly meet business unit needs without adding significant costs to their own organization. For many developers, selling a hosted software solution is now an easier and faster process than selling installable code.”

More on Ajax

Diego Duval has a nice comparison between the old way and the new way:

The basic concept is a simple one: turn a web browser into a more responsive client by making asynchronous requests to the server on another thread, handled by Javascript (there’s nothing that says that this couldn’t be done with, say, Flash or Java, but Javascript is a more universal platform on which to implement this). This separate thread can create the appearance of a more responsive UI by managing the requests in a manner transparent to the browser’s default navigation mechanisms (e.g., Back, Forward, etc.).

In the early 90’s, the buzzwords du jour were “client/server systems”. These were systems where PCs actually performed a certain amount of processing on data obtained and passed back through tightly coupled connections (typically TCP). As important as servers were in that scheme, one of the keys of client/server computing was that the client maintained most of its state. True, the server did maintain a certain amount of state and logic (just keeping state on a TCP connection would count, for instance), but it was the client that drove the interaction, that kept information on a user’s location in the dataflow, etc. The web, however, changed all that.

If the web thin client model decoupled UI from processing (at least relative to client/server), AJAX allows for a flexible “free form coupling” when necessary. By pulling more data-management logic back into the client, AJAX goes back to a more traditional client-server model. True, the server could maintain state if necessary, and undoubtedly some AJAX-powered applications, such as Gmail, do so to some extent. But consider the difference between Google maps and, say, Mapquest. Mapquest stores the current view’s data in hidden fields in the page, which have to be sent back to the server on each request. While this is, speaking strictly, stateless operation, the server has to re-create the state of the client for every request, modify it as necessary, and then send it back. Google maps, on the other hand, can keep the state on the client, requesting new data from the server as the user moves around the map, zooms, etc. The result? The server is freed from creating/keeping/updating state and goes back to doing what it does really well, which is serve data.

Diego’s conclusion: “So does this mean that we’re going back to client/server? Doubtful. There is no silver bullet. As cool as AJAX apps (like Google Suggest, Google maps, or A9) are, I suspect that AJAX’s greater value will be to add another tool to the toolset, allowing for hybrid thin client/fat client applications that improve web UI interactions and bring us to the next level of distributed applications.”

Another post has more.

Search and Tagging

News.com writes about the longer-temr impact of Yahoo’s acquisition of Flickr.

Flickr is a pioneer in a new method for cataloging the Internet that some believe could revolutionize Web search. As a result, Flickr could give Yahoo new competitive tools to take on Google, if it can turn Flickr’s community-based technology to broader use.

“The democratization of information is the real interesting thing about this,” said Bob Rosenschein, CEO of GuruNet, an answer search engine. “They’re messy and noisy and they’re not always accurate, but they’re people talking about real subjects; and in that manner they have tremendous statistical interest when they get to scale. There’s a wisdom of the crowd. The most interesting applications are before us.”

It’s a deceptively simple premise that holds enormous consequences for information management, boosters believe, provided the stars align properly. In addition to Flickr, up-and-coming communities at Wikipedia, Del.icio.us and others have many people pondering the future of free tagging, as some call it.

Given the billions of files available on the Web, tagging has generally been considered unworkable. Flickr has gotten around the problem by recruiting hundreds of thousands of people to participate for free. Its loose social framework offers a community that lets people discover, quite serendipitously, interesting photos in the collections of strangers. Without a central body of editors controlling the index, the network also can reveal rare insight into cultural zeitgeists from the people using it–for example, see a collection of Central Park photos taken by locals, rather than professionals.