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Desktop Apps, reborn as hybrids

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Like a cat with nine lives, the desktop once again manages to survive and extend its life. And while most of us (including yours truly) have heralded the coming wave of web-applications, some nagging practical matters are keeping the future at bay.

The biggest problem, of course is the availability of ubiquitous broadband, without which even the smartest web application is as bright as Paris Hilton. As long as Moore’s Law helps keep Silicon Valley churning out ever-faster processors and the storage capacities of disk drives keep rising (along with falling prices) the edge client (translation: the desktop) will always be around.

The recent flurry of news surrounding hybrid web applications is a tactical retreat of sorts for Web apps, and realization that what is needed is a more pragmatic approach, thanks to the connectivity conundrum.

What is astonishing is the confluence of announcements and collective realization about the realities of today. The recent launches of Adobe Apollo and Yahoo Widgets 4, and Joyent’s SlingShot along with the upcoming Firefox 3 are signs that the offline availability of web applications (and the data they carry) is going to remain critical for near foreseeable future. No wonder, Microsoft’s new mantra is Software+Service, not software as a service.

Take Zimbra, an email company that plotted to replace Microsoft Outlook with an Ajax-based web client as an example. The company just announced the Zimbra Desktop. Though still in alpha stage, the desktop client mimics Zimbra’s web client, and syncs to the server whenever it can find a live connection.

Zimbra is not the only one that has realized that many of us want our emails while sitting in a plane, or where Wi-Fi connections are not as commonplace as the Starbucks logo might suggest.

Even has an offline edition of its offerings. Some independent developers are attempting to build offline versions of GMail and some of 37Signals’ web applications.

The good news is that it is not that difficult to turn web applications into hybrids, as explained by Joyent CEO David Young, who demoed Slingshot late last week.

And for Google guys – well they can now take their sweet time and get those web apps right!

15 Responses to “Desktop Apps, reborn as hybrids”

  1. Jesse Kopelman

    I think what you call hybrid is more a step forward than a retreat. After all, isn’t more utility better than less? Functional without Internet access and even more functional with Internet access sounds pretty good to me . . .

  2. Greg Goldberg

    Old technologies, new names. Not only is AJAX as we know is just an older technologey with a newely coined tech term, but even the merger of desktop to the web app has been around for years..

    Most CRM companies such as, Netsuite, and RightNow, offer an offline edetion of thier products that automatically syncs data when an internet connection is available!

    In the tech world, whenever a new thing comes a long we get the fears of loosing the old out right, just like we thought the TV would kill the Radio or the Net would kill the TV, crap!

    So Whats New?

  3. Good job Om. There are just some things right now that need to get done, and blending the desktop with ip channels and social networks makes alot of sense. Streaming of binary data, and I mean large binary streams of 1 gig or more, encrypting with aes, drag and drop, intelligent filtering, built in scheduling of binary transports, layering on top of existing file systems, all of this is best left to desktop applications. You are about the only one with any sense out there reporting on current technology trends.

  4. Software is taking a U-Turn. Not long ago web-enabling the fat clients was the fancy agenda, a panacea for all the problems, in the list of todo for every software house. Now everyone is hooked with the idea of desktopifying the web. But it is good because industry is trying to bring the best of both worlds to the customers. What we are witnessing is all signal, noise, chaos, brilliance, buzz and experiment before the marriage. Trying to tie the richness of desktop applications with easy6 universal accesability of web apps is becoming easier with Apollo, Joyant, Deokoh,OpenLazlo, FireFox 3.0, Widgets etc.

  5. We’ve been calling them “Web-connected apps” and we’ve spent the last few years creating an application framework for developing and deploying them to the desktop. The Pepper environment seamlessly integrates Mozilla Firefox, Java and Flash. It runs on Windows or we’ve got a lightweight Linux distro based on Fedora for a complete solution for low-end devices. See