Software-Development Tools Belong in the Browser

It is clear that the cloud is disrupting the way most software is deployed and consumed. Benefits such as elasticity, agility, and operational cost savings make it very compelling for companies to go with the cloud model, and the simplicity of the browser compared to desktop software makes cloud software a favorite for end users, as well. The battle between and Siebel back in the 2000s is a constant reminder of the dramatic advantages of the cloud model. The benefits of the cloud model are so compelling that it would be hard for an idea that bets against that model to even get VC funding.

What about software development tools? Why are most developers still downloading gigabytes of software libraries and installing it on their laptops? Should development tools move inside the browser also? Yes—software development tools will also end up disrupted by the cloud.

The cloud is disrupting all software. In the same way that consumer applications like email and enterprise applications such as CRM moved to the cloud, so will software development tools. And the trend has already begun, sparked initially by mobile development platforms looking to deliver faster innovation. Before diving deeper, let’s take a quick look back at two software categories that have already been disrupted by the cloud.

Consumer Applications

The cloud began disrupting consumer applications as soon as the browser and HTML landed on consumer desktops. Most notably, consumer email began to migrate to the cloud with the launch of Hotmail back in 1996 and Yahoo Mail in 1997. Even though the user experience of HTML at the time was quite basic, the new model was so compelling that traditional ISP-provided email, which relied on downloaded software such as Outlook Express, began to decline. The launch of Gmail added a significant boost to the trend, taking advantage of Ajax, which delivered a much improved user experience in the browser.

Business Applications

The launch of in 1999 and its subsequent crushing of Siebel in the 2000s began the steady move of business applications to the cloud. Although initially dismissed by some as OK only for IT-handicapped, small companies, is now the undisputed leader in CRM, surpassing giants such as SAP, Oracle, Microsoft and IBM (see respective market shares here).

Software Development Tools

Why are developers still downloading tools and SDKs? Xcode, as an example, is a heavy download at a couple of gigabytes which developers have to re-download with every update if they want to stay current, then configure and maintain it. Why host so many software libraries that you are not likely to use and that quickly become obsolete on your own laptop? Of course you can live with such inconvenience, but is that the best approach in the era of the cloud?

Mainstream development tools have not migrated to the cloud because developers are much more demanding than other users. They demand the performance and native look and feel typically associated with having a dedicated local machine and software that is native to the OS. Many developers will also tell you that they want to be able to develop without a network connection. Because of these reasons, traditional tools such as Eclipse, Xcode, and Visual Studio have been favored by most developers.

However, this is beginning to change. Three key factors are enabling this transition:

  • Modern browsers such as Chrome and Firefox are now fast enough to compete with the performance usually associated with native OS software. CPUs are of course getting faster thanks to Moore’s law, but also JavaScript engines are getting faster.
  • HTML5 is more mature, enabling a more native like experience that is consistent across browsers.
  • Networks are faster and connectivity is now ubiquitous. The benefits of cloud-based development now far outweigh the inconvenience of the occasional lack of connectivity.

The time is right for software development, especially mobile development, to move to the cloud and be offered as a service.

Cloud based development offers significant advantages over traditional software-based approaches, including:

  • No need to regularly download, configure, and maintain tools and SDK’s. The infrastructure you need is ready with one click for you and your whole team.
  • Ability to develop from anywhere. Any device that has a browser in any location can be a development workstation.
  • Improved collaboration among teams as projects are centralized in the cloud and can be easily shared and modified by multiple people (such as Google Docs). This enables real-time collaboration between business users, designers, developers and clients, even if they are in remote locations. Business users get immediate visual feedback of changes made, enabling faster iteration and requirements gathering in real time.
  • Faster onboarding of developers and adoption so there is no need to set up and maintain complex development environments. This improved agility can result in faster time to market for new applications.
  • Much easier to hire developers globally, as every team member immediately has access to the same version and configuration of the development environment.

These advantages result in much faster innovation compared to traditional tools. It’s easier to hire resources, faster to onboard them, faster to develop, and much faster iteration, thanks to improved collaboration.

Mobile Developers, the Early Adopters

Compared to the desktop, where there is so much legacy software that needs to be maintained, mobile is much more of an evergreen opportunity for developers. Because of this lack of legacy, mobile presents a great opportunity to begin the transition to browser based development tools.

Software development tools will be disrupted by the cloud and move inside the browser. The benefits are compelling and the technology enablers are now in place for the disruption. As with every technology disruption, there will be early and late adopters, depending on individual needs and willingness to take risks… as long as your current tools meet your needs, you may not have a compelling need to move, just be sure you watch this space and don’t wait too long. If you are building mobile apps for the enterprise, the time to move may be now.

What are your thoughts? Do you think the cloud will disrupt software development tools? Are you considering adopting them?


Fima Katz is the President and CEO of Exadel, makers of 

Image: Maxx-Studio/