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.