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App refactoring and modernization isn’t just for mobile—we need it for desktops and laptops, too.

In the last few weeks we’ve talked frequently about app refactoring and modernization (podcast | article | video). This is the idea that you can take an application intended for use with a large screen, keyboard, and mouse, and—using one technique or another—convert it into a mobile app.

The benefits of refactoring and modernization are obvious for mobile devices, since the difficulties of using remote desktops and old-style web apps on smartphones and tablets have been known for years.

However, we need refactoring and modernization for desktops and laptops, too.

To be clear, I’m talking about starting out with desktop or web apps designed for large screens, keyboards, and mice, and ending up with apps that are still meant for large screens, keyboards, and mice. But beyond that, the resulting apps would actually have much more in common with mobile apps. They would be one of the following:

  • HTML5
  • Native “new-style” desktop apps. (By new style I mean the sandboxed, tightly-controlled apps in the Mac App Store or Wondows Store)
  • HTML5 apps delivered in a new-style managed browser or as hybrid apps.

So what are the benefits?

First, there’s the chance to streamline and change the UI. Now I’ll be the first to admit that I like my desktop apps to be dense and customizable and that there’s nothing more frustrating than an app with that’s stripped-down. But on the other hand, there are plenty of existing desktop applications with terrible, bloated UIs. Refactoring these to a modern UI would make users’ and IT’s lives easier—it could save a lot of time and money by reducing the need for training.

But this is about way more than just the UI. When we go from desktop to mobile, mobile forces us to do a lot of things things differently. All of the new concepts we need for mobile can also do a lot for desktops. For example:

  • Connectivity can be built into the app, so there’s no need for an annoying traditional VPN connection.
  • Security mechanisms can be built into the app or container (remote wipe, DLP, encryption, etc.)
  • There’s no need for crazy browser requirements.
  • Much easier provisioning. HTML5 apps work anywhere, and the new-style app store apps intsall and remove with ease and don’t conflict with each other.
  • Native apps could enable offline support where it didn’t exist before.
  • Depending on the use case, this can be an alternative to various desktop virtualization-related technologies.
  • It’s a lot easier to make changes to these new apps—you don’t have to mess with the original application.
  • New-style apps and EMM-like management are now a part of desktop OSes anyway—this just builds on the concept.
  • This is the ultimate BYOC solution, as well as the ultimate Macbook solution. (Seriously, how many corporate MacBooks are there these days, and how many of them are actually being managed and supported that well?)

There are some vendors that are already working on this concept.

Moka5 has Project Skynet. Workspot has a Windows container now. There’s also Subspace (acquired by Box), a managed browser that was recently acquired by Box. While these products don’t actually focus on transforming individual applications, they’re all taking various aspects of the desktop experience and making it much more like a mobile experience.

Some mobile app development platforms and refactoring vendors could very easily target desktops, too. (We talked about this idea last week with Reddo.)

There’s also SAP Fiori, the new user experience principles that SAP is promoting on all platforms (not just mobile).

Is all of this realistic?

Modernizing the UI on a desktop app probably isn’t the highest priority in most IT shops. (“Wait, you’re telling me we have to do all this work on our desktop apps… so they can be used from desktops?”) But on the other hand, even if you’re not enabling something that’s net-new, there are plenty of places where new, modernized desktop apps that will enable new use cases and opportunities. (For example BYOC, remote access, supporting Mac OS, increasing productivity and user satisfactions, etc.) Also, if you’re putting a lot of effort into enabling mobility, enabling the same modern experience except on desktops is just an incremental increase in effort.

What do you think? Personally I’m excited about all the ways that EMM and mobility are influencing desktop management, and I think refactoring and modernizing desktop applications could be an important part of that, too.