After being in a radio show (german) about web browsers recently and reading all that hype about client side web applications, I got more and more thinking. I can’t see really the use case now and I wonder if I’m that alone with this opinion. But let me explain my thoughts on it.
For now there are several kinds of client side web applications. There are text processors, photo managing tools, presentation slides editors, spreadsheets etc etc. But is there a real use for them. Personally I’d rather have my text processor on my hard disk, I’m also not processing my camera RAW pictures in a web browser and so on. For all of these serious tasks there is already software exactly suited for the job. Its hard to imagine that one day an online text processor would outperform Word, Pages or even editors like Textmate or Eclipse.
There is also no real advantage to do these kind of tasks within the browser. Even the software, although it is distributed directly through the net, is practically on your hard disk and the whole purpose and the recent efforts are about making these web applications run in your browser even when you’re offline.
So your work is kind of stored on your machine within the browser context, the software you’re using is on your machine and you don’t even have to be online to work with it. It just doesn’t sound like a web application.
The whole point of doing something in the web is to connect people and information. There were plenty of implementations of Hypertext prior to its premiere in the world wide web. Bringing this concept to the web also brought a very useful extension. Rather than creating local hyperlinks only you could set hyperlinks to completely different servers across the whole planet. You could connect information that was impossible to connect before. The web is also a lot about communication these days. Look at these endless lists of online communities or projects like twitter. Its about connecting people, sharing and distributing information.
A word processor simply doesn’t make sense within the web context without making explicitly use of these features of the web which I just mentioned. Now managing my photos online only makes sense if I want to share them. Flickr is the perfect example for that. You have a very good chance improving flickrs user experience by using frameworks like the recently hyped sproutcore to make everything look like serious application environment but it is only an enhancement to a service that had no desktop equivalent before.
So when there is a web application that is more or less cloning an existing desktop application without adding capabilities that are unique to the web environment, it is completely useless. Why I create my presentation with a 10 times slower version of keynote online? Why would I edit my photos online where I have limited tools and therefor limited possibilities? Why would anyone re-implement the Desktop itself in a web application when it has no features could really need?
Check the EyeOS Website. I mean hello? When I read about it I imagined a person who doesn’t have a graphical operating system but wants to have a desktop like look and feel on the screen. This person than decides to install a browser in order to use EyeOS’s web based desktop. Thats the only use case I can come up with. They’ve entirely forgotten what the web is and what it is good for.
In the end your favorite web application is currently not available due some stability or scaling issues or maybe both. Now you’re sitting there, can’t edit your documents, can’t manage your mails, can’t work with your photos, can’t access your bookmarks etc etc. In this scenario you got one new major dependency to able to work. It isn’t enough that your computer works and that you have the proper software installed, you must also hope to get a decent internet connection without people in the same cloud sucking all the precious bandwidth with their heavy downloads etc.
I know I’m exaggerating here quite a bit. Apologies.
My point is that I’m not against the idea of client side web application. Not at all – the recent developments and achievements are truly awesome. in fact, before writing this post I played around with sproutcore. I’m just against this whole hype of cloning the desktop experience into the web without any sense for the web itself. I think we should rather focus on enhancing and developing present and new concepts which progressively explore the possibilities the web offers for us. Think Wikipedia not Word. Think flickr not iPhoto. Sync, aggregate, share and communicate over the web rather than building self contained and therefor boring and uninteresting islands.
I mean sure, Keynote or iPhoto in the web browser is impressive but – yeah – thats basically it. Wikipedia is a lot more impressive, even with a old school interface.
But we’ll see how far everything goes, with client side storage and all that. In my opinion though the whole “software distributed through the browser” thing is as visionary or useful as the 3D desktop.