Out of the (browser) box

View from my old office

There were a lot of sessions about Rich Internet Applications at the recent Web 2.0 Expo & JavaOne conferences. The poster children frameworks of "Web 2.0" have been the JavaScript libraries that have made web sites slicker. However there is a new breed of frameworks that promise the experience of desktop, the connectivity of Internet & the ease of web development. Some of the possible advantages that such applications offer over traditional browser based web applications are:

Offline Access: The often used argument for offline access doesn't stand any good in an increasingly connected world. However, the ability to buffer data in the background to cover up for network jitters makes a good case for usability.

Local Resources: Applications running from within the browser have restrictions on what they can access on the local machine. They also have limitations in terms of how much can they store temporarily in cookies. Outside the browser, all these restrictions are mostly gone. The applications can cache more data for better performance.

Better Push: A lot of web applications have alerts as an integral part of application workflow. With desktop applications, it's possible to have a lighter mechanism to alert the user than requiring her to keep the browser running at all the times.

User Controls: Multimedia applications have a better user experience if they are controllable by non-standard user inputs like volume and channel controls. This is usually not possible from within the browser.

Data Integration: An application running on the desktop has direct access to local data (like other resources). So they are more suited to mashup a user's online data with the local data. Even if local data is not involved, a desktop is a better place to mashup personal data from two different services.

There is no doubt that the experience could be functionally better for the end-users. But, using any application built on such frameworks would need some form of deployment on the customer desktop. Compare that with the web applications that need no deployment. It'll be interesting to see how the end-users take to this.

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