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Postings here will focus mainly on Advanced Accounting software updates, tips, and related topics. They will also include general comments relating to troubleshooting PC/Windows/network problems and may also include reference to our other software products and projects including any of our various utilities, or to the TAS Premier programming language. We considered setting up separate blogs for different topics so that users/others could subscribe to topics mostly aligned with their interests, but decided that it would be better to keep things simple since some topics cross over into others. We would nonetheless welcome your feedback/input in this regard. Our web site URL is Call us at 800-648-6258 or 801-277-9240. We also maintain so that older Business Tools users in particular have a greater chance to find us.


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Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Why it isn't just about the browser

There is a lot of confusion about terms such as "cloud-based" and "web-based" software.

Most users probably are thinking of a web browser when they think of these terms.   Even the term "tech" in the software industry tends to be linked to some product or service that involves a web browser.  Misguided approaches that focus on teaching children how to be "coders" often translates really to "how to format and upload a web page" with a few added scripts sprinkled in for good measure, which is really more "formatting" then programming, and in any event tends to focus on processes and tools that "live" solely within the constraints of a web browser. 

(Children should be taught how to read books, how to think and interact with others, how to do things with their hands, how to play a musical instrument, how to hold a pencil and write with it, how to spell, how to use mathematical principles in their daily lives, how to appreciate and care for the natural world, etc. long before any consideration towards using a computer much less than "coding" which should not be thought of as anything ultimately other than a tool to enhance other endeavors and knowledge, and not as an end in and of itself.)

While the definitions depend on who you ask, a web-based application is not necessarily accessed via a web browser (although in most cases, perhaps).

And cloud-based applications aren't necessarily accessed through a web browser either. In fact, very often they are not.

And "clouds" might be privately hosted (which further blurs the distinction of what has been commonly referred to as a locally run application or in more recent jargon, "on premises" application). A public cloud is hosted by a third party such as Microsoft Azure or Amazon Web Services but there are companies now that will host your private cloud which blurs the distinction even more.

The browser remains a relatively poor substitute for programmatic control and validation; and integrated development environments (IDE's) are still light years behind what has been available for the desktop PC now for decades.

Most companies are using at least some Internet or web services and in this respect we have been living in a hybrid world for some time as personal computers morphed into performing a number of chores for which they were not originally designed (they were not designed at first even to network to each other locally, much less to far off destinations).  They were after all "personal" computers. Whether the programs reside on a computer that you own and maintain or whether it is on a computer that someone else owns and maintains is increasingly becoming a meaningless distinction.  Either system could involve accessing programs "from the cloud." A more critical distinction might be whether an application requires a web browser to access it, and also relating to the transportability of that system (can you only access it from the provider's computers, or do you have the ability to run it from a backup copy or a copy placed somewhere else)?

Increasingly users are opting for software that they don't even have the ability to run anywhere but from the provider's publicly hosted computers. In some sense this is like always being forced to drive someone else's custom built car as your sole source of transportation (and each time having to ask to borrow the keys to use it).  There can be advantages in that approach, but also disadvantages.

For many companies concerned with security and the flexibility, the hybrid approach to both local and sometimes occasional access to external resources using a web browser will remain a preferred way of doing business.

Some key considerations include:

(a) Within 18 months, will you have paid more in monthly fees than you could have paid to have access to your own licensed copy of the software, regardless of whether you are continuing to pay a monthly fee or not?

(b) Will all of these monthly fees that you start to pay for anything and everything in fact start to pile up and break the bank despite the allure of nothing up front?

(c) Do you really have incredibly good and constant raw Internet access from all your PC's and from all locations?

(d) If you temporarily do not have Internet access or if the provider who is hosting your application has a problem with a server that goes down, what then?

(e) Even if you have a copy of your data, how would you access that data if the provider goes out of business, or denies access due to non-payment (or due to an accounting error on their part)?

(f) If a software company is advertising their wares as being completely browser-based, are they really? Many things simply can't be accomplished by a web browser and will require the installation of local components. The statement many companies make that their software is "all web-based" (with again the problem of what 'web-based' means) and that no locally installed software is required is often really not true.

(g) Browser incompatibilities are ongoing, rampant problems. Maintaining cross-browser compatibility is a nightmare. You may be forced to use a particular browser and a browser update could at any time "break" the system. Using a web browser doesn't increase reliability/stability nor shield one from problems of future updates.

(h) The devastating malware and other threats that are out there are not somehow removed by using cloud-based systems - in fact in some ways they are even greater. Many of our customers are justified in not putting their accounting systems "on-line" i.e. available from outside of their wired, local network system. In terms of threats from the outside world, there is no better security (other than not turning your computer on at all!) than making them unavailable from outside, "Internet" access. And yes that may be far too dire of solution for many depending on the business and its needs, but it is a decision based on the reality of today's world.  It is through browsers or browser-based systems, that users often are at the greatest security risk (in addition to locally installed software that brings in e-mail with potentially lethal attachments, all via Internet access).

A web browser is great for being able to interactively and quickly view documents and images from more or less anywhere (although this can also be accomplished without a web browser); it is less than ideal for heavy data input nor validating that input nor for complicated reporting and related data analysis nor necessarily handling the needs of complex, integrated multi-user systems.

Browser-based capabilities continue to greatly improve and most of us will continue to use those resources to access information and communicate with others. But they are in no way the "one" piece of software that is required.  They are not effective "runtime environments" that were designed to be universal in scope, and they lack the power and capabilities of true programming languages that were designed to run programs at a machine language level on today's computers as well as all connected devices.  It was no one's intention to some day do everything from a web browser. To do that will require something much better than what we have today, and will involve some thinking outside of  the browser box.

Meanwhile, we believe that hybrid systems (locally run programs with the capability to access certain Internet services as required) will continue to prove to be very attractive for many businesses, both small and large, or in combination with browser-based systems that are designed to interface with desktop, i.e. local, systems.

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