Rich Clients

Barry Briggs has a counterpoint on the rich web clients discussion that has been going on in the wake of Yahoo’s purchase of Oddpost and IBM buying Alphablox:

Many thought browser-based delivery was the wave of the future — zero-install, low TCO, blah, blah, blah. But here’s the deal, and unfortunately only a few of us recognized it then: nobody wants spreadsheets or for that matter, rich content creation apps generally, delivered in a browser! If you’re going to interact with a web page, we realized, you want — a purchase order or an expense report, or an approval form — not a blank spreadsheet!

You can see this even now: odds are you’re running Windows and IE, and I bet you’ve never run a spreadsheet ActiveX in your browser, even though there are lots of these available. Obviously it’s not exactly the same thing — ActiveX’s do get installed; the point however is that they can run in the browser window. You have to ask yourself: what’s the value of a blank spreadsheet inside my browser? Conversely: if desktop-apps-inside-browsers are so compelling — where are they?

On the other hand, you’ve almost certainly run pages that “calculate” — an custom intranet expense report app, or maybe Dell’s online configurator. You use your desktop spreadsheet app all the time — but you didn’t need it inside your browser. (Now where this gets really interesting is when you run the spreadsheet engine on the server — another one of my pet prototyping projects years and years ago — that’s a separate story though).

Unfortunately, IBM doesn’t seem to recognized any of this. Browsers and desktops are different; the apps that live on them conform to entirely different, and coequal, usage styles.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.