Not Hot: Offline Web Applications

Before all the 2008 predictions come out, it’s fun to take a look at predictions from last year to see how widely on or off the mark we were. I didn’t write a predictions post last year, but I did comment on Om’s request for 2007 predictions, saying:

My prediction or maybe just my hope: people will stop talking about hybrid web/desktop apps because internet access will become nearly ubiquitous.

Did my prediction come true? Not exactly. Internet access still isn’t ubiquitous (though we’re seeing baby steps towards getting it onto airplanes, and people love their EVDO). More to the point of my prediction, there’s definitely been talk and action about the offline web application story. But still, offline web applications and tools for creating them don’t seem to have much momentum.

Adobe released an alpha of Apollo for building hybrid web/desktop applications, then renamed it AIR. Google came out with Gears to enable offline access for web apps, and used it to give Google Reader an offline mode. Microsoft introduced a Gears competitor. (Note that Adobe AIR follows a different model from Google Gears; AIR applications require an installation and are closer to the desktop paradigm than Gears applications, which run in a browser).

The offline web app story in 2007 wasn’t just about developer tools, either. Zimbra enabled offline access to its email and other collaboration capabilities; Zoho made its word processor work in offline mode.

Despite these developments, hybrid web/desktop apps aren’t exactly buzzy. A Google Trends graph for Adobe Apollo/AIR (the name changed in the middle of the year) and Google Gears shows no trend towards increased interest, suggesting that the hybrid web/desktop application space, at least for now, isn’t gaining momentum.

Adobe AIR and Google Gears search trends

I suspect many people are happy with the mix of desktop and web applications they currently use. Desktop applications suit content-intensive work such as writing long documents (MS Word), manipulating large image files (PhotoShop), and writing software code (Eclipse). Web applications suit multiperson collaboration and communications. And if you want desktop application richness for communications like email or instant messaging, there are plenty to choose from.

What about you? Are you pining for offline access in your favorite web applications? Or are you satisfied with the mix of on and offline capabilities you have with your current toolbox of web and desktop applications?

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