Tuesday, November 02, 2010

The iPad Is Killing IE6 YAY!

Image representing iPad as depicted in CrunchBaseImage via CrunchBaseOver on the Mini-Microsoft blog, a blog that looks at Microsoft from a critical insider's perspective, a lively debate sprung up about the position of the iPad in business computing. All signs point to the iPad tablet having achieved a wholly unique position in the mass-market computer experience: a computing device that is not seen as a computer and doesn't have all the baggage associated with computers. Consequently, the mass-market is flocking to it, feeling supremely comfortable using it. The comment discussion wondered whether the iPad has or is making inroads in the enterprise or not. Is the iPad just a home toy? Can it be used for serious business? And how will it change business if it does make inroads?

There's an anonymous comment there about this subject, brought to my attention by Genius Mike, that I would like to highlight:
Ex-Microsoft now drone in Corporate America here.

My team is doing mobile computing planning for our mid-sized org. The users from GM levels to line worker levels are saying things like:

1. We want ipad because labor's very competitive in this town and if we give them a tool to use that they won't like they'll just go to another company. It's not the 80's or early 90's any longer.

2. We want snazzy visuals on the screens. (Uh oh, now we need design geeks on staff in addition to database coders.)

3. We want the app to be pick-list driven as much as possible, scroll through the options the way you scroll on an ipod Touch. Using the keyboard or writing anything is last resort for many users toward the very top (dashboards, summary views, zoom in for detail) or very bottom (the guy in the warehouse pressing a button to send an email to a distributor that an item is in stock) of the org chart. It's the middle managers who want and need full laptops with keyboards.

4. We want fast graphics because it annoys our users to wait. They're used to ipod and iphone graphics speeds now, and won't accept less. See point 1 as to why we care about pleasing our users.

5. We don't want something that takes 5 minutes to boot. They think of iphones and ipods as computers, and know that the ipad is pretty much on from the word go, and see anything less as also-ran technology.

And maybe most interesting:

6. Why are we still term serving into old client/server apps when we're using them remotely? If our supplier isn't keeping up with the times (translation: supplying a web version with all functionality of the fat client version, so that RDP is no longer required), maybe we need to evaluate alternatives.

The ipad UI seems to be yanking managers who didn't care about ancient business app UI's designed around Win95, into the 21st century. Suddenly nasty old VB Access form type UI's, with non-intuitive click sequence behavior in places due to poor programming by low-level drones or toolkit bugs, that are found all over corporate America are being seen as a problem, at least at our organization.

And what they're saying is that a modern UI is a feature, and that if their supplier can't meet their UI bar, it's time to at least look at other suppliers to see if they can.

This could put pressure on vertical market MS partners to consider UI rewrites, and perhaps the rewrite would have the goal of targeting multiple web devices rather than just Windows fat clients.
My first reaction was "Yay! Death of SAP!" -- and if you have ever had to use SAP inside of a large enterprise you'd agree with me -- but I am hearing SAP is actually making tools to access their back-ends through web-pages as well. I bet those pages will still emulate the usability flows from hell SAP is so famous for, so all we get out of this is now being able to have the famous SAP rage be delivered by iPad as well. (I guess allowing corporate users to use SAP systems on iPads might be huge liability, because in contrast to a desktop computer, the bar to flinging an iPad across the room in utter frustration that you are wasting your life away voluntarily becoming hostage to people who are forcing you to use this mess, really is way lower.)

But seriously, iPads gaining this kind of enterprise traction could be great news for remote-desktop companies like Citrix who would let users access the Windows fat clients on iPads, but Citrix should be warned that there is a time-limit on this method, as the users mentioned above will want eventually to use these fat clients, whether dashboards for the upper echelons or ordering and manufacturing control systems for the shop-floor, with pages and applications that work natively on the iPad. One brilliant thing about using a Citrix remote viewer, though, is that no information is stored on the iPad, so losing the iPad isn't half the nightmare losing a laptop is.

But there is a wonderful implication to these business applications being re-engineered. Yes, the Win95 VisualBasic apps being tossed is already long overdue, but the first wave of web-based systems needs to be tossed too. Desperately. These web systems were made during the heyday of Microsoft owning the web, at home and at work, and the developers of these early web systems were often seduced into using Microsoft-only web technologies like ActiveX. These were tied to Internet Explorer 6, and this led to IE6 being mandatory on corporate desktops, and staying that way. Even as the Internet moved on and realized that IE6 was incredibly buggy in how it showed the web and so badly coded it was terribly insecure and allowed all kinds of viruses and trojans to be delivered to the user's computer, it had to remain on many corporate desktop because whole internal infrastructures were built on it.

Not anymore. If the iPad is so compelling the directors want to use it for business, and systems made for it are so reliable or error-proof it makes sense to invest in them to deploy on the workfloor, all these old internal systems will be fazed out, slowly, but surely. And finally I can stop wondering on projects whether I should test on IE6 for that one group of users stuck inside an enormous company still chugging away on IE6...