I heard an interesting statement today about the role of desktop applications in new mediums and taking technologies to the next level. Think about email and the move to more rich experiences. Pine was great and the first thing I used to check email. But it wasn't something that most users could relate to and figure out, so it arguably wasn't until a rich desktop application came along that email as a medium really took off. The same could be said for web browsers, text editors/word processors and a lot of the software we use.
Part of this is just plain and simple usability. It isn't hard to create a more usable application on the desktop than a Unix terminal app. But part of the benefit of a rich environment is that you can make things usable because you have a lot of room to work with. You can set expectations and explore new interface paradigms. Things we take for granted as usability must-haves today came from the rich GUI sandboxes that developed after MS-DOS and other command line interfaces.
With the web browser we took a step back in richness and invented some new ideas behind user interfaces. In large part the move to the web made everything more open and undeniably helped bring people together in important ways. In the process we created new types of mediums. Video became collaborative, games became multiplayer and we invented entire sites dedicated to music, fonts, photos and other forms of expression. All living in the web browser.
But I think there is some truth to the fact that moving these new mediums to the desktop will help us flesh out what the mean and by creating the killer desktop application we can take them to the new phase if evolution. What about Facebook as a desktop application? What would it look like? Would it make the experience better? We saw Joost sort of do this with TV and a desktop application. What other new mediums that the web has helped create would be well served by a killer desktop application?
The single greatest thing about technologies like WPF and AIR is that the desktop is fun and exciting again. We're able to do some fantastically rich things with these technologies and the blending of the web and the desktop means that both sides of the coin are going to benefit.