Why build desktop applications? Because no one has heard of your browser application

Why build desktop applications? Because no one has heard of your browser application

Summary: I love Web 2.0 as much as anyone. I love the creative revolution that has come with empowering a whole class of web developers to create applications that were once thought impossible.

TOPICS: Browser, Hardware

I love Web 2.0 as much as anyone. I love the creative revolution that has come with empowering a whole class of web developers to create applications that were once thought impossible. But while those applications living in the browser is the start of something great, it's not there yet. In fact, with data today from NDP, it's not even close.

NDP did a survey about awareness and usage of the web based office in the US. The numbers show just how far we have to go. Part of this is the brand power of Word and the mindshare that Microsoft has. But the survey is also indicative of how much inertia there is in traditional software. 73.2% of respondents had never even heard of web based office apps. 0.3% are regular users of only online applications. Despite the apparent productivity gains and a glowing piece from the New York Times today. But it's even worse. 20.8% of people had heard of online office applications but weren't using them. That means a whopping 94% of people are still using desktop applications for office.

The study showed that there are some very popular Software as a Service models out there. It gave .Mac and online taxes as examples of new software working very well. In browser software is going to play a huge part in the future but it isn't here yet. That's a big reason why I think Adobe AIR is such a great idea. It captures all of that excitement in web development and gives those people a way to deploy desktop applications that most people are used to. It's the web/desktop hybrid approach that provides the most consistent user experience for the consumer. It's also much easier to help them transition to the browser. What do you guys think?

Topics: Browser, Hardware

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  • D'oh!

    Ever think it's because some things just don't fit on the web? Like maybe I don't want a "web-based office"? I'm willing to put money down that your source is wrong about their numbers...if only they'd asked the questions differently/appropriately. 99.9% of anyone do *not* care to do their word processing online, and would see no reason to ever move to that model.
    • RE: D'oh!

      This study got me really interested to see if there are other studies out there. You're right, I wonder how they asked the question. What if they were more broad? What if they tried another niche?
  • RIAs that don't suck

    I believe you're spot on. If I understand its capability properly, AIR allows an app to be available on the desktop (running within AIR), but you could also deploy a browser-based version running within the Flash player. Ideally, you could get a seamless user experience when transitioning between your local desktop and accessing the same application from another browser via its browser. If MS can get their act together, they could do a similar thing with Silverlight 2.0 apps for the browser, that could also run locally on a Windows box with .NET.

    While the Ajax-based apps are cute enough, basically they generally suck, due to the inherent limitations of browser-based DHTML. That situation is not going to improve unless MS wants it to, given its vast share of the browser market. It seems clear that RIAs are only going to truly succeed when using Flash and (eventually) Silverlight, with BuzzWord being an excellent example of what's possible.
    Jason Etheridge
    • You seem to be

      missing the entire purpose of web based applications, and that is to break the lock Microsoft has on the overall market. ]:)
      Linux User 147560
      • RE: You seem to be

        No comment :)
      • OO

        Ever heard of Open Office? Easier and quicker than online Apps... and more secure.

        If that can't compete with the MSOffice strangle-hold then why would an online App. manage it?
    • RE: RIAs that don't suck

      Yup, I think Microsoft could do a lot here. They're already making Silverlight closer to WPF with the 2.0 layout. The problem is that WPF is so heavy. If they had brought it down a couple of levels then it would be a very similar situation.
      • So heavy?

        Do you mean in terms of runtime requirement? or learning curve for developers?
  • RE: Why build desktop applications? Because no one has heard of your browse

    Look, obviously "we are not there yet" when it comes to web-based office applications. It's a genre of web apps that is in even more of an infant state than online video applications... just to make a quick contrast.

    I'll look past the focus on where things are at now and think about the broader thoughts that I think you and others may be tapping....

    Hybrid Apps are trendsetting and it's quite obvious that the present and future state of software are deeply focused on the network data cloud as much as desktop security and stability. All software in some way will be a network application... to some extent.
    It's a common now and has been for a while.
    The evolution of the web, the browser and the OS tighten the relationships that are necessary to provide users with reasons to evolve their own workflows and everyday tools.

    Adobe Air, Mozilla Prism/XULRunner, Google Gears, AWS and many other technologies will pave the way for the future of networked software.
    Some applications can be totally web based while others will function better as a trusted desktop addon. It's going to continue to blur and risk will not be entirely erased anytime soon.

    Also, let's keep in mind just how many people use online banking and bill payment websites. This shows us that very sensitive data is trusted to the web already. In a few years time, it's not hard to see some very advanced web applications being integrated into the online banking sphere. Point is, no desktop apps for this are used today and even if eventually that somehow changes, i dont think it has to change to become "better".

    The future of the web browser, in particular Mozilla Firefox, is really going to help shape things, I think.

    • RE: RE: Why build desktop applications? Because no one has heard of your br

      Great comment, and great examples. I actually think Microsoft is a bit ahead here because they don't base things on the browser. But you bring up a great (and fun question). What role does the browser ultimately play in the hybrid app scenario? It has a ton of traction right now and all of the geek-cred. If it continues to advance it will be a really powerful yet simple application delivery solution.

      The banking example is great. Shopping online could be the same thing. People are used to interacting with the browser for a lot of things. How do we shift them so they're more comfortable with it for applications?
      • RE: Why build desktop applications? Because no one has heard of your br

        Although I think it's a step in the right direction (I know people who previously just
        didn't trust the internet in general), I don't really think online banking is a perfect
        example. The reason being is if I can't trust my bank, I might as well move to a
        cabin in the forest and bury my money under a tree.

        What I still think will take some time is getting people to trust their financial data
        or confidential documents with goofy named web 2.0 services that they have never
        heard of.

        I'm definitely not putting down SaaS though and hope my company can play a large
        part with it, I just think it's new to most people and needs more time for them to
        trust it. Possibly well known companies like Adobe and Microsoft could the trust
        people have for them to help us smaller guys gain some credibility.