Web trends – moving offline?

It’s come to my attention lately that predicting future trends is quite the hot topic lately. Instead of making wild guesses into the unknown, I thought I’d take a look at what wheels are already in motion.

The future of the web seems to moving towards offline applications, as evidenced by Google Gears, and desktop applications, showcased best by the upcoming Adobe AIR. Up until now, web trends seem to be leaning towards social networking through websites. Twitter, blogging, MySpace/Facebook, the current trend is to allow maximum communication on websites between friends.

Some of the newest technlogy from the web’s biggest players, Adobe and Google, seem to point towards the desktop, of all places.

Google Gears is something I covered briefly, but it bears a closer look. It appears that Google Gears works by installing a database engine on your local machine. From there, any website that uses Google Gears (I assume that Gmail, Google Docs, etc. will be fully compatible, as will hopefully all future Google applications) can synchronize the database on your machine with the information that is stored on the web.

The upshot of this is that using Google Gears on your site, you could pull information (say, emails) from either the internet or your local machine. Local data has the added benefit of being much faster than the internet, but the downside until now is that it’s difficult to keep in sync. It looks like if everything goes well, as the beta is suggesting, this problem could be solved. Now we have to wait and see it remains in beta status forever, like most of Google’s previous projects. Gmail, still a beta? Give me a break!

But the big question here is, is Google Gears a gimmick, or is it something that will change the way the web works? Still hard to say, because it has the capacity for both. It could be something that is used in a few websites once or twice and then never gets used again. Maybe the general population isn’t comfortable with the idea, or maybe they won’t quite “get it”. My money, though, is on the fact that Google is on to something here.

Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) is a little bit different than Google Gears. First of all, let me express my dislike for the name. I think it should either be AIR, or Adobe IR. If you parse out the whole word it becomes Adobe Adobe Integrated Runtime. Calling it just AIR (as it sometimes does in Adobe Labs) is fine, but they also call it Adobe AIR all over the place. My guess is they wanted both the neat acronym and branding, and kind of tripped over themselves.

Adobe AIR programs run on your local machine similar to how Java applications work: you first download and install a runtime environment, and then you can download .air extension files and run them. Adobe currently has a few examples of AIR programs on their Adobe Labs site. The ones that seemed most useful and most like “real-world application” and not just demos were the Google Analytics frontend and Twitter application.

In short, they are just desktop versions of those tools, Google Analytics has a similar front end, and Twitter works similarly as well. Adobe is trying to blend together the desktop and web experience, this time for internet-enabled users. Nothing I have seen indicates that it works like Google Gears in offline mode. This means that Adobe is aiming for internet users who do not wish to actually use the internet to get to their data.

The idea behind AIR is the concept of building Rich Internet Applications. It uses Flex, Flash, Ajax, and HTML/Javascript, and deploys the results onto the users desktop instead of onto an internet site. The applications then essentially use existing websites like webservices instead, grabbing the data and displaying it in the program.

What use will this have to the average web-user? Time will tell. It is a neat concept, for sure. But again, this product seems to be aiming for internet users who want to use desktop applications in place of the web. The big question here, and one that is probably in the minds of Adobe right now, is whether or not that’s what people want, and whether people will accept this new presentation.

My experience with the new runtime was that the applications were slick, looked nice, but seemed ever so sluggish compared to other desktop applications. It’s to be expected, since it’s drawing information from the internet, but will the average person get the distinction between an internet-enabled desktop application or not? The sluggishness of the program was enhanced further by transition effects that seemed to try and mask the responsiveness.

Overall the web seems to be heading in an interesting direction. The big question on everyone’s mind is, will it stick?

Questions? Comments? Feel free to contact me, James Martin, or leave a comment.
Email me or comment below!


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