I posted a piece entitled Desktop applications are dead which attracted the following comment:
Web apps have plenty of cons too. You seem to only be looking to the Pros.
The semantic discussion can distract from the real issues. The ascendancy of web applications has a lot to teach software developers. The enforced simplicity, even crudeness, in the user interface of early web applications brought some surprising benefits: users generally liked the minimalist approach and ease of navigation. The page model, intended for documents, turns out to work for applications as well.
Another big lesson: users value zero-install extremely highly. The routine of go to the web page – run the app is easy to understand. Some find it easier than finding an application shortcut in the Windows Start menu, and that is after the potentially painful business of running setup.
Still, I am slipping into reiterating the advantages of web apps. What about their cons? What about the pros of desktop applications?
I still use desktop applications a great deal: Microsoft Office, Live Writer, Foobar, Visual Studio, Eclipse, all the things I listed in 10 Mac alternatives to Windows utilities. Doesn’t that prove that desktop applications are still important?
It does; but there is an important qualification. None of these are line of business applications of the type which occupy so much of the time of corporate software developers and contractors.
The real point: if there is a discussion about whether a particular project should be implemented as a desktop or web application, it is not the web application advocates who need to make their case. Rather, it is the desktop advocates who need to show the particular reasons (which may be good ones) why only a traditional local install will do.
It is also important to follow the curve on the graph. The list of things that can only be done by desktop applications gets shorter with every upgrade to the web platform – whether you think of that as HTML/AJAX, Adobe Flash, Microsoft Silverlight, or [insert your favourite web technology].
Ten years ago, a web version of Photoshop seemed an unlikely prospect. Today, here it is. Office and email is going the same way, even if it is not quite ready for all of us; Microsoft will have to accept that or lose its business.
I don’t follow Rich Internet Applications with such interest because they are cool, but because they are the future of the client – and increasingly the present as well.