The call of the Web

When it comes to the Internet, most of the buzz focuses on issues such as

online shopping and search engines. What is usually overlooked is the tremendous

impact the Internet has had on software development.

The total cost of developing and maintaining a software application for

use on the World Wide Web can be a fraction of the cost of a similar client/server

application. Indeed, the days of developing applications for installation

on the desktop — as required by the client/server design — are rapidly coming

to an end.

With Web-enabled applications, cost savings is attainable at almost every

stage of the development life cycle. Because the front-end software is a

standard Web browser, the learning curve — and thus user training costs — are reduced significantly. Development time is also reduced because of

more rapid application prototyping. Furthermore, implementation costs are

reduced because there is no need to install and configure custom application

software on every user's PC.

Perhaps the most significant savings is in the ongoing maintenance of

the application. In a Web-enabled application, the database and software

code are centralized on the server. Therefore, changes and enhancements

can be made without the headache of having to redistribute the application

to the entire base of users.

Some people will still argue against developing Web-based applications,

but most of their points have become vulnerable in light of the new technology

available. Some critics say that there are features that can be built with

a traditional desktop application that aren't possible with a Web-enabled

application. However, when you consider the capabilities now available as

Web browser plug-ins — such as Java, ActiveX and Macromedia Inc.'s Flash — virtually anything that can be done with a traditional application can

also be performed with a Web application.

Others argue that the security mechanisms for Web-based applications are

inadequate. The security concern is a legitimate one, but there are tools

and applications that can be employed to address these concerns cost-effectively,

such as digital signatures and encryption. In many cases, the security of

the application may even be enhanced in a Web environment.

Moving to the Web does not mean that all the legacy applications throughout

the federal government will be left behind. Plenty of good tools are available

to Web- enable older applications. IT managers might even find that the

cost savings of redeploying the application in a Web-enabled environment

more than outweigh the costs of supporting and maintaining the legacy code.

Before federal managers go ahead with application development projects that

rely on traditional desktop-installed software, they should weigh the advantages

of developing the application for a Web-based environment. Any security

issues that arise almost always can be overcome with a bit of creativity.

In the end, you will have a Web-based application that is more maintainable

than a traditional desktop application.

— Plexico is vice president and chief technology officer at Input, an IT market

research and marketing services firm.

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