Deploying applications is a pain, but that's not news to you or to the companies that devise deployment tools and strategies. Deployment using scripted installations, Systems Management Server, Windows 2000's Intellimirror, or server-based computing requires a hefty setup effort on the server side, and it can demand a lot of server-side resources and network bandwidth. However, on a large scale, any of these methods is simpler than trotting from client desktop to client desktop, installation CD-ROM in hand.

What about deployment on a grand scale? For example, you might want to install applications to people spread throughout several companies, or to thousands of home users who would rather not have to go out and buy the applications they need. The answer is server-based computing, and it's changing the way people—individuals and companies—buy applications. According to a Wall Street Journal story on July 21, 1999, 388,000 people filled out their 1998 tax returns on Intuit's Web site rather than by buying the company's TurboTax software. And individuals aren't the only ones taking advantage of application service providers (ASPs). The same story reported that "more than 100,000 people log on to the site of Atlanta-based Employease Inc. to use human-resources software; their employers pay $3 to $4 monthly per worker instead of buying and installing programs on their computers."

People who fill out their tax forms online don't have to buy new copies of the tax software every year—it's there for them when they log on. This works for corporations too: When you make a change to your human resources software, for example, the server will distribute the change to everyone who uses the application. You can update any software at home or in the office in much the same way.

To check out Windows applications published on the Internet, go to the Demo Room on the Citrix Web site at http://www.citrix.com/demoroom/demo.asp. From here, you can run some of the Microsoft Office Suite from your Web browser, either embedded in the browser or in a separate window.

Are server-based Windows applications ready for prime time? Not yet. As you can see from the Citrix demo, the applications are still a bit slow in responding to mouse and keyboard input. As in any server-based environment, ASPs will need to tune their published applications carefully to avoid weird error messages and unusable paths, and to make sure that ASP subscribers don't have more access to the terminal server than the ASP intended. However, for forms and similar applications—especially applications that change frequently—the Web is an ideal environment. Given time to work out the bugs in deployment, I, along with the 60 or so companies in the ASP consortium, believe ASPs have a real chance of making this kind of wide-scale application deployment work. In short, server-based computing has the potential to change the way applications get to users—not just in a corporate environment, but for consumers, too.