A perennial topic for debate on certain mailing lists at work is rich client (i.e. desktop) software versus Web-based software. For every person that sings the praises of Web-based program such as Windows Live Mail, there's someone to wag their finger who points out that "it doesn't work offline" and "not everyone has a broadband connection". A lot of these discussions have become permathreads on the some of the mailing lists I'm one and I can recite detailed arguments for both sides in my sleep.

However I think both sides miss the point and agree more than they disagree. The fact is that highly connected societies such as the North America and Western Europe computer usage overlaps almost completely with internet usage (see Nielsen statistics for U.S. homes and Top 25 most connected countries). This trend will only increase as internet penetration spreads across developing countries emerging markets. 

What is important to understand is that for a lot of computer users, their computer is an overpriced paperweight if it doesn't have an Internet connection. They can't read the news, can't talk to their friends via IM, can't download music to their iPods Zunes, can't people watch on Facebook or MySpace, can't share the pictures they just took with their digital cameras, can't catch up on the goings on at work via email, they can't look up driving directions, can't check the weather report, can't do research for any reports they have to write and the list goes on. Keeping in mind that connectivity is key is far more important than whether the user experience is provided via a desktop app written using Win32 or is a "Web 2.0" website powered by AJAX. Additionally, the value of approachability and ease of use over "features" and "richness" cannot be emphasized enough.

Taken from that perspective, a lot of things people currently consider "features" of desktop applications are actually bugs in todays Internet-connected world. For example, I have different files in the "My Documents" folders on the 3 or 4 PCs I use regularly. Copying files between PCs and keeping track of what version of what file is where is an annoyance. FolderShare to the rescue.

When I'm listening to my music on my computer I sometimes want to be able to find out what music my friends are listening to, recommend my music to friends or just find music similar to what I'm currently playing. Last.fm and iLike to the rescue.

The last time I was on vacation in Nigeria, I wanted to check up on what was going on at work but never had access to a computer with Outlook installed nor could I have actually set it up to talk to my corporate account even if I could. Outlook Web Access to the rescue.

Are these arguments for Web-based or desktop software? No. Instead they are meant to point out that improving the lives of computer users should mean finding better ways of harnessing their internet connections and their social connections to others. Sometimes this means desktop software,   sometimes it will mean Web-based software and sometimes it will be both.


Wednesday, 03 January 2007 13:44:32 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I disagree here, not with your claim that a disconnected computer has little value (doorstop, anyone?) but with your claim that in North America and the western world network connectivity should be automatically assumed.
From what I've seen, laptops are consistently gaining in popularity at desktops' expense. Laptops, by definition, are carried around everywhere, and connect to the net when they need to.
I've just spent 2 months travelling around North America, from New York to Montreal to Iowa to Seattle to LA. Just me, a jeep and a laptop for most of the journey. In urban areas I could easily find a network connection - whether it's a Starbucks, a FedEx/Kinko's or a roadside motel. In other places? Less so. Even in big cities you couldn't always get a reliable wireless connection, and I'm not even talking about the smaller towns around. And now when I'm back home in Israel it's even less taken for granted (even though a pretty decent chunk of cafés here have caught on).

What would I have done then if I didn't have my mail synchronized offline to Outlook? If I didn't have RSSBandit keeping a local copy of every feed? Windows can synchronize offline folders when the connection is resumed so my work gets replicated out to the world again.

I think occasionally-connected is rising in prominence as a common networking state. I think rich client apps like the ones I mentioned above do a great job of letting me be connected to the world, but not cut off when the line goes down.
Wednesday, 03 January 2007 18:12:10 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
that's really hard stuff, I honestly don't understand much of it. But seems professionally written. If in your leisure time you want to relax, play golf, but make sure you have a sound golf mental training, because golf mental is essential. Take some golf mental workshops odr read an Artikel on it or take up golf mental coaching. More on http://www.golfpower.info
Thursday, 04 January 2007 17:11:03 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Basic connectivity is a given requirement for the operation of remote systems. The question is how frequently you'll be connected and what functionality you want to extend while the client is in the disconnected state. While caching emails and news feeds is fairly straightforward, managing concurrent updates from various clients can become complicated from a software design standpoint. In some situations a web app can more simply meet the immediate need of the project.

However I agree that a permanently disconnected computer is essentially a dead computer. It can fulfill its function but that function can not be scaled to meet any sort of future need. Even a completely disconnected network, for example, is a form of connection between computers. Amongst themselves they can share information, new machines can be added, and they can collaborate if design allows. They are still connected and still useful even though they have no external connectivity to speak of.
Thursday, 11 January 2007 15:59:00 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I can't imagine real success for an "Office" applciation suite that doesn't work in an airplane or at a customer site that won't let the laptop owner use their net.

Most of the users that care about these applications are connected most of the time... but some of the times that they're disconnected are very important to them.

Comments are closed.