Friday, June 05, 2009

It Ain’t Heavy It’s My Software

The trend these days seems to be moving applications to the web browser. The ideas behind that are having access anywhere – from any location, from any computer, and at any time. Sounds great. But I resist. I like my so-called heavy applications. OH I understand the benefits of light applications that run from the web browser. I also understand the limitations of computer based heavy applications – operating systems dependence and lack of availability when one is away from their “home” computer. And there is installation costs. I get all that. 

I do happily use Outlook Web Access and Hotmail for email  when I need to for example. But I’d still rather use real Outlook or another “real” email application. I use twitter from the web interface from time to time but the power and flexibility of TweetDeck or other special twitter applications wins me over when I have a choice.

I think this is as much a result of my perception that special purpose tools in most areas give one better results than general purpose tools. Sure a Swiss Army knife will let you do a lot of things with one tool. But as well as separate screw drivers, scissors, knifes, etc? No not even close. You can use one hammer for everything you need to hit but a wrecking hammer will not do as good a job putting in nails as a framing hammer. And getting a table saw to do what a scroll saw can do is going to lead to frustration. Likewise a web based email client will do a lot – and they are much improved in recent years – but a dedicated application on your computer can do more, faster, easier, and still let you do a lot when you are not connected to the Internet.

Which brings me to the next piece. I didn’t grow up with ubiquitous network access. And I still find myself in places where I can’t get connected easily. So the idea of only being able to use an application when connected to the Internet scares me a little. Well maybe concerns me would be a better way to phrase it.

I do like cloud computing to some extent. The idea that I can place data on the cloud and get it from anywhere is great. The idea that there are cloud applications that I can use and access when I am connected is great. But I still what to work locally. I still want some control over my data. That control piece may actually be what concerns me the most. I have always taken responsibility for backing up my own data. Sure I have worked on commercial systems where formal and regular backups were taken. But I have always also done my own backups. I still have copies of programs from college – over 30 years ago. I trust me. not that I haven’t ever lost anything but nothing I haven’t been pretty sure I didn’t need anymore. Well mostly. :-)

Do people – thinking students really – think about and discuss the pros and cons of heavy apps against light apps? I’m not sure too many programming courses really teach light apps. most web-based development I see done in high schools and early years in university are heavy apps. That concerns me a bit. I guess some web development courses cover simple web applications with some database access. That’s great as far as it goes. But I’m not sure it teachers the complexity of building the sort of web applications that many in industry are moving to. While it is true that I am not a huge fan of that sort of thing I recognize that for the near future they are the future. Students need to know about creating them. At the very least they should be exposed to the discussion and presented with the issues to think about. The sooner that happens the sooner they can build applications that old school people like me will be comfortable using.

Or maybe they’ll see the pros and cons differently and the pendulum will swing back to locally run applications. Stranger things have happened.

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