Sunday, July 29, 2007

Offline Web Applications Revolution

Google are offering an early Beta release of their "Google Gears" open source software for offline web applications. This is a browser extension providing a LocalServer , Database and "WorkerPool". Google aren't providing anything application developers couldn't do with existing open source databases, servers and Javascript, but are saving them the trouble of doing it.

The idea is to be able to produce a web based application which will run via the Internet and also work offline, when an Internet connection is not available.

What got my attention was a glowing reference to the Australian startup "Remember The Milk" in PC World:
... As I write this, Google's Gears browser add-on is a week old, and the clever Australians at Remember the Milk have already used it to let you manage tasks when you're disconnected. Yanking out my ethernet cable and confirming that RTM still worked was a huge "aha!" moment.

Oh, and consider this: The RTM team consists of two people ...

In other words, a couple of enterprising folks have built a better, faster-evolving solution than the world's largest software company has. That's still more evidence that this is an amazing time for software--and for those of us who depend on it to get stuff done at work, at home, and everywhere in between. ...

From: The Second Golden Age of Software, Harry McCracken, PC World, June 21, 2007 (in the August 2007 print edition)

Perhaps Remember the Milk will add a mapping function and then be able to provide the car dashboard family milk reminder I suggested. With this the scheduler would be linked to the navigation system of a car dashboard, so when you were near the shop, the car would remind you to buy some milk. ;-)

Of course this assumes that the user will be happy with a web browser as their user interface and the limited interactivity provided by JavaScript. But many people are now used to using applications via the web and may well prefer using the same interface offline, than having to use something different.

Simple offline/online web based applications could be very useful for vertical applications. An organization wants its employees to write the word processing documents a particular way. At the moment this is an expensive and error prone process: first they buy and install a copy of an office suote (such as Microsoft Office) on each desktop PC, then the have to install assorted templates and macros to allow staff to use the corporate document styles. Much of the effort goes into stopping the staff using features of the office software which do not comply with corporate standards (such as a bewildering choice of fonts). The all the software, templates and macros need to be kept updated.

Instead the corporation could provide a web based application which only implemented the features the organization wanted staff to use. You could not use a nonstandard font in you minute, because that font would not be provided by the software.

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