New trends of Web 2.0: disconnected and on your desktop

disconnected.jpgStill today, as all nomadic workers know, it is not possible to be always and everywhere connected. Possible situations are:

  • no wifi or 3G connection available (rural areas, plane, train)
  • networks available but poor connectivity
  • prohibitive connection costs
  • This is probably why software publishers come back to a long neglected battlefield: your desktop, even when you are disconnected. Several recently launched software products are clear signs of this trend:

  • Google Gears and Dojo offline
  • Google Gears is an open source extension for your browser that enables Web applications to run offline.

    Dojo offline is an open source toolkit that enhances Google Gears’ capabilities.

  • Adobe AIR
  • Adobe AIR is a platform that makes possible to develop applications combining Flash, Ajax and Flex that you can run on your desktop.

  • Zimbra
  • Zimbra is an e-mail software publisher bought by Yahoo! in September 2007. It developed an Ajax version, part of your browser but able to run even without an Internet connection.

    Brad Neuberg, Dojo offline’s founder, wrote a blog post where he describes possible applications:

    “Imagine a version of GMail with a ‘Work Offline’ button on the left-hand side of the screen. When pressed, GMail downloads 100 of your most recent emails into Dojo Offline, including pieces of it’s user-interface. A user can now close their browser and leave the network, stepping on an airplane for example. Once in the air, the user can then simply open their laptop and browser and type in mail.google.com. The GMail UI magically appears, along with their 100 most recent emails. A user can read these mails, compose new ones, or reply to existing ones. A flight attendant announces that the plane will land soon; the user closes their browser and laptop. Later, when they are back on the network, they can click the ‘Work Online’ button, which will send all of their locally written emails to the GMail server.”

    Google Docs could also benefit from this toolkit.

    On top of that, Web applications are becoming browser-independent. Mozilla Foundation labs’ Prism is just an example. This project makes it possible to transform any Web application into a desktop application. As Tristan Nitot, founder and Chairman of Mozilla Europe Association, stands: “It is like an invisible and restrained browser, limited to a single application.”

    As such, you can associate an icon or a desktop shortcut to this application. Contrary to the previous examples, this kind of applications can only work while connected to the Internet. Still, they are interesting for at least two reasons:

  • they make it possible (at least, theoretically) to run several instances of an application at the same time, with different user names
  • they allow you to have only the application, without the other browser buttons
  • The second characteristic could be useful for companies that try to limit the time spent online by their employees!

    By enabling greater complementarity between online and offline modes, or by turning Web applications into applications in their own right, these developments will further reinforce the rising power of SaaS (Software as a Service), more commonly known as ASP software. Instead of installing software on your machine, you use it on the Internet, the software and data being stored at a provider. Microsoft has a slightly different approach, which they call “S + S” for “Software + Service”. Data is stored on Microsoft’s servers and you can view the documents without any installed software; to edit documents, though, you need to have Microsoft’s software on your hard drive.

    Whatever the options, the move is clear: future software will bring you the best of the two worlds : connected and disconnected.

    Photo credits: Disconnected, by killermonkeys, Creative Commons

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