We should never settle for web interfaces that are "good enough"

People started porting applications to the web because it made things easy. But in the process, they lost the richness that made the desktop so compelling. Rich Internet Applications bring together the best of both worlds so that we don't have to settle for interfaces that are "good enough".

A lot of people picked up a post over on Coding Horror asking if web interfaces were good enough based on the fact that people only use a few of the features that desktop applications provide. It's a valuable read and it generated a lot of good discussion, but I think Jeff Atwood (the author) misses the mark. The seminal quote is when he compares the web version of µTorrent to the desktop version:

After spending about a year interacting with µTorrent exclusively through Remote Desktop, I was pleasantly surprised to discover how good the web UI is. It aggressively exploits the latest Ajax techniques to replicate most of the rich GUI functionality of µTorrent in a browser. But the web UI is still a pale shadow of the full-blown Windows UI. There are small but important details missing throughout, and part of the pleasure of using µTorrent was luxuriating in its intense attention to detail, its wealth of well-designed data readouts. Using the web UI is like drinking watered-down beer. It doesn't satisfy.

But does it matter? Despite my nitpicking, I can do everything I need to do remotely through the web UI.

It's a little disheartening to hear that all we're looking for in our applications is "good enough". I think that's part of the rut that we've been stuck in for too long when it comes to software. We haven't spent enough time on design and experience and we've been left with "good enough". We now finally have some great tools and great technologies - Apollo, Flash, WPF/E, WPF, Flex, Creative Suite, Expression Studio, XULRunner, ect - that fit a variety of needs and make it easier to build great software experiences. Yet we're migrating things over to the web where good interface design and a good experience are difficult if not impossible to create.

As I see it, people like web applications because they're easy. That seems to be the rallying call, and Jeff describes it as the path of least resistance. When I talk about Rich Internet Applications and the need to break free of the browser, I don't want to take the ease of use out of the equation. On the contrary, as Anne notes, there's a hybrid approach here that everyone benefits from. Bringing the ease of the web to the desktop is kind of what RIAs are all about. Why shouldn't we want to keep the robustness and the experience of the desktop?

And that's where Jeff ends, by admitting that there is no reason why we should settle. The thing that kills me is that people don't realize we no longer *need* to settle. The future is here and it's Rich Internet Applications that combine the best of all worlds. We just need to spread the word.

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