Taking it Online – Moving From Client Based to Web Based Applications

So long Hello
Outlook GMail, Google Calendar, TadaList
Office Google Docs
Trillian/AIM Google Chat
Project FogBugz, BaseCamp
Traditional CRMs SalesForce
PhotoShop LE, Picture Viewers, etc
 flickr, picasa

In the last few years, major developments have happened in the application world that have enabled me to completely abandon many of the win32 client programs that I have depended on for years. I have been reading about this phenomenon for a long time now, but we seem to be at a significant tipping point. At first, I never really bought into the fact that that web applications could even compete with traditional win32 and mac desktop applications.

The Astronauts

Sometime around 2001, I was working on my first AJAX enabled web application and saw first hand the limitations of trying to do anything overly interactive within a web browser (heck, we were dealing with netscape 4.7 and IE 5 at the time). In fact, it wasn’t even yet called AJAX at that time, I think we were calling XML Sockets or something to that effect. Anyhow, around this time many of the big thinkers (or architecture astronauts, as Joel calls them) out there on the internets were beginning to tout the end of desktop computing as we know it. They talked about how in the future, we would store all of our files and applications online, and that we could access them from anywhere. I think “Passport” was actually supposed to be a significant step toward this utopian computing ideal. At the time, I thought it sounded like a great direction, but I wasn’t about to hold my breath due my experience in developing rich web applications and first hand knowledge of how terrible and inconsistent the world of web browsers was (and still is, although improving).

Fast Forward a Whole Bunch of Years

Ok, so not that many….well maybe in internet years. Now, we have a beautiful set of web standards brought to us by our friends at the W3C that developers have finally started taking seriously.  The browsers are still terribly inconsistent and buggy, but they are starting to finally make some progress. All this, coupled with a few breakthrough ajax development frameworks (jquery, mootools, YUI) and we now find ourselves in a renaissance for web application development. Above, I gave some examples of major breakthroughs that have taken traditional applications and moved them into the cloud. The thing is, the examples that I have provided are only the tip of the iceberg, the big obvoius examples. Every day, everyday companies are converting old client server, access and excel apps into web applications that can actually reproduce the rich user interface of a desktop application by using modern web development practices. Just think about it, no more corrupted office files, no more files locked for editing….true collaboration from anywhere at any time.

I think the next step in this process will be the adoption of application development environments provided by the likes of Google and Facebook (among others). I can certainly see first hand that this will certainly take off because most businesses just don’t have the infrastructure or manpower to create the type of environment that Google can provide for free. As an example, just look at the number of facebook apps that are out there already. The real test for enterprise adoption will be whether or not larger companies are willing trust Google or another provider to house their critical data.

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