I just read Jeff Atwood’s Are Web Interfaces “Good Enough”? post. He explores why web (RIA) versions of desktop applications are “less satisfying” than the desktop versions. He makes some good points and I’d like to build on his post. I see it the other way around: Web versions have less bloat than desktop versions. Let’s state the obvious right up front: I am talking about good desktop and good web applications. You’ll find crappy versions of both.
Desktop applications have a tendency to go overboard with features and gold plating (bloatware) – trying to use every native UI widget/feature possible. They have to, because after the first or second version, the application has likely jumped the shark. The only way to keep people buying it is to upgrade the UI or add wizzy ways of executing commands (which already had a non-wizzy way). Desktop applications are released, deployed and installed less often. Deploying desktop software isn’t cheap.
Web applications have to work with less, which in most cases means the application has to focus on the problem at hand. Strong focus is a good thing. Web applications are cross platform and have a further reach than a desktop application. Web application are easier to upgrade and release.
What we are seeing today is a shift from desktop to web-based applications. For the majority of users (if your reading this, I am not talking about you) the ease and reach of a web-based applications is outweighing the lack of non-value add features. Even Jeff admits that he was able to do everything he needed with the web application. Do normal users have the “fit and finish” issues that developers have?
This trend will continue as browsers begin to enable more value add features, such as rendering, storage, and offline support. The trend is also why technologies like XULRunner and Apollo are interesting: Ways to create web-ish desktop applications.