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Mark Nelson

Dr. Dobb's Bloggers

Web Apps - When Does It End?

May 12, 2008

I really like web applications - wait - I mean Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Whatever they are called, the ability to get at my stash of Google documents from any PC with a browser is pretty useful to me. And lately the scope of what can be accomplished in a web app seems to be skyrocketing.

Today I happened to bumble in to the public but invitation-only beta of Aviary. Aviary is testing their image editor, but it looks like they have even bigger plans afoot for other types of content creation as well.

Using the familiar interface of the image editor, I was able to create a minor masterpiece in minutes. I ran into qute a few bugs, but after all, this is a beta product.

Whither Web Apps?

Using a fully-featured app like the Aviary image editor inside my browser brings to mind Samuel Johnson's quote about women in the pulpit:

Sir, a woman's preaching is like a dog's walking on his hind legs. It is not done well; but you are surprised to find it done at all.

(Try to remember that Johnson lived in different times.) 

I have a feeling that, like women of the cloth, web applications are here to stay. Between browser plugins such as Flash (apparently Aviary's choice) and Silverlight, or AJAX technologies such as Google's GWT, we're seeing web applications become more and more capable.

The big question is whether they will ever displace desktop apps. Will people start using Aviary to replace lightweight image editors like Paint.Net or Photoshop Elements? Will Google's desktop apps actually manage to displace Office?

Of course, as a developer, my big concern is tools. Much of what I do on the web today is woefully difficult to debug, and I find that documentation, support, and maintenance are somewhat more difficult as well. If we develop frameworks that give me the same quality of tools I can get right now developing C++ desktop apps, then this might really be the wave of the future, and Ray Ozzie will be declared a visionary.

I still consider it a distinct possibility that web applications will always suffer from a set of inherent inefficiencies that destkop apps don't: slower execution, weaker development tools, and real or imaginary security issues.  If this is true, the additional drag they have to fight may consign them to niches - more or less where they are today.

I'm not ready to put money on the outcome - yet. You?

- Mark

P.S. Please consider shaking loose a few PayPal or credit card bucks at Reading With Conviction. Basic literacy isn't as exciting as Rich Internet Applications, but it is possibly a bit more important.

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