Why Desktop Apps will Stay !

Recent buzz indicates that Desktop applications will be gone soon and Online counterparts rule the world instead. I disagree. I believe that online applications alone are useless and painful for some of the desktop counterparts. What we need is a smart desktop application or a browser plugin or a desktop widget that is totally integrated with an online application, its datastorage and an online interface. If you can replace your desktop application for your needs with an online version, most likely you don't need that desktop application in the first place.

In a recent article in Business2.0 magazine (October 2006), Om Malik says in 'Online Apps -To go!':

"What this means is that you'll be able to write your documents in Writely(who needs Word?), email them via Gmail(who needs Outlook?) and arrange appointments to jointly edit those documents via Google calendar(again who needs outlook?)."

Before coming to any conclusion, it would be handy to know how bloggers, the most active community online that keep on writing, write their posts. All blogging platforms have very rich online editors included to create/edit a blog post, with all those fancy bells and whistles Writely promises.  Having said that, It would be interesting to know how bloggers write their posts, and particularly how Om Malik himself writes his blog. Om Malik uses 'ecto', a desktop application to write his blog. And many other bloggers rely on Ecto, Mars Edit, w.blogger, Qumana and recently Windows Live Writer and browser plugins like Performancing for Firefox and likes.

It became a cult like fashion to predict the end of desktop applications and ask stupid questions like who need MS Word when you have a Zoho Writer or Writely.   And yet MOST, including those who say end of desktop applications, use desktop blog publishing applications like w.blogger, Windows Live Writer, Ecto and likes to post the very blog. Many (windows users) also conveniently ignore the fact that you have a notepad, a wordpad and then paid version ofcourse, MS Word to create documents of varying complexity and information. In my opinion, these online editors may replace my notepad or wordpad, but definitely not MS Word. If you can do what you have been doing with MS Word using any of those Online Editors, believe me, most likely you shouldn't have bought MS Word in the first place. You can use wordpad instead.

Take the example of Online Spreadsheets. Ask anybody who is using Excel for a while. They could replace the desktop Excel only if you have been using 1-5% of what Excel offers. Can't imagine online Photo editors (vs. Photoshop) and presentation editors (vs Powerpoint).

But online applications bring some interesting aspects to the table. Often these are what confuses most to think that online apps will completely replace desktop counterparts.

  • No installation required, so easy to distribute and upgrade.
  • Access from any where as long as you have internet connection.
  • You need internet connection all the time to access.
  • Interface is minimal and poor visualization comparatively.

And, Desktop Applications

  • Can provide Rich and highly Visual interfaces. If you think about user experience, think about desktop clients. 
  • are faster and easy to work with.
  • Can work offline. You don't need internet connection always to work with. Seriously important for many of us.

There is no single solution for all. We must choose based on what we need. With all the hype around Web2.0, it would be tempting to make everything an online application. Which is absurd.  Everything can not be an online application. And neither a desktop application.  Who would want to use an online Photo Editor instead of desktop PhotoShop?  It would be better to create the best of both worlds when user interaction need to be essentially rich and needs ability to work offline (as neither online nor offline desktop alone can not take advantage of the situtation) and also need all of that an online application offers. But for all other applications, online applications will serve the purpose without any doubt. 


Craig Cmehil said…
Interesting take on the world of online applications, curious though, what's your views or your take on those out there performing the "uninstall" experiment, the move to 100% web based? Or the up and coming Office 2.0 conference taking place in a week or so?

I don't honestly think that any of us advocating the trend of Office 2.0 are heralding the end of desktop applications but simply a new means of achieving an end. As you say "It would be better to create the best of both worlds..." which I think sums up what many are saying, well at least those that are pushing the topic.

Murali said…
Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I haven't read much about your views at your blog, I got a feeling that for most of the blogosphere the message is pretty much the same. I am not against web applications. Instead, I love them for the same reasons.

Fundamental assumption behind everything on web, and office2.0 is that we are connected to the net all the time. I am not quite sure about it, yet.

With success of some of the web2.0 applications, we are tempted to think and attempt to create every application as online, 99% of the time just a copy cat of desktop version. This is what I don't quite understand. I hope atleast they would be adapted or redesigned for web, some thing like basecamp. Some times we are confusing the 'sharing' aspects with the 'creation' aspects. Web is an ultimate platform for sharing, but not for creating. Think of applications like Powerpoint, MSword, Excel, Audacity, Garageband, Photoshop. Do you really need them to be online?

If the experiment of 100% webbased succeed, it would be a total disaster for user experience. 1). Not all of them are good for online. 2)Because there are so many fundamental aspects of user experience that are totally missing on web interface. For example rich typefaces, sounds and fluid graphics. You 'can' create them with Flash on web, but none of the web2.0 is fully flash based (goowy is the only exception). I hope you have seen the latest iTunes album cover view and the reflections.

Some online apps are not quite intuitive. Or just I don't get it. Take the example of online RSS reader. Most of the online readers display just a snapshot of latest feeds, because they assume that you will be online all the time and will be staring at the screen to catch updates. 90% of us don't stare at the computer all the time at Feed Reader even though we sit infront of it. But what I really want to see and read on my reader is a list of all the articles posted from my last visit. Bloglines does it, with few limitations and fair interface but not most online readers. Take a desktop countepart, Blogbridge, which is a java based desktop app. You can install on any platform just by accessing a link from web. Also blogbridge stores the feeds and status of each post on a centralized server on the network. So if you already read a post at home, when you open the app at office, it would not show up in the unread list. It provides all of what online app offers, yet with desktop convenience. But it still suffer from the need of installation, though it is automated and simple using java webstart.
imparare said…
Interesting comments.. :D
[...] apps on mobile devices are not yet born).  I didn’t believe that it would happen. Instead, I believed that if we want the best, then they better be desktop apps but be connected on the net. What we need is a smart desktop application or a browser plugin or a desktop widget [...]

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