13.4.07. The Web Will Not Replace the Desktop
Web 2.0 has excited us because we lowered our expectations so much. Of course web apps will get better, and one day will deliver the functionality we currently get from desktop software. They may even do more than our desktop applications one day. But isn’t it a tad strange that we think this is all a huge leap forward? - loose wire blog: It's Not the "Death" of Microsoft, it's the "Death" of Software

The author's main point is that while it's cool that people are making Mind Mapping tools in DHTML, they're still a long ways behind desktop apps like MindManager. He goes on to contend that there's just nothing exciting in the "offline" world in recent years.

While it's true that the web has made for some neat and very useful online tools, there are classes of software missed. There's a reason why we'll never get to the "every computer is just a web browser / flash player" ideal: professional software. It's a world I'm entering again as I'm finally getting my home studio together.

I'm talking about apps like Pro Tools, Reaktor, Final Cut, DVD Studio, Aperture, Lightroom, InDesign, Quark XPress, etc.

Granted, most people don't use those applications, but I think that it's a growing market. As technology grows and commodifies, we need tools to deal with it. The gap between pretty-good consumer gear and pretty-good entry level professional gear is pretty small now in many areas: digital photography, digital video, music, etc.

Now that I think about it, Apple has realized this for some time. They have a pretty good upgrade path. For those who get hooked playing with video in iMovie, there's Final Cut Express at a rather reasonable price. Those who really start to do well with that can go up to the full Final Cut Pro. For Music, there's Garage Band, Logic Express, and Logic Pro.

Within those realms, there's a huge array of plug-ins, virtual instruments, specialized sound tools and environments (Ableton Live, Reaktor 5, Max/MSP, etc). I am amazed at the sounds I get out of Reaktor, and that's only a single product in a single company's impressive set of offerings.

Perhaps the new web applications are freeing up resources on our own machines so that it no longer feels like some dreadful work environment, just at home. There are plenty of useful and usable online tools for doing quick writing, sharing, interacting, thinking, and planning. Typically they offer enough to be usable for those small (or even medium) jobs we occasionally encounter, while freeing us from having something overkill like Office for casual, personal writing. It's easier to specialize a computer for audio work by fine tuning system settings, throwing away silly applications, etc, without making that computer into an island. As long as you have a web browser, you can still check email, contribute to a planning document, etc.

But honestly, I don't think the Desktop is going to die - ever. It's great that we can do so much on the web, but I don't think the native experience is going to die, ever.

And even if you're not on a fucking plane, it does matter: when I moved into this loft, it took me a couple of months to get internet access down here. I was working on a lot of things for the office at the time, and I was able to take it home by just using my laptop: at work, I'd synchronise source code, copy stuff to my laptop and/or sync with .Mac's iDisk, and sync with .Mac for my calendar, etc; as such, even though I was offline, I could work. It was then and there, however, that I decided that although I liked Backpack, it wasn't worth paying for: I needed offline access. I needed, well, OmniOutliner and Tinderbox. My personal project files and note-taking documents are just too precious to be left online (this is why I don't and won't use Stikkit). If the occasional monster storm comes along and takes away the Internet for a few days, the worst feeling in the world would be being disconnected from my notes.

Strangely enough, these online note-takers, organizers, etc, all solve a problem that has plagued me until quite recently: how to do effective sharing of data between home, work, and laptop? How to not get out of sync? I love Tinderbox and I have a couple of big Tinderbox files that I keep on .Mac's iDisk. This means I usually have access to it. But sometimes, I forget to sync or close or save the document when I leave work or close the laptop. What about the little bits of random data, not yet filed, or not really worth filing into that larger document? How can I quickly enter, find, and share that info?

The answer didn't come from any web service, although lord knows I tried a few. The answer came when Tinderbox's developer, Eastgate, ingeniously started bundling Barebones' Yojimbo with Tinderbox. I had looked at Yojimbo in the past, but I'd gone through so many personal note taking / note capturing / note filing systems (Mac OS X has MANY). I didn't want to look at another such product and be fighting between "do I file it in Yojimbo? In Tinderbox? DEVONThink? Can I get to it from home?"

But Yojimbo has a killer feature: it syncs with .Mac! The same tool that I've used to keep calendars and contacts and Safari bookmarks transparently shared between three machines, finally someone made one of these note tools that took advantage. Now I have my enter-a-quick-note, file-it-later system that gets updated and merged automatically. No worries about having an out-of-date iDisk, about forgetting to save and sync. And best of all - it's 100% native and usable offline. And it doesn't get lost in the army of tabs since every goddamn web "app" is now just something that gets lost in a browser window (for those who wonder why I take so long to reply to mail sent to my GMail account, well, GMail sucks as an application compared to a native mail app. I just don't watch it regularly enough to stay on top of things).

So, anyways, I love a lot of the new web apps. But people need to get a grip. I've been hearing about "the death of the desktop" for eleven or so years now. Stop tricking yourself into thinking you're that high and mighty. If you don't understand the true value of native applications, professional applications, personal data, then you don't understand the desktop's power. As such, you're not going to kill it. Yes, please focus on tools that take work well on the web, tools that are simple yet useful. But don't think for a second that I want to spend every second of my computing day in a web browser, nor do I want to spend every second in an Apollo client. It's not going to replace everything, any more than Java, Netscape Constellation, or even Active Desktop did.

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