Choose Web

Choose Web!

I recently learned about a team which had adopted a proprietary Windows application to do agile (Agile [TM]) project management. Eeek! Wrong at so many levels, but I’m going to focus on the web vs desktop angle.

In an ideal world, there would be multiple UI platforms available for any application. e.g. do your project management on Windows, Macs, the web, and the phone. In practice, there’s usually just one. Which one will depend mostly on the application domain and the usage patterns involved. Each application domain lends itself to a particular UI platform. With an application space like agile project management, the platform is clearly the web.

In my view, enterprises should adopt a “Choose Web” policy. Similar to a preferred vendor policy, this kind of policy states: The web is the default choice for our applications; anytime we make a critical commitment to a desktop application (i.e. a large purchase or a large deployment and training exercise), we are obliged to justify why it is more suitable than web equivalents.

Here are the advantages of the web platform over the desktop in the case of agile platform management.

  • You can introduce team members – anyone who needs to access the application – as users a lot faster. Instantaneously, really. With desktop apps, they have to go through the whole download-and-install business, which can be a lot of trouble in the enterprise.
  • You will be more popular and contribute to greater staff happiness, which in turn means less turnover and more work done. Enterprise web apps tend to be neat and cleanly designed. Enterprise desktop apps tend to be clinical and grey. For some reason, no-one has yet thought of putting images into enterprise desktop apps, whereas images have appeared on enterprise desktop apps for 10+ years. On the whole, users choose the comfort, familiarity, and “liveness” of the web.
  • It’s open to everyone, including those who would never download a desktop tool, but might stumble upon the web app. It’s useful to have user stories and the like in a place that people from other areas of the business can see it – it might lead to serendipitous collaboration. It sucks to be on a phone call with someone and they ask you for info about the project and you have to spend ages telling them, or print out a screenshot or something, because you know that it will be way too much hassle for them to install it just to find out a one-off piece of information.
  • As you have a web server equipped with the data, you can easily serve out data in useful formats, especially RSS. e.g. a feed showing recently created (or completed) tasks.
  • You can link to other web-based resources such as the staff directory.
  • It’s easier to track usage and berate team members if they don’t log in. (Don’t do this. Be nice.)

There are, of course, arguments in the other direction – reasons to choose desktop over the web. But in the case of agile project management, as with many enterprise apps – the reasons don’t stack up against the web.

  • You can use desktop apps offline. This is fairly pointless for a modern project management tool, where multiple people are using and contributing to it. In any event, people are generally online in the enterprise.
  • You get rich graphics Unnecessary for many enterprise apps. In fact, enterprise web apps tend to have more bling anyway.

6 thoughts on Choose Web

  1. Nice summary why applications should be accessible via standard protocols like http. However the facts are seen a little optimistic and your dismissal of the reasons for desktop applications falls short of reality. To equal a html interface with staff happiness is a bit far fetched. A usable, responsive, productive and helpful interface that helps people getting things done and doesn’t get into their way contributes to staff happiness. There are example in any technology how to achieve and how to fail that and frankly a lot of corporate “IntraWeb” applications rather add grief. Offline use if essential the very moment you start working with distributed teams where you can’t rely on the network anymore (latency anyone). Add traveling users and your software is dead in the water with online only access. However the question today is not web or desktop. The question is how to make it available on- and offline. Google gears would be one approach to have the web local. Get/Post via Atom and a desktop client another. In summary: I 100% agree: Open access using a browser is essential — however often not sufficient. 🙂 stw

  2. Well, we use Scrumworks and that goes someway to proving that many of your arguments are specious.

    • Scrumworks looks awful.

    • You can look at your charts with the web client, but you have to have a Java app to use all the functions. So you need JNLP. And like the web app, the java app looks like, well, like a java app. And no UI designer willingly develops in Swing.

    • I turn on my computer and I can get to Scrumworks, as long as the server isn’t down and the network is good. More links in the chain.

    • Its anoying to wait so long for client side manipulation because you have to do everything at the speed of the web. S l o w.

    • Its open to everyone who has a user defined on the system. You are thus dependent on the mysterious “admin” person.

    • You mistake offline/online with local/remote. The only time I want remote time lag is when I need to refresh or ensure I am seeing the truth. Most of the time I don’t need to be using a remote control app at all.

    Web apps can be great, but many of them are poor. If I need to spend more than a two minutes at a time with an app – I pretty much want it to be a dedicated app about 90% of the time.

    Here is one exception. I can happily use Blogger to write lengthy blogs with now, and have no wish to use Word or similar. Why? Blogger introduced auto save a few months ago. For once a vital bit of dedicated app functionality making it succefully to a web app.

  3. +1, there’s really no reason why an application can’t be online and the amount of time when I don’t have an internet connection is minimal and I don’t even have a blackberry or iPhone. As for desktop based applications, I’ve moved most of my personal data and apps into ‘the cloud’, I used for some VRM when buying a flat, I use Google’s suite of apps for mail, docs and calender, I put all of my photos on flickr. The only thing which isn’t in the cloud for me is music and video and there are groups trying to address that issue now anyway.

  4. Great Article, I have found that the online PM software has many advantages. I have been a member of the Communiclique community for over a year. The software has features that make it ideal to any project manager. It combines conference calling ,Instant messaging , email and its all rolled up into an online database. Great way to coordinate your team and keep all your information safe and organized. Now that I have implemented Communicliques software I can never go back.

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