Are Desktop Apps Dead?

20 Comments

Given all the attention being devoted to Web-based applications, and all the hoopla around the web-desktop hybrid apps, I got together with Niall Kennedy to record the latest episode of Om & Niall PodSesssions, to ruminate on the question: are desktop applications are really dead. We don’t think they are, mostly because the beefier desktops (and notebooks) mean that you can do a lot of cool things with the processing power at our disposal now. You can download the podcast here, and while you are waiting for the file download to finish, take this easy poll. Paul Kedrosky disagrees with Mike Rundle’s response in the comments section.

20 Comments

Brad Garland

This is nearly 4.5 months after the last comment but something that I haven’t seen anyone mention is what Adobe is doing with their Apollo project. This is hoping to tie in both desktop and web-based apps together in ways that aren’t done today. Removing the requirements of browsers (or at least look like it does) and allow the web-app the ‘offline abilities’ everyone wants.

Robert Dewey

Jonathan,

Actually, what I mean by “local look and feel” is a simple desktop “icon” that fires up a blank browser (i.e. no navigational tools).

One example of an application that gives me the “local feel” is the Gollum Wikipedia browser –

http://gollum.easycp.de/en/

Jonathan Crow

Mike,

You asked about Widgets… ThinkFree has some – http://icdocs.thinkfree.com/widgets/index.html. We are still playing around with it, but it is a pretty simple way to view documents on your desktop from a web application.

As for Robert’s comment about the “local look and feel”, it seems that most AJAX applications have limitations that restrict their ability to have that desktop feel. Java applications can achieve this much easier, but there are trade-offs.

dave

desktop: single sign on, myriad security options with ability to disconnect and remain productive offline

online: how many passwords would you like to manage? even elgoog can’t get a perfect singlesign on running as they race ahead (used writely lately? or gapps for your domain?)…and security issues, far from resolved…

Robert Dewey

Ash,

People will get over the privacy concerns. People got over privacy concerns with the internet, with cellular phones, etc., so they will get over this.

The key is to “centralize” storage using decentralized storage facilities (if that makes sense). For example, you login using a name and password, and a router would automatically route you to the correct storage facility.

This way, you have one simple login interace, and your data is where you want it to be (even your own server, for example).

Example:

You login to Writely. Instead of storing your data at Google, your data is stored at whatever storage facility is defined by the “router”.

Ash Maurya

Production will get even more complex and will continue to get done on desktops. However, I am more interested in finding ways to democratize distribution even further by bringing web-like simplicity and interoperability to desktop applications .

Also, just curious to learn what others feel about the privacy and confidentialty argument against storing business data on hosted services…

Robert Dewey

Mike Rundle;

You are absolutely right. If Writely could obtain that “local feel”, I would be more inclined to use it. I just can’t get passed the browser feeling – using a word processor with navigational tools just doesn’t feel right. Another thing that stops me from using Writely is the fact that I have to rely on Google’s network and Google’s storage space – why can’t I bring this locally into my intranet?

Also, about the “iTunes” being replaced via a web-application. It’s quite possible that the music aspect could be replicated. In fact, it could be replicated with your music being held remotely – that means no matter which system you’re on, your music is right there. So not only would iTunes be compatible with the remote storage aspect, but if you happen across a machine without media players – you’re still in luck.

Who knows, maybe in 10 years your online data will be closely integrated with other things;

Home theatres
Stereos
TV’s
PDA’s
Cellular devices

With that said, I think the “web as a platform” might be most significant in NON-PC areas. Imagine a cellphone that has a front layer to handle hardware (as usual), but the complete backend is thin-client layer that handles applications and data storage.

PanMan

I do use internet (not JUST web) based app’s more-and-more these days (del.icio.us instead of bookmarks, and so on), but in the end, they need a interface (browser) on the desktop. More and more is converting into the browser (see youtube). I can see this continue, to webbased voip, media, and other apps.

By the way, OM: your poll does show up in the (webbased!) rss reader Bloglines, but the vote button doesn’t work, which I think can easily be fixed, by just including the full url in the “action” part, and not the relative url for this site!

Mike Rundle

Right now it seems people are bringing traditional desktop-based apps over to the web but what about the other way around? Why not bring some cool web functionality/interactivity to the desktop? Apple Dashboard Widgets and Konfabulator/Yahoo Widgets allow just this (running full-blown XHTML/CSS/JS apps on the desktop) so I think the next stage would be to allow users to get the web data they want without even opening their browser. Targeted, practical, functional widgets that give users the dashboard-like information they get from their favorite sites or RSS aggregators.

Michael Kamleitner

I’ve tried out lots of web-office-apps (http://nonsmokingarea.com/blog/tags/office-is-dead), and honestly, most are very far from being able to replace their desktop-equivalents.

however, there is very big potential in the collaborative field (writely, jotspot…are quite promising in this area). I don’t get why Microsoft hasn’t included low-profile (=without the need for expensive microsoft-server-software), web-based collaboration into office for years…they could have dominated this market way before we all fell for AJAX…I’ld love full-featured desktop apps fully integrated into some kind of collaboration-web-service…

Emil Tamas

No, and they won’t be dead, on the contrary, when everybody’s putting rotating throbbers in their apps and using AJAX to emulate the desktop feeling…oh wait, I said “emulate the desktop feeling”.

The right question would be: Are Desktop apps for LessThanAverage Joe dead?

Yeah, he might be more comfortable with that ridiculously simple rich text component than with Word, or with Google’s Spreadsheets app than Excel just because they apply the “KISS” principle or “less is more”, so they get rid of the bloat. Add some collaboration, a “beta” label, some buzz and venture and we’re set.

Still, you are soooo limited by the HTML fiasco. While desktop apps are limited by the hardware/OS layers only, the web apps are living in a messy wild jungle of HTML/Javascript/Compatibility/BrowserWars/StoneAge era.

There was a nice quote on bash.org:
“-Name me one thing a mac can’t do compared to a PC
– Um…Right click?”

The same goes with this technology.
You can’t even print correctly, but hey, I’ll wait for a another article with a rethorical title “Are the printed documents dead?” :)

Emil

Yuvamani

I have more applications after the age of the web and web 2.0 not less.

IN the consumer client space … You still need good ol thick client software for most consumer apps. No web based app is going to replace iTunes anytime soon. Or creativity as mentioned before.

Business apps however will be going completely web based because as mentioned before they are information based. Also they are by nature client-server. Such apps are better off on the web. Putting them on the web makes it easier to maintain and a whole other set of benefits which have been beaten to death.

Jonty

Even the same though came to my mind a few months back. Nonetheless, when some thought went into this, I found that it would be rather premature articulation to pronounce the death of desktop apps. There is still a long, long way to go before we can ever start thinking of the death of desktop apps.

I second Robert Dewey’s comment here and Nitin too has a point to ponder upon.

Nitin Nanivadekar

Desktop applications running as SmartClients was a good idea that came with .Net. But as It is believed Vista will not come preloaded with .Net there is a question over this technology.

Robert Dewey

I agree with you both…

Desktop applications are FAR from being dead. Until gaming and intense applications can manage to run via the web, desktop applications will still have a place. Perhaps in the next +15 years we will see consumer grade T3’s or OC3’s and enterprise level quantum computing that will allow streaming of intense applications.

With that said, I think Microsoft will eventually be seen as the O/S for production and gaming – NOT as the general home user or productivity platform that it is now.

Can anyone say free thin-client hardware from your telecom, with pay-for-OS services?

Om Malik

I agree mike, i think as long as stuff needs to be made, i think the desktop lives. there is the aspect of new edge applications – as we point out in our podcast like skype – that leverage the processing power we will not see the end of the desktop applications.

the flip side is that most new users (read people not in the PC dominated countries) will find web/mobile applications as the way to go. not your classic apps but new kind of apps.

still interesting times…

Mike Rundle

Desktop apps are for production, browser-based apps are for working with data. Not many journalists or venture capitalists actually “produce” things (design in Photoshop or Illustrator, 3D renderings in Maya, streaming video effects in After Effects, live audio production, audio mixing, software via heavy-duty IDEs, etc.) so therefore it’s not really a surprise to me to see so many in the Valley proclaim desktop-apps to be dead.

Tasks that take little to no toll on a processor (viewing and editing data, whether that data is calendar appointments, text documents, etc.) can be taken off the desktop and onto the web, and these are the apps we’re seeing. We’ll never see design, audio, or video professionals use web-based versions of the applications they use to PRODUCE things because that’s totally impractical and ridiculous.

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