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U.K. bank sees browserless future

Online bank Egg is considering a move away from pure Web interfaces for its customers, in a shift that will have implications for developers as well as customers.

Online bank Egg is considering a move away from pure Web interfaces for its customers, in a shift that will have implications for developers as well as customers.

If Egg, which made its name as a pure online bank with no physical branches, takes this route, those among its 3 million customers who want to make the most of the bank's features would have to run the Windows operating system.

"Today, Egg is primarily Web-based," said Chief Information Officer Tom Llube, addressing the Developing Software for the Future Microsoft Platform conference at London's QEII Conference Centre this week. "But going forward, we will have to move it to smart-client-based solution."

The smart client--in this case, an operating system that incorporates browser functions--is likely to involve Longhorn, Microsoft's next version of the Windows operating system, said Llube, who provided a demonstration for the audience at the conference.

Longhorn, which isn't expected to debut until 2006, will include many technological enhancements, including a new data storage and retrieval system and better graphics than current versions of Windows. Microsoft has also hinted that Longhorn's debut will coincide with a move to end the distribution of stand-alone Web browser software.

The move from the browser-based model to a smart-client model will be an important shift for Egg, Llube said. "Longhorn is a key bit of the jigsaw that enables me to take that step. Our view is that any company serious about this type of thing needs to look at smart-client, customer-side computing."

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Later, in a question-and-answer session with journalists, Llube denied that the change would force all customers to move to Longhorn. Those using other operating systems such as Linux or the Mac OS would still be able to use the services through a Web client as all Egg customers currently do, said Llube, but those who wanted to videoconference live with the bank's support desk, for instance, would need to run Microsoft's upcoming operating system.

But, he said, the bank will move away from the current "one size fits all" model to having a range of services suited to different types of users. "So, if I have a critical mass of users on Longhorn who expect a different class of experience, we will cater for them, but we would support the others."

Llube also said the changing philosophy will affect the way developers will have to think. "My developers are going to have think much more about what it means to a customer--how it looks to them--than they do at the moment," he said. "I am becoming more discriminating about the type of developer I think I need, if I'm to develop these types of application. It is because technology is so fundamental to us. It runs through everything we do."