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The webtop - back in time?

What is all the hype about bringing classic desktop applications like word processing or spreadsheets to the web? CNN Money writes about The Webtop:

Software that was once the bailiwick of desktop computing is now going online. In fact, these web-based applications may someday entirely replace your desktop suite.

Ajax - or maybe we better call it DHTML as it was named earlier - is a useful extension technology that allows to build interactive webapps. There is no doubt about that. It just makes sense that changing a value in any input element on a page should have some effect on the state or values of other elements. Nobody will doubt it is useful to present the full contact information about selecting a person from a drop-down list.

But will anyone want to write books, business plans, letters, the important thesis online on somebody else's server? That's a bit awkward. People have shiny new, powerful desktop computers. There is a local printer attached, even a scanner or camera. And then they should login to a website running on a server at some far-away datacenter to write a letter? I don't believe that this is really a useful application.

Some proponents of online office applications might defend it saying that the user does no longer maintain her computer, doesn't have to worry about malware. It just sounds too good to be true. What hinders a virus to spread from a unsecure desktop operating system to jump to the server via the insecure web browser? That's no better than before. It's just another game for malware developers.

And what about data storage? Does everybody nowadays want to store their private documents on a server they don't control? What happened to people's wish for privacy? Maybe I will be able to store the documents locally. But then I can as well use a regular desktop application - can't I?

Server based applications are a great means for collaboration. A browser based user interface is great when I can't install software on my user's computers or when there are too many different devices. The web UI is perfect when my users use desktop PCs, tablets, PDAs or have to use computers at public places like an Internet cafe.

Once there was a promise: Write once, run anywhere. Do you remember? Java was said to be the technology that would make it become true. You would write a Java desktop application and your users can run it on every operating system that has a Java virtual machine (JVM). With Java Web Start there is even a technology that avoids shipping installation media to the user and perform a real software installation.

The only advantage webapps have is that they require absolutely nothing to get started. You just navigate your browser to the URL and can use them. But when I want to use a word processor or a spreadsheet that doesn't count much.

Or maybe we are now entering the age of the reborn mainframe with terminals? But probably to understand that one has to be older than 25 ...

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