Over the past decade, several methods of viewing have come into use – ActiveX, Java applets, client-server, thin client etc. But recently the buzz has been about zero footprint viewing. What does zero footprint viewing mean, and how different is it from other viewing methods? What does it require? This whitepaper discusses some of the benefits of using zero footprint viewing over dated technologies and how to make your application ready for these zero footprint clients.

The Need for a Zero Footprint Viewer

The Web has changed how people consume, share, discover and connect with content. Users are uploading content into web based systems, whether it’s an enterprise content management system (ECM), customer relationship management system (CRM) or any other file system. They want to seamlessly access and share this content with others, without the device, hardware, and software limitations of traditional desktop systems. Viewers based on ActiveX or Java applets served these users well, when everyone was accessing this content over their Windows and Macintosh PCs. However, with the introduction of tablets, smartphones and other mobile devices, content must now be made available to all of these devices in a consistent interface. Older viewers lack the innovation, speed, and technology to make this happen. A zero footprint viewer truly addresses these needs using client-server visualization architecture and utilizes the standard browsers, plug-ins and built-in hardware virtualization to enable viewing in real-time.


What is a Zero Footprint Viewer?

A zero footprint viewer means there is no client side install or download, allowing for viewing of documents and images within the native web browser, while harnessing the true capabilities of the browser, built-in plugins, and their interaction with the device itself.

In the past, opening a Word document required a client side install of a word processing application on each machine. This would also require users to download the whole document on the client, before opening it. This approach works fine when you are only dealing with one document type on a single client machine, but with the ever increasing file formats, devices, phones, tablets, and computers commonly available in an enterprise environment, the result is inefficiency and complexity.

A zero footprint viewer allows viewing natively in the web browser regardless of the type of browser, version, location, machine, device, software, or hardware. The viewer utilizes AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) technology to interact dynamically with the server and loads document objects in real-time in a format understood by the user’s environment and browser, thereby eliminating the need for any additional software or plug-ins. Since the viewer does not store anything on the end user’s machine, there are no storage or technology requirements for users’ mobile devices, PCs or workstations.

The Zero of Everything

Zero footprint viewing has benefits far exceeding the zero in its name:

Zero Installs: The zero footprint design means that no application, plug-in, or applet must be installed or downloaded on the client. The native browser on the machine or device is enough to provide the viewing capabilities. A zero footprint viewer utilizes complex imaging with dynamic client-server architecture to display documents in a rich application experience to end users with minimal latency.

Zero Requirements: With the introduction of several new operating systems, numerous devices exist in the market with varying versions and flavors of these OSs. Further, an OS installed on one device with multi-touch screen capabilities might behave differently than on another device with a stylus screen capability. The hardware of these devices might have different capabilities based on different processors, memory, screen size and graphic cards being used. A zero footprint viewer works with any OS and renders real-time content based on the browser OS and hardware combination, thereby providing an optimal view to the end user.

Zero Maintenance: As enterprises grow and more users carry a phone, tablet and a personal computer, it becomes increasingly difficult to install client software on each machine and to provide maintenance and upgrades over time. The process is not only time consuming and complex, but also inefficient. A browser-based, zero footprint document viewer enables distributed file sharing, but requires no client side maintenance or upgrades and allows full control directly from a central server.

Zero Time to Load: Imagine if there was no streaming concept and every time you accessed a website, you were required to download the whole website or web page html code and images within it just to view the content. Or if you wanted to view a video on YouTube, you were required to download the whole video before starting to view it. A zero footprint viewer is built on this same streaming concept and loads content on-demand, instead of downloading the whole document on the user’s machine.

Web Enablement of Content for Zero Footprint Viewing

For the rapid integration of zero footprint viewing into just about any content based application, some essential steps are required:

1) Make your information smarter – We know metadata is data around data. But we forget the importance metadata can play in making the information richer, searchable and even SEO (Search Engine Optimization) ready. Make sure any content you add to your storage has rich content around it.

2) Make your information accessible – Adding content to a storage cloud alone does not make your documents and content shareable and accessible. Creating a self-optimizing viewing application for your users, which connects viewing to the storage repository, enables you to offer a variety of accessibility options for different content types. With more and more users becoming mobile and new OSs and devices coming into the market, reliance on desktop software is becoming less prominent every day. Users would like to view content from wherever they are, and a zero footprint AJAX viewer can be a solution for this problem.

3) Secure your content – Security is still a major concern when adding content to a storage cloud. Adding rights management, data encryption and SSL, along with high-speed viewing, not only allows content protection, but also adds a whole new dimension of secure access. By adding Digital Rights Management (DRM) controls on the document you can not only render them as view-only documents, but also control printing, navigation, pan control and even saving of the content within a work group, across departments, or with partners and suppliers outside the firewall.

4) Stream your content – Lastly, investing in a content delivery framework goes a long way in minimizing your bandwidth costs while enabling you to provide streaming documents on-demand to your users. Let your users view content from its native store, without the wait.


Zero footprint viewing is an evolutionary step away from the download-and-play model. In today’s SaaS (Software as a Service) enabled, Cloud connected content sharing environment, zero footprint viewing provides the flexibility required to unify file types, users, browsers, and devices.

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