Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Off-line buzz

There's a lot of buzz generated after the releases of Google Gears and Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR). This brings up thoughts on the so common pendulum effect operating in broad levels of life and evolution. Particularly in the computing sphere there are subjects like centralized versus distributed, web versus desktop, etc. that keep going back and forth at different heights of the spiral, meaning evolved versions of one or the other keep coming back.
My take on the off-line buzz and the desktop comeback is that the conclusion is wrong. Off-line is great and is going to be a very important step on evolution as far as allowing mobile computer systems to move across networks without any awareness of the disconnection as well as to handle connectivity intermissions but not to replace in any way the web. As an improvement to the web experience off-line apps are a must, as a replacement of the web experience I don't see it happening with the exception of a few applications.
To believe that the desktop apps will come back sounds to me similar to thinking that there will be a come back of public phone cabins and land lines because cell phones sometime run out of battery ...
Users need connectivity, if they're not "online" something is wrong and they can't work/use the computer in a healthy way. No "off-line" transparency will give users the online feeling. So, for a small period of time, if I'm not online maybe I don't even realize and I keep going happily through my computer usage, but as soon as I start trying to interact or I don't get the amount of emails/contacts I'm used to, the whole off-line experience will be quickly evident and the discomfort will be there. It's almost as subtle as a psychologically effect.
Anyway, connectedness is the way the world is going, technology will push connectivity and it'll be more and more exceptional the instants when we're off-line. Handling the off-line instants is a great feature but won't bring back desktop apps to where they were, in my humble opinion.


guscarr said...


First at all, I want to apologize for my English.

I’m agreed with you about the main topic: to have the possibility to work “disconnected” does not means the “disconnect paradigm” is coming again. Furthermore, it’s quite boring the change between “desktop applications” and “webtop applications”.
However, from my humble point of view, to store “local data” necessary means:

1.Mechanisms to synchronize data. This is a well known issue and there’re a lot of solutions like the one used to synchronize mobile devices, anyway this is an issue to solve when developing this kind of “dual applications”. I used the MS SQL Server synchronization mechanism to synchronize the SQL CE and SQL Enterprise data. It’s a DB problem or it’s a programming problem? I’m not sure but I prefer to define as a “DB problem” because is not my area ;)

2.Data structure synchronization. If you have a “webtop application” you don’t need to deploy anything, this is cool! However, having “local data” you need to deploy the DB, so you need to maintain the DB structure and the related issues like converting structures, transforming data, etc. The deployment issue appears it’s hidden behind the innocence of a “local data”.

3.PC dependency, perhaps the more important issue. The data are stored locally in one PC, so you need to use the same PC to use the “dual application”. I know the notebook sales had been increasing for the last years, if I’m not wrong last year was sold more notebooks than PCs. However could be an issue to think about. I don’t want to get back using the same PC; I prefer to have the information “on the internet”. From my point of view, this is one of the main ideas behind the “webtop applications” no matter where you’re or what PC are you using your applications and data are available for you, if you’re connected obviously.

4.Collaboration issues. This is a great idea, having the information on the internet you could publish it and others could modify it. It’s cool! How are we going to mix “synchronization” with “collaboration”? Perhaps it’s fixed issue but seems to be a harder to be fixed one.

Summarizing: I don't think we’re going back to desktop application, however some issues arise and we need to fix them without loosing the key benefits of webtop applications like: zero deployment, no PC dependency, no N-data source-versioning problem, etc.

Cecilia Abadie said...

Your analysis is very thorough.
The issues of synchronization are a real nightmare and agree with you luckily in the DB arena lately ;)
And you're exactly right, the solutions we could have today to implement web apps with off-line support go inherently against one of the greatest advantages of web apps on the first place, which is to be ubiquitous.
That's the reason why I believe this kind of solution might work for some users only and mostly for specific apps, mostly business apps.
Then, lastly, I wonder ... I see the world going more in the direction of being online 24/7 with redundancies and having 99.9% connectivity rather and the off-line support as being just a thing of not making evident to the user small disconnections that might happen as you switch networks. This issue of changing networks might become bigger as we get devices wearable and we move around places.