|Web applications and GNOME
||[Jun. 18th, 2004|10:13 pm]
Joel Spolsky thinks web applications are the future. Interesting article. The salient points:
- Microsoft's strategy with MSIE was to destroy the competition and then kill off MSIE development so that the web would stagnate.
- This was crucial so that application developers would not migrate to the web, making windows irrelevant (Netscape is going to reduce windows to a slightly buggy set of device drivers -- Marc Andreessen).
- It worked.
The natural question that came to me was, "so where are all the web applications that he's talking about?". As I thought more I realized how many web apps I was using without even realizing they were separate apps. Livejournal is one. Wikipedia is another. [Several years ago (in a previous birth, as a Windows user) I used to own an encyclopedia app. It stored its database in an obfuscated format and had its own viewer which had "features" like not letting you copy text out of it. Sheesh.] Dictionary.com is a third. I used to use kdict (with a dictionary server running on localhost! What could I do, I was on dialup back then), but I don't any longer because it's so much easier to open a new tab than use a separate app. And of course web mail. Heck, I even use a web app for a music playlist.
If web apps indeed pan out, it represents a huge opportunity for the linux desktop. How can GNOME capitalize on it?
Two things are crucial:
1. Build a kick ass browser and integrate it into the desktop.
We already have a kickass browser in mozilla/firefox, and happily integration plans are already afoot.
2. Provide desktop interfaces for web apps.
This one's a biggie. There are three ways to do this.
- Write a whole new desktop app.
For instance, I'm typing this in drivel. Although its great that I can blog from any machine with a web browser, I'd much rather use drivel if its available on the machine. Gnaughty is another nice concept.
If someone can write a GNOME app for Gmail, that would be fantastic, because the speed and responsivity would be greatly improved over the web interface.
- Integrate existing desktop apps with web apps where it makes sense.
For instance, Abiword's Tools menu lets you do look ups on babelfish.altavista.com, freetranslation.com, google.com, dictionary.com and wikipedia.org.
- Write browser plugins.
Mozilla's extension system is still maturing, but there are already quite a few extensions that give you easier and quicker interfaces to websites, RSS feeds etc.
Strategy 1 above helps to get users to the linux desktop and Strategy 2 helps you keep them there. Note that I'm advocating keeping the user on the platform by building a better product, as opposed to Microsoft's way of keeping you on their platform, which is to lock you in with proprietary formats and protocols.