Beyond the Rich Client

Tim Oren writes:

It should be clear that timesharing has been reborn in new clothes. Now we call it ‘’ and ‘Google’. The 3270 of old is now an HTML or XML browser. This interface has absorbed most of the new values of the communications function: Web, blogs, increasingly e-mail. The genre of the Internet are evolving to fit the limits of the browser, for better or worse. The business models are subscription, fee for service, or advertising. With the foundational layers of server software increasingly commoditized, investment flows towards value added services, and once again toward complex calculations – analytics, ad targeting, etc.

The rich client is struggling. In retrospect, the attempt to introduce 3D to the browsing interface in the mid-90s looks like a prelude to its descent. In the end, users wanted simplified access to information more than a ‘richer’ tool that introduced its own set of problems. The same fate has met most attempts to create ‘rich’ client dependencies, often in the service of advertisers. The only domain in which the full client platform is exploited and pushed is gaming. A growing business, but not one on which to balance the whole Windows franchise.

Elsewhere, the client side is stagnant and investment stays away. Though Microsoft apparently recognizes many of the information management problems that the combination of PC and Internet has created for users, its solution – Longhorn – keeps slipping out in time and losing relevance. GMail and other net-borne palliatives are already arriving.

I am not forecasting the death of the PC. Larry Ellison already tried that once. It will be with us for a long time to come, due to its overwhelming scale economies. It will still run all of the tools that we use to create information: Word, Photoshop, Powerpoint and the rest. It will be a terminal for the new timesharing, and a conduit for the Internet as medium. But it is no longer the location of new investment and innovation, and Microsoft’s ability to extract revenue, margins, and strategic advantage must fade accordingly. Joel’s right: The heart of the Windows franchise is rotting.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.