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Free Apps: Enterprise Freebies Get Serious

Like it or not, free software is powering the enterprise. Get comfortable with SaaS, Google Gears, Adobe AIR, application virtualization, and free apps from scores of startups and big-name vendors -- or get left behind.

Why are corporate-issue PCs so locked down?

Enterprise PCs have to offer stability and security first. Flexibility comes in a distant third. Allowing free rein for users to download free software can upset the delicate balance between core applications and the operating system, resulting in system slowdowns and intermittent crashes.

Google Gears uses your PC as an offline data storage repository for Web apps accessed through your browser.
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The other hurdle is the security threat, because nobody wants to be the one responsible for a data breach stemming from the installation of an unnecessary (or even frivolous) application. It's bad enough dealing with e-mail attachments, phishing scams, browser vulnerabilities and unsafe websites. Installing "free" applications inside the firewall? That's asking for trouble.

Nevertheless, the fear of new and unknown code runs counter to the development of a business culture that embraces innovation, experimentation, and customization, and this fear can have an impact on business strategy.

The ideal solution is an enterprise IT architecture that's stable on the inside and built for customization from the outside. That's part of the promise of technologies including SaaS (software as a service) Web applications, desktop applications built on Adobe AIR, offline data access through Google Gears, and application virtualization.

Each technology takes a different approach to application delivery, and you don't necessarily have to choose among them. But you should know the main approaches, how they work, and how they'll help your enterprise take advantage of more and better free stuff.

SaaS Applications

Improved user interface techniques have combined with fast, (almost) always-on connections to make online services a viable alternative to many PC applications. Depending on how many users you have and which services you require, trading from installed software licenses to online subscriptions can represent a good deal.

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