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Application-refactoring tools evolve, go social with PowWow

Many app-refactoring tools have catches: They either don't work on Web apps or they need source code access. But with a new product from startup PowWow, you can deliver Windows and Web applications to devices without access to the source code.

Over the past few months I've been hearing about a new startup called PowWow Inc., and I had a chance to see how its application-refactoring product works at BriForum 2014 in Boston.

Application refactoring is the process of taking a Windows application and reformatting it for use on mobile devices. Many app-refactoring products have limitations: Either they only work on Web apps, or they require access to the source code. PowWow's app-refactoring tool works with any Web app and -- more importantly -- any Windows application without needing access to the source code.

It intercepts the Remote Desktop Protocol (RDP) stream from an application delivered via Remote Desktop Session Host. From there, the RDP data is transcoded into HTML5, which is more or less how most HTML5 remote desktop clients work. During this transcoding process, PowWow identifies the objects within the application and transmits them to the client as metadata.

The client that's installed on the endpoint sees this metadata, and depending on how each device has been told to work with each application and its metadata, the application's interface transforms on the fly. This happens on a per-app and per-device level, so IT administrators can create different transformations for different applications, and different app layouts for tablets and smartphones.

In other words, Windows apps go in, mobile-friendly apps come out.

PowWow vs. its competitors

The transformations that PowWow can do have many different use cases. For instance, you could change buttons' size to make them more finger-friendly, or change text size to make it easy to view on small screens. And you can configure different gestures for different areas of an application so that scrolling on one screen may be the same as swiping your fingers left or right, whereas in a different area of an application that same gesture might move forward and back (such as with the Web browser).

PowWow also has a collaboration feature that allows users to share what they see on their screens with co-workers. This can be done via a read-only link, or by inviting co-workers to collaborate in a single application.

At BriForum, PowWow announced a version of its client for Apple iPhones. It was previously available only for the iPad. The iPhone client -- and the iPad one, to a lesser extent -- uses a feature called "Screens" to logically break up an app into related chunks. The screens functionality is similar to what you might see with virtual desktops on Linux and Mac OSes, except it's at the application level instead of the desktop level. The idea is that you have different screens or tabs within the application on your phone or tablet, and then you can put different elements of the application into each screen.

PowWow works with any Windows application whether or not you have access to the source code. This gives it two advantages over the Citrix Mobile SDK. First, the Mobile SDK requires that you have source code access so that you can add in blocks of code to make the app transformable. Second, the Citrix Mobile SDK does not work for Web apps. Capriza is another application refactoring vendor, but it's limited to Web apps only. This is essentially rewriting HTML, which is good if you only need to do Web apps.

PowWow has both cloud-hosted and on-premises deployment options, and the company is letting just about anybody give the product a try. Given how hard it is to make Windows apps work on mobile devices as part of Windows and mobility strategies, this kind of application refactoring could be just the thing many companies have been waiting for.

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Does app refactoring appeal to you?
Very informative writeup. Can you comment on how PowWow compares to Sphere 3D's Glassware 2.0?