So I wrote down a bunch of topics last night that I thought would make some useful and interesting entries. However they will have to wait as this weblog entry is one of my pet interests and should be discussed.
The whole WebOS/Webtop for me has proven to be a case of people not stopping to think that just because they can do something does that mean it has any value. It is a great technological trick taking this platform we have within the web browser, one that is restricted in such a tight way, and make it attempt to mirror your computer desktop. It is however a step backwards to a thin client way of working. It has in built problems as well, if you are relying on it and your internet connection is down, or slow, or unavailable? With web based apps you are storing stuff out there and that is certainly not as safe as storing it locally (assuming you have taken precautions). Before we even look at hackers you have to consider you are storing your private information with a third party on their machines, without putting on a tinfoil hat it is worth considering what they will do with that data, Google index it and use it to serve up adverts relevant to you, which to my mind is mildly terrifying.
However there are a reasons WebOS/Web Based Applications are useful; sharing of information, access anywhere and no install. It always pleases me when I download a software tool that runs from its own executable, no install, it just runs. It would be so nice if Word were a single executable file that I could copy to my machine, double click on and it would run. I don’t think this is going to happen any time soon, so there isn’t really much we can do about the software installation. What we can look at is access anywhere and information sharing. I’ve been speaking for a few years to those that will listen to me about smart client software. Software that has an installed or executable component on the local machine but happily interacts with your web based information, giving you the ability to choose what you store locally and what you store on the web. With things like Word 2007 allowing you to blog and collaborate(via Sharepoint) from Word it makes projects like Writely a bit pointless, sure you could have the somewhat clunky web based version, or you could do the exact same thing in a nice slick environment, the end result will be the same. The webs access from anywhere benefit would require multiplatform clients or at the very least the ability for a program to run from a memory stick and not need to be installed on the machine. This is a consideration when building smart client applications and one I hope more people will take on board.
The upgrade cycle for web applications is a lot more agile than those of their desktop based equivalents. What I’d like to see is some way of streaming new functionality to applications on your desktop over the web without it being a patch, or a large download. It is something I’ve not had time to examine but the ability to seamlessly add functions to a basic word processor would be great, it would also mean that upgrades and bug fixes happen seamlessly. It is a step beyond storing the output of a desktop based app on the net, it is storing the actual functionality of a desktop based shell. Is there mileage in that?
I think web based applications will have their users and their uses, but the first time you can’t get at your data for whatever reason it will be obvious that using web based services for mission critical applications is a very risky strategy to take. So it doesn’t make sense as a complete business decision, which leaves mobile users and home users. Mobile users have their (rapidly shrinking) laptops to take their data around with them and the home user whilst a large market takes a while to embrace new technology, particularly if an upgrade of a more familiar environment is put in front of them before they have made the switch.
Right now my money is on the smart client to rise. Tools that straddle both desktop and web space, it seems to be where Microsoft’s money is heading towards. Now if we can get more of these applications that can be run from memory sticks without install we’d be on to a winner. I also worry the browser as desktop or application trick is helping to fuel the fire that is filling the Web2.0 bubble and keeping it aloft, and when these two things don’t deliver what people expected of them, then the bubble will start to collapse in on itself.