A Canvas for Thought

April 2, 2007

Why Offline Web Development Matters

Filed under: perspectives — vednis @ 9:03 am

This is a response that I posted in the a thread about Adobe Apollo and Joyent Slingshot. It answers the question “Why do these offline web platforms matter?”

The fact is that people still use desktop applications, and those applications by-and-large offer better integration and responsiveness than their online equivalents.

If anything, this is a direct assault on the entrenched desktop programming world. These platforms blur the line between thin and thick desktops, they enable a single standard for cross-platform development, and they open new frontiers for web-based developers. That is no small achievement!

Removing the browser’s chrome is a big step. Others have already moved in this direction, notably Konfabulator. Konfabulator takes brilliant advantage of this web-based, cross-platform environment through Javascript, XML , and its own self-contained runtimes. Adobe, Slingshot, et. al. are opening up that environment to a larger audience.

Think of it another way: could you develop a desktop application for Windows, Mac, and Linux, with all the bells and whistles, as quickly as you can build a *single* online app? No? Well, now you can.


1 Comment

  1. Hello!

    I was reading that discussion on 37signals that you posted this response on. I particularly liked the line about the “direct assault on the entrenched desktop programming world”. This morning I had an interesting debate with a sysadmin coworker of mine about the trend of web applications in general. If you’ve got a few minutes, I’m interested in your take.

    He said something like, “Every day I wake up and hate the fact that web applications exist.”

    My title is Web Applications Developer, so it tended to push a button. We get along well though, and I like hearing his opinions, so I welcome the challenge to my usual sensibility. The core of his point is that he doesn’t like this trend of the diminished thick client. Paraphrasing — “Long ago there were just dumb terminals. Then desktops get more powerful and eventually we get rich desktop applications. Then the web comes and we’re heading back to the thin client, where all the advancements and uniqueness of any particular OS is lost to a standard interface.”

    He hates that the browser is now becoming the central point for doing everything. “Why do they have to re-invent word processors in the browser? We’ve already got Word.” His point was not to name Word specifically, but that desktop applications are better suited to the task.

    I had the opposite opinion, which you expressed above — namely that I like the trend toward web-based, cross-platform development. He’s not necessarily against cross-platform dev, I think it’s the “web-based” part he disdains. There’s one app as a sandbox, and the result, to him, is that development is done to the “lowest common denominator”.

    By that he seems to mean that OSX or Linux or Windows may have certain strengths for handling particular needs of an application, but these would be of diminished importance because of a “lowest common denominator” cross-platform approach.

    My counterpoint was to say that as this trend continues, web apps will improve to the point of being on par performance-wise with desktop applications, and that his “lowest common denominator” criticism will be addressed by improved browsers and framework apps like Konfabulator. Those apps can take advantage of whatever a particular OS has to offer — say, Growl integration on OSX or Sidebar support in Vista.

    I wasn’t really able to defend this position well. Have you got a take on it?

    Comment by rlab — May 26, 2007 @ 2:05 am

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