The Move to Online Applications

I just had a discussion with a friend about the difference between online and offline software, and the differences are pretty clear cut:

  • Online software is just that: online. Quite a few (more than expected) websites support Google Gears, and hopefully offline syncing will become the norm.
  • Using things like JavaScript and AJAX for websites is relatively new. Standards, expectations, and features are constantly evolving. Things have gone from the barely interactive webpage to a hardy application that happens to run on the web. Nevertheless, there’s still a long way to go before websites can match the power of offline applications.
  • Security? Privacy? They’re all second thoughts so far in the world of web applications. Many tech websites are pushing for developers to put extra thought into privacy and security, but it’s one of those things that don’t provide a direct return in profit, so it will take longer to catch on. In the meantime, we users are exposed. Now, this is where it all becomes subjective: is privacy and security really all that important for the data you’re uploading? Most services provide SSL logins, and that’s generally enough to protect the account from hackers. Beyond that, there’s not much over-the-“air” encryption going on, and just about anything can be sniffed and tracked. So, do you really want to hide family photos or phone records, or do you really care if someone gets a hand on those? Like I said, it’s subjective.
  • Nothing can beat free. With Web 2.0 (am I allowed to use that term?) came the advertisement model, in which ads pay for the services. In some ways, it’s a win-win. You get the services free, and perhaps even discover new websites you didn’t know about via the ads, while the company gets their revenue. Sometimes a website might present offensive advertisements, but the upstanding ones are usually pretty good about what they let in.

As for offline applications…

  • It’s offline. Internet goes down? No problem. Service is down? No problem. Nothing is keeping you from firing up your software on your computer.
  • The feature-set and UI for applications is a well-trodden terrain for offline applications. Everything you could do with online software you can do with offline software, and in a consistent interface.
  • Everything is saved on your hard-drive, and you can encrypt, lock, wipe, or otherwise mangle your data in whatever way you please that makes you think it’s safe. You can’t get that kind of control over the storage of your data with other online services.
  • However, this usually comes at a price. Unless you pay, you’re pretty much guaranteed a sub-average experience. For example: I admit OpenOffice is nothing like Microsoft Office. That’s not to say Microsoft Office beats OpenOffice in all areas, but Microsoft Office can certainly throw a heavy, if not critical, punch in features and ease-of-use. Then again, you can’t get this experience online either, so you pretty much have to pay period if you want all the features.

Before everyone starts advocating open-source, let me explain myself. Open-source may not be as good, but it is certainly more than adequate for me. I’m not comparing adequacy here. If I were, online applications would win hands down. Web software does more than enough, at least for me, to keep most users happy with most needs. However, when comparing security and features, offline applications win, and that’s usually when you throw in pay-for applications.

Now, here’s where things really matter (and where open-source and/or online applications win): I like to move around as little as possible. I try and plan for the future. Everyone seems to be developing ideas which put offline applications online, so it’s only logical that I’d use software which pushes towards my goals of having all my data online so I can access it from any computer and any OS. This means I sacrifice features, but only during the short-term. I forsee that the world will slowly move towards having everything centralized. Governments, whether we like it or not, seem to want to merge and become all-powerful. Technology is doing the same thing: all the services are becoming closer and more unified. The move towards online just means the data is everywhere, that any computer is the computer I use.

So, while using offline software is all well and good for now, soon, as things develop, online software will take over. I plan to be riding that evolution as effortlessly as possible. I’m already doing it in a variety of ways. Let’s just hope security and privacy keep up.

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