Why I Started This Blog

December 13, 2005

It is my belief that we are at a very exciting point in the evolution of software.

The internet has become ubiquitous and fast connections and becoming the norm rather than the exception.

This has given rise to a new category of applications that only require a web-browser and a fast connection to run.

It has been possible for a while to use email in a web-browser, ie webmail such as hotmail, but more recently other applications have begun to appear.

We now have word-processors, spreadsheets, databases and all manner of other tools and applications available.

From the first trickle only a few months ago, we now (at the end of 2005) have new examples being announced every day. It is obvious that 2006 will see this trickle turn into a flood.

Before we get swept away in the flood however, I want to take some time to reflect on just what this trend is.

It is my belief that web applications could be the start of a revolution in software – not from the point of view of the software engineer, but from the point of view of the user.
However it is also my fear that unless we, the users, get involved, our needs will be ignored and swept away in the torrent of geekdom that is currently driving the flood.

In the blog I wish to:

  • define what web applications are, and more importantly state why I believe they are important from the users point of view
  • explore some good examples of web applications that have have got ‘it’ right
  • define some ‘blueprints’ of what different categories of software need in order to be succesfully ported to the web environment
  • speculate on the longer term future of web applications and what this could mean for society and the internet
  • outline some of the problems that need to be addressed before web applications can realise their full potential

Ultimately I’d like to us all to collaborate on a Consumer’s Manifesto for Web Applications and use this to influence the creators of this wonderful new class of software.


The Killer Feature of Web Applications

December 13, 2005

The web is buzzing with a something new, something called Web 2.0

There is no exact definition of what exactly Web 2.0 is. In fact, much of the calamity is about discussing just what Web 2.0 is.
I’m not sure that Web 2.0 actually even exists, and I’m not alone.

However, I have noticed something new that is definitely happening in web-land, and I feel that this is one important aspect of what Web 2.0 is.
The new ‘thing’ is being able to run applications in a web-browser instead of having to run them on your personal computer.

I’ve started using a few such applications this year, and I’ve come to realise just why I like them, and why I think this is an important development for computing.

You see running applications in a web-browser solves one of the biggest problems of owning a personal computer, and it also allows for more mobility and collaboration with other people.

The mobility and collaboration things are very important and I’ll come on to them in a later article. However I feel that the most important aspect of web-driven applications is that it solves a serious problem.

The Problem Defined

Technology moves fast.

Perhaps too fast.

Personal computers seemingly become obsolete within about 5 years or so.
This means every few years we all go through the rigmarole of buying a new PC and then suffer the ordeal of transferring all our software and settings to the new PC. In all likelihood the new PC will be running a more recent operating system, making the transition even more difficult.

If we only had to undergo this problem of upgrades every few years, then perhaps the pain would be worth the gain. However, hardware upgrades are far less frequent than software upgrades.

And this is the problem. Software upgrades are driving us all mad.

When I started to write this article I believed that I don’t own a large amount of software, however now that I’ve checked I own a lot more than I thought.

I own music making packages, DJing software, family history software, photo-editing software, virus protection software, various utilities, security software, the list goes on.

All of these packages get updated regularly, and keeping all this software up to date is both time consuming and frequently problematical.

I consider myself computer literate and it causes me lots of heartache. How the ‘general public’ manages I just do not know.

The Problem Solved
I run a couple of other blogs using a site called Typepad. The beauty of Typepad is that you don’t need to download any software in order to be able to use it (just like Yahoo! 360 in fact). This for me was the clinching factor in choosing Typepad over several other blogging software packages.

I want to create, I don’t want to have to learn how to use a complicated new piece of software, I just want to log on and go. I am happy with Typepad because of this.

Later on, Typepad added some new features. That they added some new features at all was good, but the fact that I didn’t have to do anything at all was for me a revelation. I didn’t have to download anything, backup anything, update anything and I didn’t lose anything. I just logged on one day, found that there were some new features and started using them.

The problem of software upgrades has largely been solved – by the use of web-based applications. I’m sure the people behind the scenes at Typepad had plenty of work to do, but I, the user, was completely free of all pain and stress, and all the more happy for it too.

Now, couple this with the fact if my PC dies tomorrow and I have to go and buy a new one – I will be able to start using Typedpad again without any problems whatsoever – no software to re-install, no settings to reset. All I have to do is remember my account name and password, and I’ll be able to pick-up exactly where I left off.

As far as I’m concerned this is a killer feature of web-based apps.

Later on, I will write about the mobility and collaboration aspects of web-based applications, and demonstrate how when these combine with the killer feature of painless software upgrades we having something approaching Web 2.0.