Gartner Blog Network

Long Live Client Server

by Jay Heiser  |  August 13, 2012  |  2 Comments

Has anyone ever created a web-based application that wasn’t flaky and prone to data loss?

Every time Facebook comes out with some new functionality, the entire service gets slower, and harder to use.  I’m not sure that there could be a more efficient way to lose text as it is entered than by trying to type it into Facebook in real time, disappearing into limbo as some new advertising link is downloaded, or a content change causes the whole page to slide out of visibility.  I’ve been using web-based email for over 15 years. Without any useful increase in the basic functionality (other than some vendors being able to control spam), every year it gets slower and less reliable.  Recognizing my impatience with the thing, Yahoo Mail sometimes offers to let me revert to the ‘classic’ and more simple version, the less attractive but infinitely more reliable interface. Unfortunately, it never seems to offer to let me do this unless I’m at such a low bandwidth location that online text entry is infeasible.

Wacky web isn’t just a consumer problem. Like most Gartner bloggers, I use Live Writer to create my blog entries locally.  Could there be a simpler text editing process than creating the short and minimally-formatted material that constitutes the typical blog posting? Yet few bloggers have the patience to do all of their text entry and editing online through a web browser. If you’ve ever tried to paste some pictures into a blog and make sure the thing comes out the way you expected, you’ve had even bigger motivation to use a local client for composing blog server material.  Inside Gartner, we’ve been experimenting for at least a year with a browser-enabled package of high interest to all customer-facing staff.  The amount of mobile code modules and dynamic content downloaded on an ongoing basis means that every user has their own special failure modes. There’s a lot to be said for the Lotus Notes and Outlook clients. I’m pretty happy with the calendar and email clients on my iPhone, which reliably cache data locally, gracefully and almost invisibly dealing with the inevitable perturbations of the packet-based Internet.

Thick clients are reliable and provide a rich experience, but are old-fashioned and don’t generate the right color of money.  Thin clients are cheap and functional, but few have the courage to implement something so mundane.  As a result, we’ve been saddled with the middleweight client, a beast of a thing that maximizes the disadvantages of all possible network architectures.

I’m been told that the solution to this problem is HTML5, which I’m further told is not really a single technology, so much as a set of related things that have equal rights to the same dorky logo. We will increasingly overload the stateless HTTP protocol with state mechanisms, becoming even more dependent upon ever greater volumes of code that is downloaded in real time. We’ve already reached the point where the browser (ie the malware invitation layer), just one layer in a growing stack of nested mechanisms, is itself more complex than a Sun 3.

I’ve got a simple solution to inflated expectations, technology bloat and pervasive plugins. I suggest that instead of using the old, unfashionable term ‘client server’ to refer to the simplest, most secure, and most reliable form of networked computing, we rename it as ‘HTML 6’.

Category: applications  

Tags: client-server  html5  malware  reliability  www  

Jay Heiser
Research VP
6 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Jay Heiser is a research vice president specializing in the areas of IT risk management and compliance, security policy and organization, forensics, and investigation. Current research areas include cloud and SaaS computing risk and control, technologies and processes for the secure sharing of data… Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Long Live Client Server

  1. I have to agree, yet everything these days tends to be moving towards cloud and web based technologies.

    It seems that application developers are also so much more motivated to move to SAAS models, generally using web technologies to deliver these. While this is in there best interest for a plethora of reasons (i.e. easier to support, more income, easier to maintain renewal customers, etc), it is not necessarily in the best interest of the corporations using their services.

    I am a very strong proponent for thin clients and the benefits they bring, and have been working with the technology for more than a decade, and believe that a well architected client server application, with native front end applications (run on thin clients, iPads, laptops, etc as required) is a much more robust and secure option. I know its more work for the application developers than making a one size fits all front end application, but it is also a better solution. Cloud based services should also be optional as some organizations need to host their applications internally for security, governance or other reasons.

    Native apps are definitely the way to go, and client server is the architecture of choice.

  2. Hi, Jay,

    I wouldn’t be able to economically produce the OakLeaf Systems blog without Windows Live Writer, which I’ve been using since v1.0. It’s fast, reliable and cheap (free).



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