The Desktop Is Dead, Long Live the Desktop!

Posted By Noah Gedrich On November 25, 2008 @ 12:00 AM In Desktop Apps | No Comments

A growing question by brand owners to interactive marketing agencies lately, is "How do I keep my brand intact and survive through today's influx of new media?" For most, the answer is to extend the brand footprint beyond Web sites, by building Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) that live on a PCs and personal devices. The ability to move a brand from the Web to the desk top has become a near instantaneous process. As the line between the Web and the desktop grow close to each other, it’s up to the agency to reinvent itself to offer a brand the most interesting situation every time.


But in doing so, we’ve seen a significant blurring of the lines between what a desktop application is and what a Web application is. It’s hard enough for some developers to distinguish a difference anymore. But for brand owners who look to extend interactivity to the desktop and beyond, the confusion could be crippling. While the idea of a RIA has been around for quite some time, the way users think about them is clearly beginning to change.

With the help of some big players in the technology world, namely Google, Microsoft and Adobe, those distinctions are all but disappearing.

Google is one of the largest players in the RIA space. Through both innovation and acquisition, they now own many of the most successful consumer oriented Web based applications. From Google Docs which is providing a viable alternative to desktop office suites, to Google Calendar and the ubiquitous Gmail, Google created a formidable library of software. But there are still those users - and I count myself among them - who don't entirely feel comfortable switching from software they control to software someone else does.

I believe products like Google Chrome are trying to address this.

As a browser, Google Chrome offers a few pieces of helpful functionality not seen in other browsers, but the most significant feature, is the "Application Shortcuts." This feature allows an end user to create a shortcut to any Web based application and save it to their desktop, start menu and Quick Launch bar (see video demo). Rather than open the application in the standard browser window, it opens without the normal set of browser toolbars and menus, making the Web application feel like a desktop application.

This is exactly this perception shift that is driving Google's entry into the browser market.

On the other hand, Microsoft seems to be taking a different approach. As a whole, Microsoft is strongly rooted in the desktop with a huge majority of users running one of their Windows operating systems. But this is not the whole story. At PDC 2008, Microsoft's Professional Developers Conference, the company announced a number of Software + Service initiatives. While some of these, like Windows Azure the new "cloud-based" operating system, are firmly fixed in the enterprise server space, other announcements focus clearly on the consumer In particular, Office 14 will feature a Web based version known as Office Web. This offers consumers with a user experience that is comparable to the desktop version and certainly rivaling the Google Docs competition.

Microsoft has also made a huge investment in the Web as a platform with the introduction of Silverlight as a RIA runtime. Silverlight offers developers a really great toolset for building Web based applications, but most importantly, it allows developers who are familiar with Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), (their desktop UI framework) to leverage most of that knowledge online. Software + Services as well as Silverlight will be the power behind Office Web and any number of as yet unannounced applications.

Finally, there’s Adobe. A veteran front runner in developing tools for Web based applications (with its Flash and Flex development environments and the Flash runtime) the competition from Microsoft's Silverlight has only forced them to improve their game. The recently released Flash 10 runtime is leaps and bounds above what they were developing two years ago and they have certainly renewed their commitment to the RIA. But they are not stopping there. Adobe released also the AIR runtime in February of this year which allows Flash/Flex developers to bring their applications to the desktop and taking advantage of all the benefits that provides.

The examples given above are just a small sampling of the changes coming from those three companies as well as all the other players out there. I think we'll be seeing fewer and fewer distinctions between what we do on the Web and what we do on the desktop. For brands, that means more and more connections and interactions with what were once two separate worlds.

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