Desktop Applications: Web 2.0′s Dancing Bear

People are developing desktop applications that run in browsers. There’s email, word processing, IM, even spreadsheets for heaven’s sake. While I think these are pretty cool and technical marvels, I also think they’re dancing bears: it’s not that they do it well, it’s that they do it at all.

Here’s the business plan for most of these types of applications: “It’s just like your desktop, but using the power of the web, you can do it anywhere.” Umm, no, that isn’t the real power of the web. The web’s strength lies in collective actions and data (e.g. Amazon’s “People who bought this also bought…”), social communities across wide distances (Yahoo Groups), aggregation of many sources of data (RSS feeds), near real-time access to timely data (stock quotes, news), and easy publishing of content from one to many (blogs, Flickr). Few of these desktoppy applications take advantage of those things because at their core, they were designed for a different medium, a solitary computer.

Besides, in this era of laptops, wifi, web-enabled phones, and Blackberries, being able to have your spreadsheet at an internet cafe is becoming more and more an edge case, not the norm. It certainly isn’t enough of a differentiator to make me move from my desktop apps to the web.

All this time spent porting over desktop apps to the web would probably be better spent building web-native applications, that do take advantage of the web’s strengths. Instead of looking to the past, why not to the future?

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