The rush is on: Web apps are deserting the browser

Adobe, Joyent, and Zimbra are just a few of the companies that are pushing offline versions of online products.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
2 min read

I just got a preview of the new version of Joyent Connector, the slick work-group app I covered last year. The interface has been cleaned up a bit (not that it was bad to begin with), but the big news is that Joyent is announcing an offline version of its service. By the end of April, Joyent users will be able to get a downloadable client for the service that lets them access their work-group data even when their PC is disconnected.

Joyent's new offline app is even slicker than its online version. Joyent

Joyent's client app uses the company's new platform, which it calls Slingshot. This tool provides a runtime for the Web development environment Rails (which Joyent is developed in), and also makes it possible for Rails apps to use local system resources. For example, applications built using Slingshot and Rails can exchange data with desktop apps via drag-and-drop. Slingshot also provides the critical synchronization tools, which are necessary for an app that spends part of its time working with data over the Internet, and part of its time using a subset of that data that's mirrored to the user's local hard disk.

Joyent CEO David Young expects many of his customers to use the runtime version of the client all the time, even though they never work offline. It's faster and more fluid, he says, and I'm not surprised. Web apps are great, but there's nothing like a local machine running its own executables for delivering a rich user experience. Within the next year or so, Young expects to see more online apps that "push their processing out to the edge [of the network]."

That's just what Adobe's Apollo is all about, of course. Also bearing witness to this trend: Very soon, e-mail service provider Zimbra will announce an offline client to its Web-based product.

We'll take both Joyent and Zimbra for a spin as soon as we can.

And speaking of offline access to Web-based apps, I need to take a jab Google. In October 2006, Google representatives told me they were going to "take a shot" at building offline access to their online office apps. Since then, Adobe, Joyent, Zimbra, Salesforce.com, and other companies have demonstrated real progress towards the construction of hybrid (offline/online) apps, Google still has nothing to show in this space.

Joyent will be one of the many presenters at tomorrow's Under the Radar: Office 2.0 event.