In yesterday's interview, I was asked about Web 2.0 apps versus desktop applications. I wanted to talk about that a little more.
Back in 1994, I cobbled together a little demo that was shown at a session at the Seybold Conference on Publishing. It was a web front end to a NEXTSTEP based Digital Asset Management product that I designed. With it, you could search for artwork using a web form, see a bunch of thumbnails representing product packaging labels. Clicking on one of the thumbnails would cause the server to render the artwork (EPS files created in Adobe Illustrator) at 200% enlargement then send the result back to the web browser as a gorgeous anti-aliased graphic. The idea was to facilitate remote approvals of print materials anywhere you had a web browser. For several years now, this has been a common practice. Back then, it was just a bleeding edge idea.
I remember at the time being both elated and disappointed. On the one hand, it was mind-numbingly cool to harness the power of a specialized server (i.e. the Display Postscript system on a NeXT computer) from anywhere in the world so long as you had a web browser and an Internet connection. On the other hand, the UI that was possible in a browser at that time was extremely crude. And therein lay the paradox. Your application could have ubiquity, at the cost of elegance.
Here we are now in 2007, and Rich Internet Applications are all the rage. Shipping application frameworks such as Open Laszlo and projects on the horizon such as the Adobe Apollo project aim to make it easier to develop applications that can be deployed on both the desktop and mobile devices using one code base. A very lofty goal, and one which seems tantalizingly close.The trick about making the whole thing work is to think about software as a bundle of services, that can be consumed on any device. Sun has been pushing this idea for years. Apple (and its fantastic indie software community), have been pushing the envelope in terms of software elegance. The world is becoming a better place as these two "agendas" are hammered out together in the marketplace.
What's clear to me is that while desktop apps aren't going to disappear anytime soon (hard to edit video on a cell phone, ain't it?), those that aren't network-aware (if not network-centric) will be less and less interesting.
John Fox is the creator of the award winning application MemoryMiner.