> "I believe there will always be a niche for a beefier
> client/server application that handles accounting and
> highly confidential transactions."
The widening scope of the Internet may turn browsers into a popular choice in
the distributed environment
By Kristi Essick
How far will the Web browser client go? Judging from the speed by which
Oracle Corp., SAP AG, Baan Co., Dun and Bradstreet Corp., and PeopleSoft Inc.
are racing to add a Web front end to their client/server suites, it would
appear that Web browsers have a lock on the client of the future.
But not everyone is so convinced. Even though intranets are fast becoming the
corporate network of choice, and Netscape Communications Corp. and Microsoft
Corp. continue to pile OS-like features into their browsers, most analysts and
users say that the technical needs for large-scale, transaction-oriented
client/server applications demand more than a basic browser as a client.
Web browsers may eventually perform all the functions of today's clients but
not before client/server application vendors undergo a costly rewrite of their
wares requiring a year or more to accomplish, analysts and users said.
"As browsers get enhanced and client/server companies convert their client
technology into Java-based applets for browsers, functionality will increase,
but I don't expect to see this for 18 months," said Dave Folger, an analyst
with the Meta Group Inc., in Stamford, Conn. "Web interfaces can't possibly
give access to all the functionality you can get now with [existing]
transactional [client] tools."
And because it will take a while for a browser to become a richer
environment, the major providers of client/server suites are taking a
piecemeal approach to the Web.
Oracle, for example, has thus far provided only Web front ends for three
business applications that are targeted toward casual users manipulating or
publishing documents, such as report distribution, stock-room tracking, and
human-resource functions, rather than accounting and finance features of the
"The intranet is no threat to the applications we use from Oracle right now,
such as its large financial application," said Peter Ho, senior network
specialist for Unocal Corp., based in El Segundo, Calif. "Oracle and SAP are
adapting to the changing tide of the Internet by slapping a Web front end on
their products, but we still want the trusted engine in the back and not
To provide a basic Web/client capability, most client/server vendors are
relying on third parties, such as OneWave Inc., in Watertown, Mass., which
sells a set of tools that makes it easier to link browser front ends to
applications running on servers. OneWave's OpenExtensions for SAP is shipping
now with interfaces for PeopleSoft and Baan applications due in December.
Some vendors, including SAP, PeopleSoft, and J.D. Edwards and Co., plan to go
much further by rewriting their applications as a series of Java components,
which will let users deploy all the functions of a client/server suite with a
Web browser. SAP, for example, expects to release about 25 Internet
application components by year's end.
Some analysts see these moves as only the beginning of a major strategy shift
by the leading providers of client/server suites.
"I believe SAP will undergo a rebirth and go completely with Java in the next
18 months," said Bobby Cameron, an analyst at Forrester Research Inc., in
Ultimately, Cameron expects that browsers will function in a
"client-services" model where clients download applets and data from back-end
applications on an as-needed basis.
In the meantime, the lure of a cheaper and easier-to-maintain intranet
infrastructure brought about by the use of a relatively standard Web client
has many IS managers enthusiastic about using Web browsers.
"We are definitely planning on implementing a Web-based client by next year
for some of the applications, such as the sales functions," said Kevin Moore,
IS manager for Cataphote Inc., a large thermal plastics business based in
However, concerns with security dictate that it will take several years
before users trust confidential information to a Web-based application, users
said. For applications to be fully Internet-enabled, Oracle, PeopleSoft, and
Dun and Bradstreet will have to reconstruct their wares and rewrite not only
the client, but also the server portion of their applications in Java or
ActiveX to improve security.
But others counter that the underlying architecture of the application suites
will not undergo such a fundamental change, believing instead that companies
will extend the current functionality of existing applications via a Web
"The Web browser will become the new client, but that won't change the
underlying nature of the applications," said Michael Joseph, an analyst at
International Data Corp., in Framingham, Mass.
Instead, Joseph argues that vendors will look to avoid the high cost of
overhauling millions of lines of code by embracing "linking technology" to
marry older architectures to the Web.
As a result, this may mean that IS managers can expect to see Web clients and
richer proprietary clients deployed side by side for the foreseeable future.
"Intranets are still too insecure, no matter what high-level application is
running on the back end, to trust with sensitive information," said Nenad
Kreculj, principal software engineer for Telematics International Inc., in
Calabasas, Calif. "I believe there will always be a niche for a beefier
client/server application that handles accounting and highly confidential
Kristi Essick is a San Francisco correspondent for the IDG News Service, an