01 May 2007

The fight for desktop superiority

Unless you’ve been living under a frozen rock in Antarctica, you’d know about Adobe Apollo. Now, welcome Silverlight! Microsoft’s answer to Adobe, but in the other direction. Silverlight is to the Internet, was Apollo is to the desktop. While initially it didn’t seem cut out, features being revealed slowly but steadily are hinting at a pretty decent enough framework for developers to work with to get people moving towards the Internet. The question I ask here is, “Why are Microsoft and Adobe headed in two different directions?”, and “Is it really worth all the trouble?”

Living in a browser

Weren’t we hailing Web OS, rich Internet applications, stable and asynchronous data flows just a few weeks (or months) back? There were talks of how the only application a person may need on his/her PC would be a decent enough browserMy constant advocation of Firefox might get a little annoying, but in this case, it is necessary because if people argue that Internet Explorer is a decent browser, they will not be half wrong. But IE is a very good RIA killer if you ask me., and Internet applications will help perform the daily things that people presently depend on desktop applications for. Google Office, aims to provide a useful and feature–full online office suite as an alternative (a.k.a replacement) to Microsoft Office. There are countless online image editors (with Adobe’s Photoshop for the web on the way), and many other applications which we have been so used to using on our comfortable desktops. So then why going back to desktop applications, and why not push the Internet application scene further? I’ll try and answer why …

To say the least, the Internet still offers many restrictions when it comes to privacy concerns. When people start bellowing down the doors to a bot scanning one’s mail for ‘contextual’ advertising purposes, you know you’re close to seeing everything. How can these people then trust services with really sensitive documents that may contain goodness knows what from their personal or official lives. The moment you put something up on the Internet, you’ve given away a good part of the privacy away. That is a well known fact. What depends is how is that loss being put to use. But that is not the point here. The point is that people will probably never be able to trust a web service (even with the name Google) enough to let it handle their data. The name ‘Microsoft’ will not help reduce their concerns.

The online storage scene is only now beginning to gain widespread acceptance with services like DivShare coming up which offer a lot of leash when it comes to uploading and storing/sharing files. Google’s rather liberal storage spaces for their different services shows exactly how cheap it has become to save large volumes of data. This will still take some time. There were forecasts of a time when the online copy of your file is the one which is under regular use, and local copy (on your hard–drive) is actually your backup, instead of the other way around. That prediction is a little far away as of now.

Apart from privacy restrictions, the Internet as a platform is in quite a tough spot. There are too many people trying to standardise it in their own way, and failing miserably. The whole XHTML concept is the best example of this. The everyday user wants something that works, and doesn’t care (usually) about how it works. Also, development for the web has only recently hit a peak (as the aftermath of the Web 2.0 boom), as small time desktop developers, seeing the easy and forgiving nature of Internet development languages decided to try their hand at it. If you bring that same ease to the desktop, which is what people are ‘used’ to develop for, why won’t they come back? With that, give them the option of keeping their applications (desktop and online) in sync with each other, and you have a sure winner. That said, Microsoft’s move might tilt the scale, because like it or not, Microsoft happens to define standards wherever it goes. However, the Internet is not really Microsoft domain, so who knows …

That doesn’t mean …

I’m not saying that no–one should develop for the web. Heck no! Without Internet applications, we are all pretty much doomed as the Internet is. What I ‘am’ trying to say is that people'People' here are not alpha–geeks, but everyday users, who use Outlook to check mails and a browser to just search and surf much rather work with their desktop applications rather than try and make a shift to their online counterparts. It takes the local geek to introduce them to that world, and show them the advantages of getting used to it. Everyone has their preferences and their individual comfort levels. Companies like Adobe and Microsoft understand this, but they are trying to go two different ways because they both see this differently.

Internet companies should try and bridge the gap between online apps and local ones, so that whenever someone tries to shift, they aren’t disappointed by the lack of features and shift back. When Google’s Spreadsheets came out, complaints of severe disappointment were ringing loud and clear through the corridors of the web, with people saying that Google was losing their touch and (…wait for it!) … they were out of creativity! If Google has made the first impression, things would have been on a different peak today. They are recovering though, and more and more people are beginning to use Docs and Spreadsheets as collaboration tools, and easy access to their files from anywhere I’m glad they are :)

What’ll be interesting to see is if Adobe can actually beat Microsoft at it’s own game, and get a definite upperhand on it’s operating system by having the majority of the applications being developed using their framework, and having them running on Windows. Or will Microsoft gain Internet dominance as well as desktop superiority, and truly change things to a true monopoly. I’d just love that! :)