Software Automation and the Modern Web: The Web As a Platform

The Takeaway: The modern Web is a platform for user connections, and automation can play an important role in ensuring platform integrity.

The advent of Web 2.0 has altered the way users interact with enterprise-level software and the way enterprises incorporate software into their business.

Tim O’Reilly’s definitional article (2005) describes the shift that started around that time and points to a number of factors that have led to the proliferation of Web applications for business use.

The Web as a Platform

The World Wide Web has become its own platform, upon which developers are developing next-generation Web applications and rich Internet applications. The evolution of the Web as a platform allows developers to think about applications as browser-based services, independent of user operating systems. Some even argue that the Internet browser is becoming the next operating system, capable of delivering applications and extending architectural capabilities in much the same way traditional, desktop operating systems have worked for many years (Wayner, 2013; Garaizar, P., Vadillo, M. A., López-de-Ipiña, D., & Matute, H., 2012).

The success of Google’s Chrome OS points to the
successes companies are seeing with implementing
Internet-as-Platform concepts.

Using the Web as a platform, instead of a specific operating system or specific browser, frees developers from the constraints imposed by utilizing operating systems and browsers, allowing the large amounts of interoperability organizations require from their Web applications. Thinking of the Web as a platform also highlights the network effects possible with Web applications, where the value that the Web application provides the organization using it increases as the number of individuals using the application increases.

What This Means for Automation

Automation plays a valuable role in the Web as a Platform in several ways:

  • The World Wide Web allows us to start abstracting applications from traditional operating systems, but the implementation of the same browser in various operating systems still means there is a need to test those implementations in order to minimize risk. That’s where Sauce Labs, BrowserStack, and the Selenium Grid come into play.

We, as automation engineers, need to understand that, for the web applications we automate, a core strength is an application’s flexibility and “lack of control”.  Once a vendor attempts to control both ends of communication, you lose the primary value of the Web. There are ways to mitigate risk, whether it’s by only supporting particular browsers and not using resources to troubleshoot user issues on other browsers, or by testing your application on multiple browsers/versions/operating systems to make sure your application performs as well as it can on a wide variety of end-user machines. Thankfully, we are also able to mitigate risk with responsive websites that can display information in different ways depending on the browser and the end-user device. Decisions made

Decisions made at the beginning of any software project about browser/device compatibility impact automation effort scope and automation engineers should be in on these conversations from the start.

  • A key tenant of Web 2.0 is that the service improves as the number of users increase. The WWW’s focus is on connections, clients, hosts, and, most importantly, the information that flows between through these connections and between these end-points. Automation’s ability to precisely execute a set of inputs, and then compare the actual outputs with expected outputs helps ensure that all possible execution paths of an information system meet user expectations.

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