“I don’t know what good art is, but I know it when I see it.” It’s the same challenge when describing what an application is to your mother or someone used to thirty years of the PC. Today things are further complicated by a plethora of new devices. Is an application something that runs on the device or can it run remotely? In other words, is an application native to the device or can we consider a process running on a server somewhere in a remote application an application as well?
A rose by any other name
What is an application, really? To misquote Shakespeare “that which we call an application, by any other name would still process input.” In other words, all applications are made up of processes that take input from a user and produce output or results. Traditionally PCs or laptops ran these applications, but what if an application runs remotely on a server with access via a browser? Is it still an application? Many “apps” on a mobile device merely access the web version of an application, prompting heated discussions. Is it still an app if it’s nothing more than a web browser accessing a website? The easiest way to decide is to ask the same question we did above.
What’s an app, Doc?
An application is merely one or more processes that take input and spits out results. Where the application runs doesn’t change this definition, though it may add an adjective or two to the description. We might call them “remote apps” or “client/server apps” to properly describe where it lives. But if it takes input and produces output it must be an application.
On your desktop, you click an application and it opens a window. The OS handles this request as a way to provide input into the application. The same is true on a mobile device, but on these devices the application could also be a window produced by a web browser masquerading as traditional app. Aside from lost connectivity or reduced functionality due to the mobile device, running your apps in the cloud has many advantages, the least of which is data security and redundancy. Quibbling over the window into the service is like arguing that the drive through doesn’t qualify as eating at the restaurant.
The more things change
All we’ve done is move the kitchen further back from the drive-thru window. Food is still prepared and packaged the way it always was, but the way you order becomes enhanced. The window can live on your home PC or your mobile tablet, but the food and consumption is still just as real regardless of how you received it.
The damage and resulting distrust come from the early attempts at cloud services. They spoke of the cloud as if it were something more (or less) than it was. The marketing made it seem almost magical when in fact it was simple evolution of a service model. As the capabilities of these platforms grow, we’ll see more complex Software as a Service (SaaS) solutions offered to solve every business need. And SaaS seems to be hitting the spot for many companies as the adoption rate climbs.
Now the cloud is the kitchen and the drive-thru window is the device. Basically, the same product or service is still being delivered. The real “art” is in how the application improves or enhances the process.