Thursday, November 03, 2005

Windows Live

Microsoft is so huge and so wealthy that they can afford to make some big time mistakes.

I predict that Windows Live, unveiled earlier this week, will be one of them.

The stuff you can do with the latest DHTML/AJAX/whatever techniques is really cool. It looks sexy and it's a lot of fun to program. I'll admit that, like a lot of other developers, I tend to look at a web based solution to a problem far more often than I probably ought to these days.

But I just can't believe that the need for rich client applications is ever going to go away. Making a web version of Microsoft Office is, in my opinion, just silly. Why would I want to be at the mercy of my internet connection to do things like type up a letter, or punch data into a spreadsheet, or put together a presentation?

Also, Microsoft might actually be arriving to this particular game a tad too late. Google has been doing this sort of thing for awhile, and doing it reasonably well. The Microsoft Live page sure looks a lot like the customized Google home page, doesn't it? And guess what... Google's works in Firefox. I'm not ready to totally write off Microsoft just yet (after all, they've had a lot of success taking working models from other companies and improving/mainstreaming them), but I wouldn't put my money on them winning this fight.

And besides, win or lose, I just can't see this being worth the effort for Microsoft. They make successful rich client apps. They have a dominant operating system. They make the best developer tools money can buy.

I saw a comment from one tech reporter saying that Google is attempting to strike a blow at Microsoft by eliminating the need for an operating system. Sadly, what this reporter doesn't understand is that you need an operating system TO RUN AN INTERNET BROWSER. And Windows has a stranglehold on that market that, I promise you, they're not going to relinquish any time soon.

But for some reason, I think Microsoft might be LISTENING to all of this Google-loving media hype. Considering how often the tech media has declared the end of Microsoft the last decade, they should be dead several times over.

Microsoft should be focused on improving their rich client products by making them better follow standards so they can play well with other apps. THAT'S how they can best increase their already huge market share... more people are likely to use your app if it works with things they already have and like.

But hey, I've been wrong before.


Dan Cross said...

I wouldn't want to write my term papers on an online clinet. What if I lost my internet connection? Ack!

Ed said...

Why would anyone want to be at the mercy of their electricity connection when you want to do things like write a term paper? People willing take this "risk" because 1) electricity has become available everywhere and is extremely reliable and 2) maintaining a home electricity generation station is a huge cost relative to the very minor gain in reliability/independence. Computing is moving in the same direction. As the internet becomes even more ubiquitous than electricity and increasingly reliable, is the "cost" of maintaining home computing stations (applications + processing power) justifiable? I would say that the answer will soon be "no". In fact when I see the "average" home computing station (my parents' PC for example) with out of date virus definitions, dozens of spyware programs running, 200 shortcuts on the desktop, fragmented file systems, un-patched software, out of date software, fallible hardware, etc., I think Windows Live would be a huge improvement even today. If the future is "home computers" which run only a browser (prediction: as online apps mature, Google will soon get into the consumer hardware game with an idiot-proof "internet appliance"), a lot of the headaches that go along with home computing today disappear. I see Windows Live as a necessary step to take if Microsoft wants to stay in the game.

robustyoungsoul said...

A good point... and the idea of an "internet appliance" is not too far off either.

However, I'm having a hard time believing that there aren't some things that users are going to want to keep on a hard drive that's right in front of them. If you recall, Sun Microsystems attempted to make popular the distributed network computing model, where everything was stored/shared by the network. And it worked. Well. And PCs still dominated.

I'm not arguing that there is anything more secure or private about keeping stuff on your OWN hard drive, but there is something about the "Personal" computer that appeals to the capitalist in us. Every time anyone has tried to bring network computing into the home, it hasn't worked. Does that mean it won't work this time? No. But history says it won't.

chornbe said...

Don't get me wrong. I *love* the idea of being able to get at *my* data from anywhere. For instance, I was on a motorcycle tour of the Great Smokey Mountains a few months ago. One evening, sitting in a motel room I needed (ok, wanted, really) some info that was on my computer at home - ironically, my laptop was with me but this particular file was only on my desktop. It would have been great to log in to an online data repository & app farm, get what I needed, maybe do something or another, and off I go.

However - and maybe it's because I'm a tech and I know a little too much about so-called "security" - I am happy knowing that *my* stuff is on *my* computer locked in *my* home behind a reasonable firewall and with decent on-computer protection (passwords, unix-based OS, etc).

And rich-client apps are still *functionally* necessary for speed, for immersive applications like photo-editing and games, and for development. Can you imaging trying to develop software remotely, debug it remotely, validate settings and configurations remotely - all the while fighting an already clogged internet delivery infrastructure?

Until the whole world and the SIX major internet hops are all fibre-to-fibre at *EVERY* endpoint, and until reliable throughput is available at *EVERY* endpoint, it's a moot discussion.

chornbe said...

PS... you said:

"I'll admit that, like a lot of other developers, I tend to look at a web based solution to a problem far more often than I probably ought to these days."

With delivery-on-demand solutions available with Java and .NET/Mono (and the numerous proprietary systems like what WOW and UO use for on-demand patches), the need for web-only applications is a choice of lifestyle far more than necessity.

Rich client applications can update on the fly, add content, features and whole programs on the fly and can redraw their interface on demand. There's no reason not to indulge the user with the consistently-better user experience available with the rich client. Web solutions, and their by-design need to fit the "least common denominator" model simply can't answer all the needs.

A reliable, solid and *gasp* open-architected model for rich client apps to be universally online-able (a la web-services) is a better solution, IMHO.