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Gmail validates Thin Clients

July 12th, 2004 · No Comments

[via Jivha] Technology Review (Simson Garfinkel) writes that “the blazingly fast Gmail service proves that Web-based applications can be just as good as ones running on your desktop computer”:

Gmail validates a claim that Sun has been making for nearly a decadethat its possible to replace a network of PCs running Windows with world-class computers offering computing services to low-cost and easily-managed desktop machinesperhaps machines so inexpensive that they dont even have a hard disk. Sun called such computers thin clients. While they are popular at some companies, they havent made real inroads against the Windows desktop because the applications just havent worked as well.

But Gmail does work just as well as a copy of Outlook Express running on the desktop. In some way, in fact, it works better. This is big newsbigger, in fact, then most people seem to realize.

Until Gmail, practically every Web-based application was a pale imitation of that same application running on a PC. Web-based applications had the advantage that they were accessible from any computer on the Internet on professionally managed servers, that the data was backed up, and that the applications themselves were constantly updated. But compared to applications running on your local machine the web versions had fewer features and performed more slowly. Most usersbusinesses and consumers alikewere unwilling to make that compromise.

Gmail is different. For starters, its blindingly fastso fast that it feels like it is running on your local computer and not in some data center. Click on a messages subject and it instantly appears. When you are done reading a message you click Archivethe message is instantly stored, and youre looking back at your inbox. (As with other Web-based mail systems, you can report spam simply by clicking report spam.)

Gmail gets its speed from some of the cleverest JavaScript ever written. Lots of information is stored inside your browser and redisplayed from memory; this avoids the need to constantly download pages from Googles servers. The JavaScript can “listen” directly to your keystrokes, allowing you to drive Gmail with single-letter commands: press y to archive a message, c to compose a new message, and so on. You dont even have to depress the Ctrl key, making Gmail even faster to use.

Gmail shows that Web applications with thin clients can have advantages over software running on your desktop. The most obvious is reliability: Gmail runs on Googles servers, not your hard drive, and Google almost certainly does a better job than you do with routine maintenance, backups, and the like. And because everything is kept on Googles servers, you dont have to wait for long downloads. Googles computers are blazingly fast: searching through the few thousand messages stored in my Gmail account is essentially instantaneous. Searching through the same amount of mail on my local computer takes ten seconds or more.

On a related note, Yahoo bought Oddpost. Marc Canter’s view:

This is about RIAs (rich internet apps), integrated web services and open standards being fused with productivity software, micro-content and social networking and offered as hosted experiences.

Does this sound like anything familiar?

Yahoo has defined what portals have been – since day one – but their UI just plain sucked! Even the valiant attempts at providing “customization” features in MyYahoo – were tolerable at best.

Yahoo supports RSS and has over 120M active end-users. Yahoo is showing how portals and ISPs can work together by providing software bundled with services – to the masses.

But ODDpost makes it a whole new ball game.

Now Yahoo can step up to the front on “end-user” experience. That holey grail that’s been eluding them since day one. HTML was never desigend and will never fulfill the end-user quotient. The human factor.

The essence of compelling experiences.

HTML will also suck. But once you can truly integrate rich interactive experienecs in teh browser, and tie it into services and functionality – you got a winnign formula for digital lifestyle aggregation!

And once you have email, why stop there? Why not jukeboxes (like MySpace has) or photo blog objects (like Flickr) or Tribe Listings, Friends and Tribes appearing in blog gutters – as well?

Tags: Thin Client-Thick Server

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