Measured Against Reality

Thursday, August 31, 2006

AJAX Web-Apps Will Not Replace Desktop Apps

Lately there has been a lot of news about AJAX-based web-applications, and how they’re the wave of the future. Many people seem to think that soon the desktop will be meaningless, and everything will be done online. I couldn’t disagree more. Not only are desktops not going to become obsolete, but this web-app fad will die. My rationale follows.

Continue reading...1. Money

How long can Google and the start-ups keep these things free? Who would use a word-processor that’s supported by ads? Who would pay for web-apps? The simple fact is that the Web 2.0 bubble is going to burst sooner or later, and without some way of generating revenue many of these web-apps will simply disappear. Google’s will still be around, locked in perpetual beta like everything else that doesn’t make them money.

Not to mention that there’s big money behind the desktop apps, and Google is really the only major company behind the web apps, which (with the exception of Gmail) make it no money. Money can slow down change considerably (witness the RIAA), and unless there’s a huge popular demand, the side with the most money will win. I don’t see the demand for web-apps, which means the desktop will remain king.

2. Functionality

Even the best online apps (except for webmail) are way behind the desktop apps in terms of functionality and features. They may be suitable for some uses, but hardly for scholastic/professional, where they get used most often. People often say that the “normal user” will be satisfied with Google Spreadsheets, but I find that nearly every spreadsheet I make has a graph in it, and I’m hardly a power-user.

As far as webmail is concerned, everyone I know uses either their school or business account for most of their mail, neither of which have AJAX-based webmail available. And because almost everyone has several different addresses (I have four), desktop apps such as Thunderbird become extraordinarily useful as a means to have all your accounts (outgoing as well as incoming) in one simple package, something no webmail I’ve seen can match. Again, desktop apps are simply better.

3. Access

WiFi will never, at least in the near future, proliferate to the point where you can always be on. There will be places where you need access to your documents and you can’t connect (ever work on an airplane?). Even when you can, it’s possible to store documents on the web or set up an FTP server so you can access them anywhere. Why be limited to web apps and what they can handle when you can access your entire hard drive remotely?

Even then, how often does word fail compared to your internet connection? Word has never failed for me, Firefox or my internet connection crap out far more frequently.

Besides all this, go-anywhere devices like the blackberry are becoming more common, nullifying the need to access documents everywhere, since they’re already with you.

4. Speed

AJAX may be fast, but desktop apps are, in my experience, much faster. Especially on slower connections, even something as “slow” as wireless, the lag is unbearable, even if it’s only a second. Web apps will never be able to match the speed of the desktop, at least on slower connections.

5. Computer illiteracy

My mother is extremely good with word and excel, but doesn’t even know what a browser is, and she’s hardly the only one. There will always be people who aren’t good with the internet but are good with the desktop apps, and who refuse to convert. These will be the people in management who are making the decisions about what to buy/use. While the people just coming into the workforce are tech-savvy enough to know about web-apps and be enthusiastic about them, there aren’t enough of them in the business world for switching to make sense. Oddly enough, the computer illiterate will help stop web-apps from becoming dominant.

6. MS Word

Word, Excel, and the rest are far too ubiquitous to dethrone, even if it’s only because everyone’s too used to their menus to change. Maybe quite a few years down the road, but will the 2.0 bubble still be around by then?

7. Collaboration

This much ballyhooed feature is all that web-apps have going for them. Too bad MS and other companies are building into the next generation of desktop apps, meaning you get everything that a web app has to offer with all the power of a desktop app.

Neglecting that, in my experience collaboration won’t mean much. I was in a class last year with at least 200 people, and the class had a wiki specifically for collaboration on assignments, discussions, etc. But hardly anyone used it for anything beyond the required assignments, and no one used it collaboratively. The same thing could have been done with a message board. All of my experience in both school and work tells me that collaboration will just not be all that useful. But that’s my preference, and probably due to my inherent mistrust of other people’s abilities. I’d rather have a document be my work instead of any idiot the company hired. I think we’ve all read enough horror-stories about illegible E-mail to know that letting anyone edit a document could quickly render it unreadable.

While web-apps may be nice, and are useful for some things, they’re hardly the wave of the future. They might stick around for a while, being used by some fans for some purposes, but they will never dethrone the desktop apps.

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  • Your article is well thought out and structured, and I find myself agreeing with what you have to say. I think, however, that the entire basis may be far-fetched, as even google doesn't seem to be claiming that they're going to take any big chunk out of Microsoft. Web based AJAX apps have some extroardinary potential... in certain circumstances. Your mom, or my mom, will probably never switch from word to an ajax word processor. I however, would love to be able to collaborate cross-platform with people around the globe without having to worry about what office suite everyone was running.


    p.s. There's a new webmail system called Roundcube that can handle the IMAP protocol and compete with Thunderbird for my multi-account use. No POP3 or HTTP yet, but it's a start...

    By Blogger brett, at 2:50 PM, August 31, 2006  

  • I think your article is well-written, but could be improved by using facts rather than basing your arguments on "I don't see the demand" or "I think this is convenient" or anecdotal evidence.

    By Anonymous Daniel, at 8:46 PM, September 07, 2006  

  • although web-apps are around for quite some time now, the real impact is still to come, i think...

    atm, only some are making money beyond advertising by offering premium-accounts, because the number of competitors is very huge and growing due to the recent simplicity of making such apps provided by free (ajax-)development-frameworks and content-management systems.
    if they want money too fast, people will just switch to a competitor offering a similar service.

    this competition will probably close the gap of to desktop-apps soon, at least as far as average end-users are concerned, who are the target-audience of web-apps. i guess, in the meanwhile some developers will offer a hybrid like it is common in casual-gaming, where you can try out those games in flash before you pay for a downloadable version.

    the point on the accessibility you make doesn't reach far enough. it's not only that you can access your stuff form anywhere, but everyone else can too and, most importantly, "with anything" because web-apps are platform-independent...
    and i don't see any real problems with speed or usability either, most apps are fast enough and everyone able to surf the internet can use them, which is easier than buying, installing and using ms-office or other desktop-apps full of features john doe doesn't need anyway.

    i agree with you on the collaboration features available in today's (office-)web-apps though - this is simply a bit overrated, but i think wikipedia and collaborating news sites are the greatest things ajax made possible yet. more to come...

    By Anonymous catil, at 4:34 AM, September 08, 2006  

  • Sheesh, you sound like that guy who insisted his heirs keep their inheritence in steam engines because there would always be a need for them.

    The days of requiring people to have a PC with a hard drive are numbered!

    By Blogger hoadhead, at 5:05 PM, September 21, 2006  

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