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Google wants to bring back the enterprise web application — with Chrome at the center

The Modern Computing Alliance includes 11 prominent tech companies that have agreed to design their products to work better together as part of a new effort to resurrect web applications.

Google wants to bring back the enterprise web application — with Chrome at the center

The alliance members have pledged to devote engineering time toward making their products work better together.

Image: Google

After a year during which businesses embraced cloud-based enterprise software at an astounding pace, Google wants to make its Chrome browser and Chrome OS devices the preferred vehicle for a new way of working.

Google has assembled 11 enterprise tech companies in the Modern Computing Alliance, which will be unveiled Thursday. The idea behind the alliance is to encourage enterprise software vendors to work closely with Google and Intel to improve the performance of their services on Chrome and Chrome OS, and also resurrect the concept of "progressive web applications," said John Solomon, vice president for Chrome OS at Google.

"We've realized that the demands for computing are becoming increasingly complex," Solomon said in an interview with Protocol. "Many systems today are not optimized for all-day videoconferencing in a rich application environment, and that is because the end-to-end systems are not designed with that in mind."

The alliance members have pledged to devote engineering time toward making their products work better together, said Chris Walker, vice president and general manager for mobile client platforms at Intel, an inaugural member.

"This is an engineering-first work group," Walker said. Solomon agreed: "There's a tremendous opportunity [in just] performance improvements, not to mention security improvements."

Many of the enterprise tools embraced by remote workers this year — including alliance members Zoom, Slack and Box — are used through desktop or mobile apps on Macs, PCs, iPhones and Android devices. Through the alliance, Google wants to encourage software vendors to build web applications as performant and easy-to-use as their desktop alternatives — so long as Chrome or Chrome OS is the target.

"If an enterprise decides that they want to use Chrome OS to modernize their endpoint computers, we want to make sure that the applications they run today run unbelievably well from a performance perspective, from a security perspective, [including] identity and infrastructure," Solomon said.

About a decade ago, progressive web applications were considered the path forward for mobile developers looking to avoid creating two different applications for iOS and Android, but they never really caught on. Back in 2012, Mark Zuckerberg actually considered the time spent trying to develop a web application "the biggest mistake we've made as a company."

But a lot of things have changed this year. Companies are relying on cloud enterprise software for just about everything right now; meetings that used to take place in conference rooms without devices are now being conducted entirely online. And IT controls designed for physical networks and buildings don't work when we're working from home.

Standardizing on Chrome or Chrome OS apps developed through the alliance will give IT departments better data about how their workers are using their tools, as well as "recommendations on how to optimize workflow experiences and automate repetitive tasks, to facilitate improved system efficiency," according to a Google blog post.

"The web has come a long way," Solomon said. "The technologies available with Service Workers, and the way Chromium [the open-source version of Chrome] has come along, the web platform has developed so much that you're seeing progressive web apps now that are performing across areas no one could have imagined."

The other companies participating in the Modern Computing Alliance include Box, Citrix, Dell, Imprivata, Okta, RingCentral, Slack, VMware and Zoom. More details are expected to be released in the first half of 2021 on products co-developed through the alliance, and Google is actively soliciting other companies to join.

Correction: This article was updated at 1:01 p.m. PT to correct Chris Walker's title.

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