Software developers have a number of highly technical choices to make when designing the infrastructure of their solution(s). For busy law firm execs searching for suitable software the technical aspects of the products on their short-lists can be confusing and distracting. One of the questions the LAWFUSION sales team are occasionally asked is – ‘is LAWFUSION web-based?’
We explain – yes LAWFUSION Direct is our web-based, cloud solution for law firms. But there are two main types of web-based solution out there – they are both ‘software-as-a-service’ solutions but they are quite technically different to each other.
(1) Cloud Desktop Software – e.g. LAWFUSION Direct
(2) Browser-Run Software
Our users access LAWFUSION Direct via a secure internet connection and although they can access it via a web browser from wherever they are, it is not ‘browser-run’ software. This blog explains how ‘Cloud Desktop’ software is different to ‘Browser-Run’ software, and why the authors of LAWFUSION believe the Cloud Desktop approach provides a better user experience for law firms looking for robust, ‘web-based’ software-as-a-service.
Blog: By Joanne Hunter, Head of Marketing, Select Legal Systems Limited
Prospects occasionally ask us why we went the ‘Cloud Desktop’ route as opposed to the ‘Browser-Run’ software route.
Well we believe for a mission critical solution, such as a law firm’s practice management software, there are some key reasons why ‘Cloud Desktop’ is far more suitable. The main reasons behind our choice of technology are laid out in this article for you, but first let’s define both technological approaches:
- ‘Cloud Desktop’ – uses Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) to connect desktop PCs, laptops (and thin clients) to operating systems and applications that are running on a remote server in the cloud. This enables all processing to be done in the cloud whilst the desktop device only needs to use just enough resources to display a picture (i.e. graphics) to the user to show what’s happening in the software on their local desktop screen.
- ‘Browser-Run’ Software – software programs accessed via the internet, via your local desktop device, that resides on servers typically located outside your own local network. The web page your users see, via their browsers, provide the user interface by which they control and run the software and process data (from their local desktop device).
‘Cloud Desktop’ and ‘Browser-Run’ software systems share many of THE SAME KEY benefits, but there are a whole host of EXTRA benefits available for law firms with ‘Cloud Desktop’.
The key benefits SHARED BY BOTH technologies are:
INSTALLATION: no local installation is required at your end, for either ‘Cloud Desktop’ or any package that is fully ‘Browser-Run’. In both cases the software is hosted in the cloud and accessed remotely. However, it is worth noting that some solutions out there for law firms today are what I would call ‘on-premise/’Browser-Run’ hybrids’. They require bits of add-on software installing locally on your users PCs and laptops to make them run effectively in a browser.
ANYWHERE: one of the main benefits often emphasised for ‘Browser-Run’ software is that you can access it from anywhere via a secure internet connection, wherever you may be. The same is true for solutions that utilise ‘Cloud Desktop’. For law firms trying to decide between the two it is worth noting that some ‘Browser-Run’ software requires Microsoft Office to be installed locally, which of course means you would not be able to run the software from anywhere!
UPGRADES: upgrades are all done centrally for both options, no need for updates or bug fixes to be applied locally as these are all administered to the main server in the cloud.
DATA STORAGE: centralised data storage is a shared benefit of both options too – because with both ‘Cloud Desktop’ and ‘Browser-Run’ software, data is not stored on your local devices, it is held centrally and securely in the cloud, making your data easier to manage and to keep up-to-date. However, another point worth bearing in mind for law firms is that some of the current legal ‘Browser-Run’ software solutions on offer in the marketplace actually download all your documents from the supplier’s central server every time one of your users logs in. This kind of set up can often lead to performance / speed issues as well as security concerns if the device is lost or stolen!
HIGHLY SECURE: with the right software partner both approaches are highly secure options. For example with LAWFUSION from Select Legal Systems Limited your data is stored on servers at our UK-based ISO 27001 datacentre which has stringent multi-level security, and equipped with safeguards against power failure and connection failure and your data is all backed up daily, and encrypted.
RESPONSIVE DESIGN: with ‘Browser-Run’ software you’re basically using web pages to run your practice management system so you can have a ‘responsive’ design, like any website. The goal of responsive design is to build web pages that detect the user’s screen size and orientation and change the layout accordingly. This kind of responsiveness can also be built into desktop-based software hence it is also available for ‘Cloud Desktop’ solutions. With the highly configurable nature of LAWFUSION it can automatically adapt to various screen orientations / resolutions.
The Extra Benefits of Cloud Desktop
There is NOTHING extra in terms of benefits a law firm would get from going for a ‘Browser-Run’ solution over a ‘Cloud Desktop’ solution like LAWFUSION Direct. But in our opinion the following are the EXTRA benefits that come with ‘Cloud Desktop’:
1. Stability & Performance
For a law firm, when it comes to the main software system it is relying upon to run its entire business, robust network speed and stability are essential. We find ‘Cloud Desktop’ is fast, controlled and predictable in terms of performance. There are many factors that affect the performance of a ‘Browser-Run’ software solution – e.g. site availability and traffic, can make ‘Browser-Run’ software unpredictable, and much slower than a dedicated ‘Cloud Desktop’. If a firm has a poor internet connection and the network goes off line, ‘Browser-Run’ software will stop working until the connection is restored, and your users will have to re-trace their steps, often losing work and wasting time. With ‘Cloud desktop’ if there is an interruption, your users’ screens may freeze temporarily, but when their connection is restored they will go immediately back to exactly where they were before, without losing anything.
2. Active State vs Disconnected State
‘Browser-Run’ software typically operates in a ‘disconnected state’. User interaction often results in multiple conversations between the browser and the web server, and user authentication is often performed during each conversation before it can even send or receive information. ‘Cloud Desktop’ on the other hand operates in an ‘active state’which means your users’ connected sessions maintain an open, uninterrupted and authenticated connection, which is more reliable and can make the carrying out of work related tasks much quicker than with ‘Browser-Run’ software.
3. Better On Slower Connections
With ‘Cloud Desktop’ all the processing is done on the server and the PC’s job is to display graphically what the software needs to show the user on screen in terms of what has/is changing as they use the software. This results in a small payload with’ Cloud Desktop’ between the service and the PC. For this reason even with a very slow network connection performance via ‘Cloud Desktop’ is fine. This is not always the case with ‘Browser-Run’ software applications. Law firms should ask prospective new suppliers how their solutions work – e.g. some ‘Browser-Run’ applications show the last 10 cases the user has worked on. As the user scrolls to see the previous 10 cases the software has to download the necessary packets of data which can make the system seem sluggish. With a ‘Cloud Desktop’ solution like LAWFUSION Direct your users are viewing the software on the PCs and laptops, but they are running the software on the main server in the cloud. This means, with the right preferences, all the user’s cases are there in front of them, no additional computer processing is required to download them, again making the ‘Cloud Desktop’ approach more efficient and responsive.
4. More Control
Because ‘Cloud Desktop’ is a direct connection, the packets of information your users are sending from their devices to the server are sent direct, and once your connection is established it remains live until the user disconnects. ‘Browser-run’ software applications depend very much on internet routing and your users’ connections could be fast one minute but very slow the next. Also packets of information sent from a ‘Browser-Run’ application may bounce around the world before they arrive at their destination on the server. There is no way of knowing which route each packet will take, they could all take a different route from each other. All of this has a significant effect on performance for your computer system.
5. Supports VPN
‘Cloud Desktop’ supports VPN (Virtual Private Network) connections, if you require more secure private connection over a Wide Area Network (WAN).
VPN is used for private hosted solutions that provide an additional layer of security and remote access to local resources.
6. No Problems With Browser Versions
‘Browser-Run’ software often has issues with different web browser versions not displaying content correctly. E.g. when software applications are enhanced with new functionality users on older browser versions may suffer, as the software may no longer run properly, or it may not run at all. ‘Cloud Desktop’ solutions, on the other hand are designed to give your users a reliable remote desktop session, that works consistently. When utilising ‘Cloud Desktop’ your users’ browser version(s) on their local devices do not come into the equation at all. There is no need to keep reminding users to update to the latest browser, or install security patches. With a ‘Cloud Desktop’ your supplier will take care of this for you on the server, in the cloud, where your practice management software runs.
7. User Consistency
With ‘Cloud Desktop’, all your users are plugged into the same system meaning that updates made by one user are immediately available and visible to other users currently logged into the system. All users are presented with a true reflection of how the screens were designed to display. If you need to lock a record and work on it, it is not a problem in a ‘Cloud Desktop’ environment, other users will know immediately that the record is locked, preventing duplicate work or possible conflicting updates. With ‘Browser-Run’ software, the ‘disconnected state’ means that you have to rely on the information in the browser being refreshed before users can see the most up to date version of your data. ‘Browser-Run’ software also often has display problems – e.g. fonts running over the space allocated in fields, images, tables and graphs not displaying correctly etc.
8. More Flexibility
When your users are provided with a ‘Cloud Desktop’ environment, they have greater flexibility in terms of being able to use multiple applications in the same session window, which allows the freedom to drag and drop files from one screen to another just as they would be able to if they were using software installed on your own on-premise servers. ‘Browser-Run’ software is ‘stateless’ so the dragging and dropping tends not to be as readily or easily available, if at all. ‘Cloud Desktop’ also gives users much more flexibility in terms of using software such as LAWFUSION in collaboration with other software tools, e.g. Law Firms often needs its users to jump around between a number of different software applications and make good use of any integrations between mission-critical applications (i.e. certain Microsoft Office and Exchange products and legal forms packages etc.). Often when users at law firms are sharing info between different software applications there is a whole host of functionality that requires the different tools to share data intelligently. Software add-ins on web browsers can often cause problems with different applications tending to trip each other up in the ‘Browser-Run’ environment. Law firms looking for new practice management software should ask prospective suppliers about how their documents are created – i.e. are they created locally on the PC or laptop, on the cloud (in Office 365 perhaps) or can the remote user create them locally via the main server on the cloud. With ‘Cloud Desktop’ (LAWFUSION Direct) the remote user creates them directly on the main server giving them access to all the centrally held data for paragraph building, auto-form completion etc.
9. A Modern Solution
A ‘Cloud Desktop’ that is utilising RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) such as LAWFUSION Direct is not a client-server solution, which is the type of solution law firms would often rely upon many years ago. ‘Cloud Desktop’ (unlike a traditional client-server set up) does not require a host of additional software to be installed on your local client device(s). In fact all PCs, laptops and thin clients can already connect immediately to a ‘Cloud Desktop’ session, and all major mobile devices also support connecting directly to a ‘Cloud Desktop’ session – including smart phones, tablets, etc.
Large IT players like Microsoft and Citrix continue to invest significantly in ‘Cloud Desktop’ technologies such as RDP (Remote Desktop Protocol) that is used in mission critical software applications like LAWFUSION Direct – Select’s cloud solution for law firms.
Additional Advantages of the LAWFUSION ‘Cloud Desktop’ Bundle
- As part of the competitive monthly LAWFUSION Direct Fee, law firms get Microsoft Office & Exchange Emails and the sophisticated integration that LAWFUSION’s authors have designed especially for law firms.
- As part of the ‘Cloud Desktop’ LAWFUSION users get their own local storage area for files and documents outside of LAWFUSION.
- Firms also get a storage area for firm-wide document and file sharing outside of LAWFUSION, as part of the ‘Cloud Desktop’.
- With Select’s private hosting option, additional software packages can be installed onto the ‘Cloud Desktop’ preventing the need to install, configure and back-up these on your local networks, which cannot be achieved on a ‘Browser-Run’ solution. Ask Team LAWFUSION about this when discussing your quotation.
- There are two forms package options with LAWFUSION Direct too available in the ‘Cloud Desktop’ environment – Laserforms and Oyez. Again Team LAWFUSION will provide pricing for these, information and demonstration of both.
Select Legal Systems Limited has been delivering quality legal practice management software to law firms for 25+ years. Their flagship product, LAWFUSION, offers everything from legal accounts and time recording to case management and CRM software, and much, much more. LAWFUSION is available as a traditional on-premise installation, or our cloud-based, software-as-a-service model – LAWFUSION Direct – which is available for a competitive monthly fee.
Select Legal Systems Limited is ISO 27001 security certified at company level and it’s cloud option LAWFUSION Direct is hosted at a UK ISO 27001 datacentre.