Software as a Service (SaaS for short) is a popular topic these days and for good reason. With the ubiquity of the web and the software to drive great applications on the web, it's a paradigm a lot of organizations and people are looking at to drive business. In short, SaaS is the process of creating an web application where multiple customers use the same central engine hosting a web application. There's great examples of this out there already, some of which you may know. Some of the most notable ones are applications like Facebook, Flickr, Salesforce.com, Hotmail and others.
The interesting thing about this paradigm is that it's changing already. Although SaaS is not a new concept, there are people looking at expanding SaaS into a paradigm that is multi-channel as opposed to web-only (i.e.: browser-based access, desktop application access, mobile access, set-top box access, etc.). This spin on SaaS is often called Software and Services (S+S for short) is actually a superset of what SaaS is and it is picking up a lot of steam in both the business world and the consumer world. The idea here is to bring the power of cloud and web-based services to whichever platform or channel you are using, rather than just the browser. A great example of S+S isHosted Exchange (with access to an email client such as Outlook or Thunderbird).
With the definitions out of the way, I want to bring to your attention to purpose of this post, which is Microsoft Research's Worldwide Telescope. If you're an amateur (or professional!) astronomer, this application will likely interest you. It's a free download (but currently it works on Windows machines only). In a nutshell, it's a Windows desktop application that provides the user with access to the night sky using images and data from various astronomical data repositories (such as the Hubble Space Telescope image catalogue and the Sloan Digital Sky Survey). The image below is a screenshot of the application, showing an image of the Pleiades star cluster.
As you can see, the interface is very rich. This in of itself doesn't make it an S+S application, however. As I stated above, this application uses web-based services to display the images and data that you see on the screen. In fact, it mashes up a number of different services to provide access to the data displayed on the screen. In the example above, it's consuming Sloan Digital Sky Survey (SDSS) data for the images and then another service to display the name of various celestial bodies (such as the highlighted star Maia).
Some of the other S+S features is provides are ones that you may not expect. For example, many modern personal telescopes have motorized movement mechanisms that allow the telescope to move and focus on the sky in an automated way. This software provides connectivity to telescopes (this can be found in the Telescope tab at the top of the screen) that allows telescopes compliant with ASCOM (a software interface commonly used with telescope movement mechanisms) to move to view celestial objects you see on the screen.
While this application is not a business application, it does have a lot of appeal for consumer and educational audiences. It is also a great example of some of the types of applications that use S+S tenets to provide a richer, fuller experience for the user.
If you are interested in learning more about S+S-enabled applications, there are a number of great resources for you to look at (in addition to this blog, which will be providing S+S discussions as one of the topics it will cover). Below is a list of good starting places for S+S:
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