Will the Enterprise Go

By Matt Hines  |  Posted 2006-02-06 Print this article Print

Client/Server or Browser-Based?"> Still Running Screens While better browsers may allow for some new business tools, companies already offering mobile applications contend that few users will soon be willing to trade the tightly controlled environments of their existing products for more wide-open browser-based alternatives.
According to Pat Smith, a general manager at wireless CRM (customer relationship management) software maker Vettro, a Salesforce.com partner based in New York, a lack of solid browser technology forced businesses to adopt client/server architecture in the first place.
As current browsers cant handle the level of back-end systems integration that mobile business applications demand, he said, customers will be reluctant to change their approach. "If you look at wireless as it matured in the late 90s, everyone was building WAP versions of their applications and that failed miserably, because they were trying to repurpose something from the PC screen to the small screen," Smith said. "Thats why we had to use client/server architecture; you can leverage a lot more technology in a client application than you could ever do on the device Web browsers available today, and it will stay that way for the foreseeable future." For its part, Smith said Vettro is rapidly growing its business by marketing a mobile version of Salesforce.coms contact management and CRM software, counting tens of thousands of users, including premier corporate names such as financial services giant Merrill-Lynch and manufacturing stalwart General Electric. Smith said those types of firms simply do not have the time to take risks on browser-based tools that might not offer instant access or real-time data synchronization, as he said Vettros tools already do. Opening Windows to Mobile Nearly everyone watching the mobile applications space seems to agree that one of the biggest factors affecting the continued development of the sector is the arrival of Microsofts Windows Mobile 5.0 operating system on a growing number of devices. In fact, many industry watchers say they believe that businesses have delayed the process of buying into a mobile applications strategy until that system was released. Since their IT infrastructures are already built around so many of the software giants products, the thinking is that there will be even more opportunities for integration with new Windows-based mobile tools. For a pop-up view of Operas Mini Mobile, click here. Brad Akyuz, an analyst with Washington-based researchers Current Analysis, said the market for mobile business applications could grow significantly as the Microsoft platform finds its way into more handhelds, and as a result those apps could end up in use by more businesses. One factor that could serve as an obstacle to that growth, however, is that most of the devices coming loaded with Windows Mobile are among the most expensive on the market, he said. Read more here about the relationship between Opera and the Windows Mobile operating system. "Windows Mobile is still not the industry standard, so businesses dont have a lot of options, but they will have more as more devices with it loaded onboard come along," Akyuz said. "Its not like were going to see this wave of adoption overnight, but a lot of companies that have been sitting on their hands regarding mobile will be looking at their options in greater detail." While Microsoft said it is convinced that Pocket IE is in fact robust enough to handle more advanced mobile business applications, even executives at the company maintain that client/server is still the best way for most developers and companies to go. John Pollard, senior director for Microsofts MED (Mobile and Embedded Devices) Division, said the industry may indeed see more hosted-style applications appear as better browsers come to market, but Microsoft is still encouraging plenty of development under both models. "Theres no question that you can render very simple applications in a browser on a mobile device, and its not like Microsoft only believes in rich client applications, but, for one thing, in the mobile space you have the inherent constraint of balancing both the online and offline data needs of the user," Pollard said. "Browser-based applications are here to stay, and we have a lot of partners going down that route, but the challenge of developing an application for a small screen is still considerable, and you need to have very smart software in order to make something that complex work easily on a small-screen device." Pollard said Microsoft will support development of both types of applications in the future, however, as, he said, there will be important gains achieved with both types of tools. He also said its not fair to say that todays browsers have retarded the uptake of mobile business applications, but he does believe that newer products such as Pocket IE and Opera Mini will encourage more software makers to investigate more browser-oriented products. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis on mobile and wireless computing.


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