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HolidayBuyer's Guide

Revenge of the desktop app

The cloud is taking over the world of applications. But if this is really the case, then why is my desktop littered with hybrid applications such as Thwirl, Yahoo Messenger, Alert Thingy, Skype, and Gtalk.

The cloud is taking over the world of applications, casting a shadow on the desktop. The browser rules. Operating systems are simply plumbing. The Web is the new OS.

The tipping point for the on-demand, software-as-a-service applications has come. No software, as Marc Benioff likes to say, and no downloads. All you need is a browser and Google Apps, Facebook,, MyYahoo, HotMail, Zoho,, TWiki, or whatever applications (sometimes known as services) you prefer for business or personal use.

If this is really the case, then why is my desktop littered with hybrid applications such as Thwirl, Yahoo Messenger, Alert Thingy, Skype, Gtalk, and a bunch of other widgets and toolbars.

It turns out that taking advantage of computing resources on client devices has some value. Adobe AIR and Microsoft Silverlight are breathing new life into the desktop and so-called rich Internet applications, or RIAs. Browsers are also benefiting from the new technologies. As ZDNet blogger and Adobe evangelist Ryan Stewart writes:

While I'm a huge advocate of desktop RIAs, I think the browser should still be getting a bunch of the attention. And in fact, the browser is still where most of the energy is and as a result a really good RIA platform will build on what they know in the browser and leverage that in their desktop clients.

Look at Adobe. We've got the Flash Player in the browser and you can use ActionScript as well as the Flex Framework to build browser RIAs. Then you can take that exact same knowledge/code and start building a desktop application on AIR. Look at Microsoft. You can build a C# and XAML application in Silverlight then take that code and start building a desktop application in WPF. Look at Java. You can write Java code along (soon) with JavaFX and run it in the browser or as a regular Java app. Seeing a pattern? Same thing with Curl. You can use the Curl language to build a Curl application in the browser and now with Nitro you can take that code and build a desktop application. Mozilla Prism is the most basic example because all you're basically doing is taking a browser application written in Ajax and turning it into a desktop application. The browser space is also where a lot of the Ajax frameworks exist and where companies like OpenLaszlo exist, so there's room for all of those to grow.

Data is increasing moving into the cloud, just as the bits designated as your money are accessed on a mainframe through an ATM card. But the desktop, the browser, and the cloud are meshing. Applications will increasingly become sturdy hybrids, synchronizing online and offline access, delivered with richer interfaces that take advantage of local processing power and OS software.

We'll see more on this topic as the Web 2.0 Expo get under way this week.