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Summary:

There’s no doubt that cloud computing is a growing trend. All you have to look at is the popularity of netbooks to see that many people nowadays will be quite happy with a computing device that gives them access to the web, and not much else. I’m […]

cloud

There’s no doubt that cloud computing is a growing trend. All you have to look at is the popularity of netbooks to see that many people nowadays will be quite happy with a computing device that gives them access to the web, and not much else.

I’m certainly part of this trend, as I write this story I have the following web-based applications open on my Mac:

What surprises me isn’t how many web apps I’m accessing, but how few native Mac applications I am using to access these services. I am using Tweetie to access Twitter, Evernote has it’s own native Mac application and I use BusyCal to access Google Calendar. Apart from that, all of these web services are being accessed either via Safari (Facebook and Lexulous), or via Site Specific Browsers (SSBs), which means I’m using the naked, if you will, web interface for the application.

Two years ago I never would have done this. I actually wrote a whole blog post, on a now defunct blog, about how I eschewed web-based applications in favor of native Mac apps because I wanted a Mac-like experience. As such I used Mail.app to get my email, NetNewsWire for RSS feeds, Omni Focus for tasks, etc. Nowadays I use web-based apps for all those functions.

There were several factors that led me to this place. First of all web based apps have become better in terms of user experience, in some cases even exceeding, in my opinion, the user experience of the native Mac alternative, for example Gmail versus Mail. Although Google’s web apps aren’t particularly pretty, they are well thought out, and some other web apps are almost elegant, like Remember the Milk.

The iPhone has also been a driving force towards web-based applications because they are more likely to offer the ability to easily synchronize over the air. For example, I would love to use Things as my main task manager, but the simple reality is that I never remember to go through the rigamarole of synchronizing via Wi-Fi. If I can’t sync over the air with my iPhone, then I don’t want to use it on my Mac.

Probably the most important driving force, however, has been features. Google Reader is an excellent example of this. I recently went over several native Google Reader clients for the Mac, but despite this range of choices, I’m still using a site specific browser to access Google Reader. Why? Because none of these applications offer the feature set that the actual website does, and I actually use all of those features. I’ve faced similar problems with native Mac apps that purport to give you access to Facebook or WordPress.

The reality is that many web applications have reached the point of complexity that building a third-party client for them becomes very difficult, especially on the desktop where users will demand feature parity, or something close to it. Unless a company is building their own client, such as Evernote, or the service is exceedingly simple, such as Twitter, desktop clients are constantly going to be playing a losing game of catchup.

What all this means for users like myself is that more and more of my computing experience is moving away from the Mac and to the web (subscription required). I love the Mac, I love the combination of stability, elegance, ease of use and power Apple’s computers offer me, but I have to admit that I’m taking less advantage of the platform than I have in the past, and unless something drastic changes, that trend is only going to continue.

Apple doesn’t seem to be making aggressive moves towards building better support for web applications into the operating system, and this may be a dangerous mistake. Someday in the not to distant future something approaching 100 percent of the average user’s computing is going to move online, and when that happens Apple may find itself flat footed in a new world, and I may find myself looking for a computing platform better suited for my actual use.

  1. The simple answer to your question is, no. You will access more and more cloud apps, but you will do so on your iPhone or (next year), your tablet. They aren’t technically “Macs” but they are the next generation of the same thing.

    Personally I already find Facebook and Twitter on the desktop to be kind of annoying and pointless. Why would anyone tweet from anything but their phone? :)

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  2. Interesting how different certain people’s experience is. Here’s my rundown of the apps you mentioned:

    • Twitter: never used it, have no desire to start.
    • Google Reader: used it once, but it’s so bulky and ugly I returned to Safari immediately. You just can’t beat Safari’s RSS implementation.
    • Evernote: never heard of it.
    • Google Calendar: never used it, don’t see any reason to start.
    • Remember The Milk: heard of it, don’t know what it is.
    • Gmail: hate it. Mail.app is SO much nicer, and it lets me access ALL my mail instead of just my Gmail (which I never use).
    • Facebook: This one I use from time to time, but I usually forget it exists and have gone months without logging in at all. At least it lets me upload my pictures directly from iPhoto, which my friends and family enjoy.
    • WordPress: heard of it, don’t know what it is.
    • Socialcast: sounds vaguely familiar, don’t know what it is.
    • Lexulous: never heard of it.

    Web-based apps may be the wave of the future, but until somebody—anybody—starts offering decent connection speeds at affordable prices, I really don’t see the point.

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    1. dude, what century are you from? I mean, is it late seventeenth or early eighteenth?
      “WordPress: heard of it, don’t know what it is.” ‘cuz, this is really Victorian!

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    2. Wow, time machine has been discovered.

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    3. wow…seriously…? why are you even browsing tech sites?

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  3. I use a lot of web apps, but more out of convenience than preference. I’d switch to native Mac versions in a second if they offered the full feature set.

    Right now, I’m using SSBs for Google Wave, Gmail, Reader and Docs, but only because of the hosted environment. If anybody was able to do cloud computing with a similar feature set to Google, I’d jump ship in a second. I find their apps to be a little ugly and bare.

    I still use Apple Mail to access Gmail via IMAP, but use a SSB for a separate account used for checking logs. The others I only use because there aren’t really any viable alternatives I can find.

    I do have to ask though Alfredo, do you work on a Mac? You’re citing a lot of social tools there. If you’re a developer, the Mac still offers so much native software that Google or another cloud company is unlikely to compete with in the near future. For example, who is going to offer me:

    - VOIP in a browser (Skype)
    - Coda for web development
    - Photoshop, Illustrator, Fireworks
    - XCode

    If you do even semi-serious work on the desktop, you’re unlikely to get it done as well on a Netbook. Just my opinion. For me the Mac is as much a productivity tool as one that houses the apps I use.

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  4. I couldn’t agree less. I hate web applications. I use my phone for twitter and basically everything else is on my desktop. I enjoy having local backups of my data and don’t see that changing. The sidekick fiasco shows that cloud computing has a long way to go. The only time I use Google docs or something of the like is on the go and away from my computer so I can just grab it from the web later.

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  5. “• Google Reader: used it once, but it’s so bulky and ugly I returned to Safari immediately. You just can’t beat Safari’s RSS implementation.”

    Lol, you use Safari but call Google Reader bulky and ugly? You can read a whole one news feed in Safari at a time but yet GR is bulky and ugly. Dumbest comment ever.

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  6. Oh HELL NO ! With all that crap open on your Mac, how do you get ANYTHING done. Get a REAL life… do a little music and try not to spill…. :-)

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  7. FWIW, this portion of a sentence is a throwaway space-filler:

    “Someday in the not to distant future something approaching 100 percent of the average user’s computing is going to move online”

    Don’t use a percentage unless you have a percentage to use.

    I find the whole discussion of cloud-based comupting compelling, but I don’t think many average users are going to be cool with moving their entire lives off of the hard drive in front of them and to a server somewhere “in the internet.”

    And as far as Apple coming up with something to keep you buying their stuff, I wouldn’t worry. They have a knack for keeping guys like us coming back.

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    1. Good point here, since one of the things making me apprehensive of Wave is the fact that I don’t own my content.

      As much as it’s a nifty tool, if I were that keen on internal collaboration, I’d probably be more inclined to set up a forum than use Wave, unless there was a definite way to sync that content in an easily exportable format offline.

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  8. This article is pretty drastic. Ultimately, all of this stuff is a matter of taste – I for one would never use a WebApp, let alone gmail, over OS X’ native Mail app, but whatever floats your boat. Evernote is great, but I’m not sure if it should technically be called a Web app, since it’s basically a normal app both on the iPhone and on Mac, its distinguishing feature being its ability to sync OTA. I use an online calendar – Mobile Me -, but again, this thing is only truly useful to me because it syncs and integrates with iCal and the iPhone’s calendar app. I’d never use it if it were just a standalone (granted, Google Calendar can also sync with the iPhone and I do use it at work). And hilariously, I mainly use Twitter on my Mac with Twitteriffic (I don’t “tweet”, but I like Twitter as a newsreader of sorts). Ultimately and as I already said, it’s a matter of taste. I for one prefer a situation where WebApps and native apps enter into a complementary relationship, each harnessing the other’s strength.

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  9. @Alfredo Padilla

    Do you really believe that Apple will be caught flat footed by their slow development in cloud computing?

    Apple has already shown the way the new platform is the iPhone which is always connected to the web and for the desktop I believe they will do something similar but bigger and apps instead of the current stable of softwares.

    If I am not wrong Adobe will be brought down to their knees by some upstarts which can create light weight apps that can duplicate all the functions of, say, photoshop. It will not happen today but in 5 years’ time anything is possible especially when the chips are more powerful than those available today – this is where P.A. Semi will come in. Apple is prepared for the could and Mobileme is their testimony.

    If all this didn’t happen I owe you a beer.

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  10. You’re simply wrong. Yes a lot is moving to the cloud. But many people will require at least a version for the desktop. I can’t rely on having service.

    Also, some of the web apps you use I’d scratch my eyes out if I had to use. Evernote is just god awful. And I wish Things had cloud sync, but it’s still so far superior to RTM that I stick with it.

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