As someone who’s worked on web delivered applications for around eight years, and on client/server and mainframe (which is actually like very thin client) I feel reasonably qualified to point out a few pros and cons of SaaS:
- Deployment – in either corporate or SME environments this could be a nightmare. MS have it pretty well sussed these days, however, while Apple don’t. Which possibly explains why a lot of key SaaS proponents are Apple OSX users.
- Cashflow – short term costs are easier to manage.
- You’re always up to date – updates are continuous and rolling.
- Data is stored and managed by professionals who hopefully know what they’re doing with regards to security and integrity.
- Harder to lose data when a laptop goes missing.
- Performance & Productivity – it’s definitely worse for end users although many will argue it’s fine. It’s getting better, but it’s still worse – especially for expert users. I remember how quickly expert PeopleSoft users could input data.
- Because of 1, designers do have to concentrate hard on slick usability, but that means flexibility has a habit of dropping.
- If you’re offline it’s a royal pain – methods of getting around this are improving, somewhat, and MS again appear to have some very good tech coming in Windows 7 to make working this way more feasible, but for the moment it’s still a major weakness in all but a few sophisticated cases.
- You can be very much locked-in to a provider, far more easily than with local software, and there’s very few SaaS services that are open source. Even fewer where the export/import tools are 100% seamless. Even switching from WordPress.com to self-hosted can be painful for some.
- You have to trust your provider and hope they don’t mess up. MS did a contacts screw up with Hotmail a while ago during an upgrade which affected a small proportion of their users – they kept e-mail addresses, but lost names and other information. And when something is ‘free’, especially, it’s very hard to kick up a stink. In fact, it’s worth noting that a lot of these services have an ‘at your own risk’ policy in their licences. To be safe you should be backing up your online data somewhere offline, which is painful.
SaaS rocks, but it’s not the be all and end all. But it is hot right now (again) and will continue to be so for quite some time. However, Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) driven by the likes of Flex and Silverlight could be returning us to a Client Server paradigm and is probably the way forward – bringing SaaS and local processing benefits to users.
Another thing I’ll add, which I didn’t bother mentioning on the forum, is that you’ll never get the flexibility of a local application with SaaS. The power and bandwidth simply isn’t there, and never will be. My computer can transmit data internally at multiple Gigabit speeds. By the time that kind of broadband exists at a low price for mass adoption most computers will be transmitting data internally at Terabit speeds. For the ultimate in performance you’ll always want local applications. For connected, multi-service and convenient applications you’ll want to go over to SaaS. Both will co-exist, just like Client Server failed to kill off the mainframe.