In the early days of the Net, there were few Internet applications. Instead, the applications were mainly written for the Windows, Linux, and Macintosh operating systems.
Software delivery often meant copying code to a server or developing an installer for blue-screen Windows and making it available on CD-ROM for sale in brick-and-mortar stores.
In fact, I remember when you had to pay extra money to have the product delivered on 25 floppy disks instead of that one CD-ROM.
Releases were made very infrequently, every year or even more. Development cycles were measured in weeks at best, and the time between detecting a bug and delivering a fix was often months.
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The versions were monolithic. An understanding had to be as perfect as possible because the opportunities to fix bugs were rare and difficult to manage.
Now everything moves faster, largely thanks to the software as a service (SaaS) applications, which make up a significant part of development today.
SaaS applications typically have a JSON-based back-end API that communicates with a browser. They can also share with native apps on Apple and Android phones, but increasingly, the device an app runs on is becoming more irrelevant.
Regardless of the front end, the entire approach drastically changes from the classic application distributed on Windows or Mac.
SaaS applications can be patched, updated, and deployed in minutes instead of months. SaaS has fundamentally changed the way software is developed and delivered.
So why have SaaS applications become so desirable and successful? There are four reasons: development teams control all code execution; the code runs in a tightly defined and highly regulated environment; delivery can be immediate and frequent, and teams can see how their customers use the software.
The code belongs to everyone
In the client/server world, we wrote and compiled the code in-house but then distributed it outside, where it ran on who knows what machines, operating systems, and configurations. Of course, everything ran on Windows and Mac, but those machines were all different, and we had little control over how the code ran or how the app was configured.
If you had a lot of app settings, users could configure your app in ways you never considered or even thought possible.
With the advent of SaaS, code is kept from the wild. The back end of a SaaS application runs entirely under our control, and in environments, we configure, regulate, and even alter as needed.
The front-end code also resides on our servers, is delivered on demand, and runs in a limited number of web browsers.
A strictly defined environment
Yes, there are many browsers, but the number is finite, and furthermore, these are, for the most part, a known and testable environment.
SaaS applications encounter only a limited number of runtime environments, allowing development teams to do more extensive testing than they could in the classic distribution model.
There are still issues with the variety of Android phones out there. Still, more and more developers are delivering their apps in browser-based solutions, reducing concerns about the multitude of different physical devices running many different versions of their software.
And now that Internet Explorer has passed away, the remaining browsers do an excellent job of implementing the standards that make web application development easier every day.
Immediate and frequent delivery
SaaS applications eliminate the fear of handling customers with an unknown error and keeping them from fixing it for weeks or months.
Gone are the days of releasing a patch for an installed product. Instead, if a catastrophic failure makes its way through the development chain and into production, you can know about it as soon as it happens.
You can immediately return to a known good state or turn off a feature indicator virtually before your customers know it. You can often fix the error and deploy the solution in minutes instead of months.
And it’s not just about bugs. No more keeping new features as “inventory”, waiting for the next major release. Previously, if a new feature was created in the first few weeks after a major release, that feature had to wait potentially months before being made available to customers.
A SaaS application can immediately deliver a new feature to customers when the team says it’s ready.
Since a SasS application runs in a limited set of browsers, it’s much easier to observe what’s happening at runtime.
Tools like Datadog and Dynatrace allow you to monitor and track everything that happens within an application. Error monitoring with tools like Rollbar can report problems and customer issues as they occur, dramatically reducing the time to detection.
Observability thus effectively becomes real-time rather than indirectly happening when customers report problems.
Apps run on devices connected to the internet, be it a computer with a browser or a mobile device, and so can easily report problems, how the app is being used and what the app is doing.
More excellent knowledge of the client
In the client/server world, traditional software companies need help knowing who their customers are, not what they did with the software and how often they used it. You could buy software, install it, and use it without anyone knowing you were doing it.
SaaS applications allow them to see virtually everything their customers do with the software. Customer data is stored on the companies’ servers, which can know what they are doing now and the history of what they have done in the past.
This is not a ‘Big Brother’ watching or a threat to customer privacy. SaaS applications are not in the habit of storing personally identifiable information.
Instead, monitoring customer behaviour allows SaaS companies to collaborate more closely with customers and work to help them see the actual value of their products by examining their usage patterns and data.
As a result, they can aggregate customer activity and focus development on areas that show high usage. They can see how customers are or are not using the product, help them use it better, pinpoint where they are and need to be using best practices, tailor their efforts to customers who need help, and use their time more productively.
Knowing who your customers are and how they use your products is golden information, and SaaS applications allow you to do this. This leads to better results for the business and for customers.
SaaS is not just a better way to deliver software but a better way to meet customer needs.
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