How far can web applications go?

cloud computing Oct 23, 2005

Five years back, we created our first web based enterprise application for a small gift manufacturing company. We were faced with all the bottlenecks that we face with web applications today – lack of good connectivity, server response times, network lag, browser incompatibility – but only several times worse.

One solution we created to overcome these hurdles was to create a Client Web Server. It was a small foot-print web server that was installed on each client computer, and which did all the work of the user interface, and made network calls to the server only to fetch data from the database. It worked great, because the network traffic was minimal and user interface was fast. We were thrilled with our solution. Based on its success in the small, two location installation, we later deployed the same solution in Branch Management System for an engineering company which had several branch offices spread around the country. This was when we faced the big hurdle – managing installations on several client computers was no mean task. With the Windows 95 OS that was prevalent in those days, we had to repeatedly re-install the web server every time there was virus infection or other such frequently occuring disasters.

Fortunately, by then the connectivity scene was much better, and we abandoned our Client Web Server model for a traditional centralized web server with normal browser clients.

Now, browsers are becoming more and more intelligent, capable of doing user interface tricks that could earlier be implemented only on native applications. Technologies such as DHTML – or Dynamic HTML allowed web applications to modify entities in the user interface dynamically using Javascript. CSS – or Cascading Style Sheets simplified the process of stylizing the interface – such as fonts, colors, and later, even the layout of entities on screen. The latest development termed AJAX – or Asynchronous JavaScript + XML – a term coined by Adaptive Path allows web applications to retrieve data from servers witout refreshing the page, thereby providing faster interfaces in the web browser. We have recently started using AJAX extensively in our applications and are thrilled by the performance enhancements.

The question that this all raises is how far can we, or should we push this model? Jason Kottke’s excellent article on Web based Operating Systems – or Web OS talks about how big guns like Google, Yahoo and Microsoft are tooling up for creating the next new frontier of the web. He talks about precisely the same model that we used five years back to overcome connectivity problems – a client side web server! How interesting. But hopefully, if one of the big guys are behind the effort, they will have the deep pockets required to see this model through its inevitable teething problems.

We’re all excited by the possibilities of where and how far we can push this model. Just to give a brief idea of how we’ve matured in web based applications, here are a few screen shots of applications we’ve built over the years:

Web based Order Manager Screenshot
Web based Order Manager – 2000

Web based File Manager Screenshot
Web based File manager – 2003

Web based Sales Management System Screenshot
Web based Sales Management System – 2005

As we stretch the possibilities of web applications into the enterprise, the capabilities of applications on the client side become increasingly important, and we hope to see the advent of a widely supported Web OS soon.


Ashutosh Bijoor

Adventurer, cyclist, musician, mathematician, data architect

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