I come from a desktop / application background, I’ve spent most of my IT career working with one flavour or another of Citrix’s XenApp platform (I’ve been through all the name changes) and am currently employed by Citrix as a Systems Engineer in Australia. To that end I’ve spent a lot of time working with apps; in the early days that meant hacking them as best I could to squeeze them onto a multi-user platform. This kept me extremely busy however in reality was always a marginal activity, in that most applications were being installed onto desktops. I saw a major change with my involvement in the launch of an “e” project in 1999; “e” stood for electronic and the company I was working with started investing heavily in creating web front ends to all applications. The end result was that vast numbers of apps were rolled out onto MetaFrame because users wanted the full application and the business wanted to centralise. (I say business but it was in fact the IT division’s idea). The end result for me was that I saw the business demanding fully functional applications and the impact of that project has stuck with me ever since.
I often sit with customers today and one statement I hear myself saying again and again is “do you have a desktop or application problem?” The point I am trying to highlight is that maybe we can solve the issue they have raised by pulling out the applications that require attention. And not look at reworking their desktop strategy. After all it’s the apps that are important?
Recently I found myself again pondering this scenario and so I tweeted “It’s all about the apps, always had been always will be” and this generated a number of responses. The first that came back was from @bramwolfs “I think it’s all about the data not specifically the apps..” Which immediately had me thinking there was little way out of this; data exists and is manipulated by apps, my focus has always been on the apps and that is where I make my money so that is where I placed my bet. @KBaggerman highlighted a blog post titled “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion a Citrix CTP (@archynet) talking about desktops versus applications and applications versus data. He makes some interesting points about the relationships between data and applications and the importance of data. I can only agree however I would add that as some apps sole purpose is to collect and create data it is hard to define and almost irrelevant to consider which came first or which is more important, both are a requirement.
More interestingly he talks about user habits and the requirement of a desktop operating system, he also talks about the rise of mobile apps or micro apps; i.e. apps created for a single purpose that do not require interaction or workflows with other applications and therefore do not require a desktop operating system.
This to me is an interesting area of development and I believe we are seeing two forces at play; the rise of SaaS and its adoption and the influence of the iPad and tablet. Firstly SaaS is entering every workplace, I was recently hosting a CIO round table discussion and every CIO was focused on SaaS and in fact the most interesting comment was “every app I deliver I now have to compete against a SaaS app, that is the way I have to think.” And you know what I think he was right; if you enforce a monolithic set of apps onto a workforce and it is not meeting the needs of a business unit then you can bet within days that business unit will be hunting out an alternative and swiping their credit card when they find something they like. Secondly the iPad factor, all apps on the iPad have single functions, I book my travel, check my email, look at website and knock over blocks with very upset birds. Each app performs well and every day I use them I am breaking the habit of having to work within an operating system. And therefore every day that operating system becomes less relevant to me.
Can we drop the operating system, no there are too many applications built for that platform. Is the desktop operating system becoming less relevant, yes however this has to be taken into context, just take a look at how many Windows 7 licenses have been sold since release. But I do think that the mico app aided by the choice and availability on offer from SaaS vendors is accelerating change.
UPDATE If you want to read some interesting points head back to “VDI OK What’s Next” by Stephane Thirion and join in or have a read.