Sometimes "good enough" is good enough.
I participated in a panel discussion about SaaS, DaaS, and the future of Windows desktop applications a few months ago. One of the audience members asked a question about Google Apps. The ensuing conversation was about how Google Apps has limited features when compared to Microsoft Office, and that in turn led to one of the panelists to say, "well that's proof that web apps will never be as good as desktop apps."
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The conversation quickly broke into two sides, each making points like, "of course Microsoft Office is better—they've had a 20 year head start." Or, "of course Google Apps is better—they don't have all the useless bloat of Office!"
Finally the moderator stepped in and said, "well I can tell you one thing for sure—my users prefer Office over Google Apps."
I would agree that, all things being equal, most people prefer the "real" versions of Office over the "web" versions of Google Apps, especially when their employer is picking up the tab. But this isn't unique to office apps or even to IT. If the company were picking up the tab for a user's car, most people would prefer a BMW 5 Series over a Honda Civic too!
Sure, Microsoft Office has been around for 20 years. It's a premium product (both in terms of cost and features), and people have gotten used to the luxury premium lifestyle. Now that there's an economy option with Google Apps (fewer features, lower cost, easier to manage), it's no surprise that IT wants to go that way, and it's no surprise that users are resisting. But let's be absolutely clear on this—users aren't resisting the concept of a web app over the concept of a desktop app—they're resisting giving up luxury for bare bones.
Going back to the car analogy, imagine if the only company car that existed for the past 20 years was a $70,000 BMW 5 Series. Users would have had two decades to get used to SPORT+ adaptive drive engine-throttle response with servotronic steering assist while being cradled in 14-way power-adjustable seats with 4-way lumbar support featuring SensaTrac upholstery.
Then Honda comes along with the $20,000 Civic. It has four seats and a steering wheel.
Companies would take note of this and say, “Hey, do we really need to give our users the ultimate driving machine with an award-winning high-precision direct injection valvetronic double-VANOS engine, or do they just need a car to get from Point A to Point B?"
It wouldn't take long for companies to start buying their users Hondas.
And of course the users would complain about the lesser car, not because they needed a 3.0 liter TwinPower Turbo inline 6-cyclinder, 24-value 300-hp engine capable of propelling them from a standstill to 60mph in 5.7 seconds, but because they were used to it.
This is exactly what we're seeing in the user & application space today as we look to replace expense (yet luxurious) desktop apps with lower-featured yet more economical SaaS and web apps.
Microsoft Office is expensive. It has always been a premium product with a premium price, and Microsoft had to get people to buy new versions every three years by continuing to add more features. (With perpetually-licensed packaged products, you can't sell a new version that doesn't have any new features.) That was all well and good, but after 20 years of incremental features we ended up with the software version of 14-way adjustable dual-zone heated leather seats.
Now that we're seeing software move to term-based licensing instead of perpetual, we can take a step back. Instead of, "will you give me another $300 for these 35 new features?", the conversation is, "I hope you liked using our software over the past year. For another $100, do you want to use it for another year?" In that SaaS world, vendors don't need to get cramming new features into the product—they just need to keep everything running.
This transition is a good point for companies to take a step back and look at what they're buying and what their users are actually using. I used Google Apps and Microsoft Office as examples, but this is happening for all types of software. Nowadays there are of cheaper, SaaS-based options for most desktop apps out there. They have fewer features, but as long as they cover the basics that users actually need, that's all that matters. Sure, users might not like it, but that doesn't mean that SaaS and web-based apps aren't as good as desktop apps. It just means that the days of forced luxury are over and we finally have a choice to buy what's most appropriate for our users. Sometimes that will be desktop apps. Many times it won't.