Do you have web development team? Do you have compelling content you’d like to deliver offline onto desktops (read that as meaning not just Windows desktops)? If you answered yes to these questions then Adobe AIR (formerly Adobe Apollo) is for you. But what, you may ask, spurred me on to suddenly write about deploying Internet-like applications to the desktop?
Okay, here’s where I’m going to get web-spanked, but here goes anyway. I saw a ZDNet alert (if you read me enough you know I’m ZDNet fan) in my inbox today that had an interesting lead-in title I couldn’t resist – Clickjacking: Researchers raise alert for scary new cross-browser exploit. I read through that one with intense interest (and concern) but then I stumbled onto an older articles with an interesting lead-in at the bottom of the page, Apollo is not a browser, stop the comparisons (from March 28th, 2007). Immediately I thought, “What the heck is Apollo?” so I clicked and began reading.
Back to the web spanked part…. admittedly I am writing in response to an old article, but I just disagree with a couple of points expressed there. Back in March of 2007 Ryan Stewart wrote:
[The Internet is] a good development model, and it’s universal, but convenience aside, are “browser apps” better than desktop applications? No way!
And it’s not just offline capabilities. It’s about freeing yourself from the browser chrome, giving your users the ability to access your application in a new, more powerful environment, and really branding the experience in a way that the browser just can’t handle. The desktop is a fertile ground for applications, and it’s been the primary driver of software for a very long time. The browser will never be able to replace that. What makes Apollo compelling is that we can bring some of the web knowledge we’ve acquired over the years as developers onto that rich desktop platform.
1. “browser apps” can be better than desktop apps
I think “browser apps” have some major advantages that desktop apps do not – firstly they can more easily be cross platform. Take a movie, for example, save it as a Flash movie and it can be viewed on most modern home computers, Mac, Windows or Linux. Now admittedly Adobe Apollo has morphed into Adobe AIR which some 18 months after Ryan wrote his piece, supports Linux and may not have when he originally posted, but that’s probably not much of a surprise to anyone that knows the web, or Adobe for that matter. I think the Interent will continue to become more and more important to daily life, and more and more personal information will be used, stored and moved around the web. Some of this is already available for free to the average Internet user. Google offers Gmail (free online email that can also check your POP3 email accounts, has great spam filtering and some manages contacts), Google Docs (word processor, presentations, and spreadsheets), Google Calendar, Picasa Web Albums (share pictures online), Google Reader (Feed Reader), and the list goes on. I can hear you saying, “Yes but that’s just Google stuff,” and my response would be “You are right, but that’s only on 2008.” When things are successful, others will offer similar services, so what Google (and others) have started online is just the beginning. My friend Eybee over at The Eye introduced me to online video from Joost last year and Vimeo this year. In January of this year Comcast launched Fancast, where they tout “See your favorite shows and movies online. Free.” and as I type this I am (sort of) watching Pitch Black on other monitor on Fancast. If you have broadband you almost don’t need conventional TV.
Secondly, “browser apps” are portable. Using of the previously mentioned applications could feasibly provide many of today’s consumers with a ‘virtual computer‘ where all of someone’s applications, email, calendar info, contacts, documents and even entertainment can be accessed from any Internet-connected computer, with fast enough connection, of course. That can’t as handily be accomplished using conventional desktop apps.
2. the browser might replace desktops as the primary driver of software
Saying that the browser will never be able to replace the desktop as the primary driver of software is a large statement. Its also counter to what I think is happening, has been happening. More and more power and function goes online all of the time, the available speed of our online connections keeps increasing. I wouldn’t be so bold as to say that the browser will replace the desktop, but I also wouldn’t rule it out. As it is Microsoft has already began using Internet Explorer to enhance their desktop, notably (in a less-than-popular move) Outlook Express and the Windows Help system rely on it.