Online and Offline convergence
31 May 2007 in Apple, Code, Google, Microsoft | Comments enabled

Rather than echoing the “oooh -Google gears” and “oooh – Microsoft surface” stories I thought I’d put a bit more thought into these recent announcements and why I see them as important. Earlier this week Andrew and I were discussing the web and how we both agreed that the humble browser is not the ideal application platform. There are many advantages of web applications (instant updates, great metrics on use, much more) but we’re yet to see the richness and flexibility of what can be done in the offline world. Of course the positives of one platform are effectively the negatives of the other and vice versa. People still make a conscious decision about the type of application they’re building and this got me thinking.

Offline Applications

As I commented on Rod’s blog, I agree with DHH on his views about offline applications. Retrofitting existing applications doesn’t strike me as being a huge win, I’m virtually always connected with a pretty fat pipe. I don’t believe the advantages of offline applications are really obvious yet because we are all still thinking how it affects the current web model. We need to pull our view back another 20,000 feet and start thinking outside the box. I’m not claiming I have the answers on this one but I’m sure we can do better than an RSS reader that has an offline mode!

Breaking out of the browser

With Microsoft Silverlight we have the opportunity to break applications outside of the browser (To see an example check out our Silverlight Video player on the Mindscape blog, just click the video when it is playing). I firmly believe this is a significant step forward again that didn’t really get noticed all that much. Suddenly the browser isn’t all that important other than to host these applications. I joked with Andrew that I look forward to the day when the web browser is a non-visual host and the applications are the only visual part (no jokes about visibility inheritance please ;)

Microsoft Surface

First off, this is pretty damn cool. Personally I think it knocks the socks off the iPhone in terms of cool – Microsoft are helping to usher in a new paradigm here but that’s not why I’m bringing it up. Taking into account what we are discussing here you can quickly start to see the benefits of dropping the web browser. I really don’t want to see Internet Explorer or FireFox as a Window on a device like Microsoft Surface – it would just break the model of how the device is meant to be used. If web applications are no longer looking like web applications and are becoming super rich with cloud and offline storage we’re actually seeing a a convergence of the desktop and web worlds.

Challenges

Having said all this there is a HEAP of work still left to do. We don’t really want every application to look different, uniqueness isn’t actually a benefit in terms of usability, there needs to be standards. We need to consider accessibility for less able users or how this content can be moved between the various devices (PC, tablet, phone…coffee table). I really look forward to some of these problems getting solved though, the future looks bright.

I suspect that in the next 10 years we’re going to stop being able to define an application as being a web application or a desktop application. Rather than consciously trying to build Smart Clients, it will just be the way applications are built and we’ll all laugh at why we ever struggled to build them well in the past :)

What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Want to hire me for tarot card reading?

- JD


2 comments. Add your own comment.

Allan says 6 June 2007 @ 01:17

Wouldn’t your employer Bill object to you moonlighting as Tarot reader? ;-)

And dude, there’s *nothing* cooler than an iPhone :-D just kidding, the Samsung Ultra i600 is pretty neat, except for the OS lol

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