The 'isms' of the Desktop/Browser war and why the web community should engage the desktop more

Simon Morris puts an interesting spin on the evolving world of Rich Internet Applications by giving us all some 'isms' to subscribe to as we try to find the path of light in a world that is constantly changing and being influenced by many, many different parties that all have the best interests of the web at heart.

Simon Morris puts an interesting spin on the evolving world of Rich Internet Applications by giving us all some 'isms' to subscribe to as we try to find the path of light in a world that is constantly changing and being influenced by many, many different parties that all have the best interests of the web at heart. InfoQ has a good roundup of Simon's three categories:

Browserism is the belief that the web browser (or comparable page-centric markup-orientated HTTP-bound middleware platform) is the future of end user facing software; a belief solely based on observation that the web is currently the predominant tool for accessing the internet.

Neo-Desktopism is the belief that the web browser as an end user facing application platform is ultimately an evolutionary cul-de-sac. The goal of Neo-Desktopism is to evolve traditional desktop application technologies (for Java, this would be Swing and AWT primarily, although also includes the JRE itself) to a point where they can float free of a physical local client installation, deploying on demand just like web pages.

Pragmatic Neo-Desktopism is the belief that the web browser as an end user facing application platform is ultimately an evolutionary cul-de-sac, but we'd all get fired if we admitted that to our bosses.

I like the taxonomies and I think they break down the specific issues we're all talking about. I would consider myself something of a Neo-Desktopist that sees the inherent value of the nimbleness and theories of the browser. I don't hate the browser, I just think it's being a bit misused and even though it's growing, while it does so, we're taking a step back in user interface evolution. Minimalist design is a great thing but when you're actually backtracking and not just downsizing, you're losing some important elements to the experience. Simon puts this nicely:

When 'advanced' functionality is required, like drag-n-drop, cut-n-paste, or any other desktop standard from the age of the first WIMP (Windows/Icons/Menus/Pointy thingy), pure markup and Ajax invariably give way to bastardised solutions employing plugins like Flash. Pragmatic Neo-desktopism is essentially where Browserists retreat to when they are asked to implement something non-trivial. And developments like Google Gears are just an attempt to wrestle control back in favour of pure markup/Ajax solutions, so that Browserists can kid themselves into thinking their chosen platform may one day rival the experience of 'first class' desktop applications (like the real Adobe Photoshop) without being propped up by auxiliaries like Flash, etc.

The browser is not going to replace desktop applications.. instead of focusing so much energy on trying to pull that off, [we] should come up with a very web-centric solution for desktop applications.As with any religious argument, there is no one right answer. The browser gets more and more feature-filled all the time as it marches towards its goal of being the platform of the web. But in the process of doing that, it's lost some of its upside. Our browsers are becoming bloated and fragmented because so much energy is going into expanding their capabilities and the browser experience is getting worse as a result.

The browser is not going to replace desktop applications, it just won't happen. So instead of focusing so much energy on trying to pull that off, the "Browserists" should engage with the "Neo-Desktopists" and come up with a very web-centric solution for deploying desktop applications. That's one of the main things I like about AIR is that we've worked very hard to bring together the best parts of the web and the browser with the important elements of the desktop. The two communities should be talking about how to bring RIAs closer to the web and embrace web developers. If that happens we're going to see some fantastic user experiences, and that's ultimately what matters.

[Via John Dowdell]

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