Monday, October 10, 2005

User's perspective on web services like del.icio.us and GMail: running stateless

Sometimes I am questioned on my preference for using web applications over local application programs. For me, it is largely about "running stateless": any slight loss of efficiency over using local applications and data is more than compensated by having all of my stuff available no matter where I am or which computer I am using.

Of course, I am not really running stateless, but someone else is maintaining state for me.

An alternative is keeping all work on a networked file server but then there is the problem of having the right application handy.

Using XWindows is also a good alternative: I remember in the mid 1980s having to do a lot of work on servers located in Norway, my office was in La Jolla California. Back then my internet connection was a few hops between satellites and ground stations so latency was really bad: ground/sea based fiber is so much better, the speed of light being limiting after all :-)

For my own use, I am experimenting with a web application that I am slowly developing as I get the occasional few free hours to work on it: I use a public domain JavaScript rich text editing library for editing short papers and a web app that keeps everything on one of my servers. For writing books (both published and the free "web books" that I enjoy working on), nothing beats OpenOffice.org (I own licenses for Microsoft Office for Mac and Windows, but prefer OOo for serious writing). However, so much of my writing only deals short documents, that I think that a web app will do the job just fine. I have not done it yet, but I am planning OOo import/export.

I may be biased because most of my work is in designing and building interactive web applications but I expect to see almost all use of computers to migrate to web applications. The few exceptions to this trend are: software development, writing, graphics, video editing, etc.

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