Google Apps, Zoho Suite, Buzzword, and even Adobe PhotoShop – it seems nothing stands in the way of the web monster that is gobbling up desktop applications, chewing them up and spitting them out as a web applications. But there is one application that could just […]

Google Apps, Zoho Suite, Buzzword, and even Adobe PhotoShop – it seems nothing stands in the way of the web monster that is gobbling up desktop applications, chewing them up and spitting them out as a web applications. But there is one application that could just be the last hold out on the desktop – the instant messaging (IM) client.

Instant messaging, like email found popularity in the early days of the consumer Internet, it is one activity that has only gotten more popular with passage of time. The desktop IM clients, popularized by America Online’s AIM are still amongst the most used pieces of software, and have not only survived the Web 2.0 revolution but are thriving.

And that is despite the availability of easy-to-use and simply elegant web-based IM services such as Meebo. Why is that? “There is a lot of functionality that is being built into the IM client,” David Hersh, CEO of ichat1.jpgJive Software, said during his presentation at the GigaOM/E-Tel LaunchPad event held earlier this week.

He argues IM’s position as prime real estate on the desktop makes it ideal for becoming the hub of open standards based real time communications. “It is a much richer environment,” says Hersh.

Real Time with IM

Using protocols like Jabber, SIP, XMPP (extensible messaging and presence protocol), and Jingle (for peer to peer multimedia sessions) – the IM client can do everything from voice calls to presence management to plain vanilla chats. An IM system based on these protocols is going to be quite handy in the corporate environments, where technology departments want to exert more control over their communications infrastructure. (No wonder Adobe is interested and bought Antepo.)

And then there is the familiar user interface!

Over ten years old, most of us are quite used to the basic (and rather simple) user interface of IM clients. The user behavior doesn’t require that much adjustment to adopt and adapt to the new functionalities that are being added to the IM clients. Even seemingly complicated tasks such as web-based conferencing and file sharing are as simple as sending a simple message.

Future full of features

The Gizmo Project is a good example of a new age IM client. Despite is panoply of features it doesn’t feel bloated or drags down the performance, and yet it does so much. Apple’s iChat is another good example of a highly integrated communications tool that is fairly simple to use.

Even Skype that takes the gold standard for proprietary standards has made it easy for folks to do video chats, make phone calls and even act as a bridge between wireless and wireline phone worlds.

Mobile goes the IM

One of the biggest reasons why desktop IM client will survive is because of the growing popularity of mobile IM services. Our contact lists entered painfully over the years is the ultimate social network, and is mobilized quite easily. This convergence of the desktop with mobile is something that is only helping grow the IM messaging traffic, and is

Anecdotally (and completely unscientifically) speaking, given that Google is willing to spend gobs of money on its Google Talk initiative despite being unfashionably late to the party shows that future isn’t all that bad for the desktop IM client.

Now that’s what I think! What do you think? IM survives on the desktop, or are these question


  1. 2004: The Incredible Importance of Instant Messenger
  2. 2005: Long term impact of Voice over IM
  3. 2006: Big, Fat & Bulky: State of the IM Nation

Photo: Apple Inc.

  1. All desktop apps will be ported to an online web2.0 application. All of them…
    The browser is the new desktop.

  2. I think somebody is underestimating the populairity of sites like eBuddy. Their userbase is somewhere in the 10th of millions, and climing.

  3. not really, a lot of people is still using dial-up, or even no internet connection. Desktop app will be still standing to the next century.

  4. You should have a look at OneTeam (currently in beta):

    I am using it for every day chat and I would not switch to an heavy IM client anymore.

    (Disclaimer: I am working on it).

    We would be glad to hear more feedback on this tool.

  5. These web apps have their place. For example, its great that a family can share a spreadsheet now by using Google’s version of Excel. But damn, that thing is in no way as usable and responsive as a real desktop app is like Excel.

    I use online SnipShot to do some quick edits with photos. But again, if my needs are more intensive I just need to go back to the desktop app.

    I love web apps, I build them for a living. But I also love my Mac, and need it’s desktop apps. What I’d like to see is more marriage between the two. Like if Photoshop or Google had a desktop app, could seamlessly use the web based files (without going through import export steps each time), that would be steak sauce.

    For example, I use 37signal’s Campfire for instant messaging with a few people. As most people are aware, 37signals builds web apps. But I went ahead and downloaded a Desktop interface for it called Pyro. The thing has lots of cool integration with my operating system.

  6. Stan Miller Friday, March 2, 2007

    The future is and always will be on the desktop. What’s really improving is how we can remotely access that computing power and applications through the browser.

    Users will always want to be in control of their computing domain and the richest experience will be sitting in front of the computer.

    I’m not about to give up my Trillian client for Meebo.

    Hosted web apps are like public transportation. Some users will ride the bus, but most will prefer to drive.

  7. With the way browser technology is, why can’t the IM client simply be an icon on your desktop that opens up a non-navigational browser window? It’d look and feel just like the real deal, except no installation.

  8. i agree with you om – we have built a gaming platform around jabber that went into beta last halloween.

    come play a game, if you are brave enough.

  9. Two years ago reading this article I would have said that the IM apps aren’t going anywhere. Since then I’ve done most (75%) of my IMing on the Tmobile Sidekick phone. The other 20% I’ve done on meebo. Only 5% of my time is using a standard app, and thats ONLY to receive a file or do a video/voice chat.

    As the web based and mobile IM’s get stronger the aggregators will win. So I’m with stigsen and Rob from 53miles on this one. :) Can’t wait to see how it plays out.

  10. It is a look and feel thing – although I live in my browser, IM is something I do not want in there. I rather start the Google Talk client than have it in my browser – it does not interact right.

    But to be honest – the IM application open all day in my case is Mirc. Because even after some features have been around for over a decade, tools like Skype are still not able to copy them decently. Public chat room anyone? Notification etc?

    Instead of using something like Gizmo and get all of my contacts to connect with that, we do go back to irc.

    If we do have the need for fon, we can bring up skype / gtalk if we like, if there is need for video (which seldomly is) we have tools as well. Which we will fire up for the event, but not for general usage.

    IM of the future for me is a tool which uses the protocols i want and need, has an interface I like and most importantly handles attention data right.

    Meaning: I want to set per channel and per chat how it behavious in blinking, beeping and alike. Scripting for most used features. Easy access and configurable.

    Did I mention settings per channel and chat for attention grabbing? :)


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