Jun 16, 2004

The Road to Web-based Applications...

I recently spoke about Microsoft in Microsoft's Sacred Cash Cow, in which the article referenced talks about the frustration levels of Microsoft's users.

Joel on Software has a new and interesting article regarding the state of the Windows API, and this sort of relates to the above article in a different fashion.

His point about Developers is extremely true. One of the major reasons that BeOS had issues is that, although they had some great technology, there weren't a lot of developers working on applications on it. There are countless other operating systems like this too. I find Joel's whine on Apple a little too much, as I am constantly hearing more and more people talking about Apple, and their toys. If given the choice myself, I would mention Linux over Solaris, but whatever.

It should be noted that Borland (One of Microsoft's developer tools vendors) has been giving away their compiler for much longer. If you notice, however, Borland's C++BuilderX is multi-platform and multi-compiler, in addition to their popular Java solutions (including the free Foundation package), not to fail to mention that they have tools for your complete software life-cycle, albeit pricey.

The bit about the The Raymond Chen Camp was interesting, especially that quote where they decided to fix SimCity's memory leak problem in Windows. Yuck! Their explanation is interesting, however. I mean, even in here I talk about how users should be mostly oblivious to the upgrade process. Whilst I agree with that, I find it completely insane to be adding hacks within Windows to prevent bad code from working; instead of Microsoft being blamed for crashing all the time, it's application developers should be blamed and responsible instead.

The discussion about the MSDN camp is amazing. Before .NET came out, I decided to subscribe to MSDN Magazine to hopefully get some insight on it. I was rather disappointed, since the authors of these articles were completely Pro-Microsoft that they failed to mention any other technology. One article that comes to mind was talking about WindowsCE, and I remember reading the article and thinking that they had completely failed to mention PalmOS, and if I recollect correctly, the article was describing something that Palm had had for years. In the end, I canceled my subscription, but then they decided to send it to me for free...

I was quite surprised to hear that Joel likes C#, considering just a bit ago, he was whining about the missing linker (and again here). I guess I do not find it strange, because of my experience in Java, where I like not having to wait for the linker step for a one line change in a huge application.

The discussion about the memory management issues with Object Oriented software is just wrong. Earlier today, I was ready about JLobby's Matthew Schmidt's experience. Although I cannot seem to find it, I remember seeing an analysis stating that Java was as prone to memory-related errors as C++, the most popular being Null Pointers.

He goes on to make a point that many developers are not migrating to .NET, but he latter points out himself that for his application, there is no return on investment. If you abstract you Windows-specific API calls and factor out your UI classes (which is generally good design), your application could be portable to another platform by just replacing those API abstractions and your UI. Currently, .NET is available for Windows or Linux (via Mono) so you do not have an easy route to migrate your applications to other environments if you need to.

This is actually the first time that I've read about WinForms and Avalon (the new UI in Longhorn) as being incompatible, but I'm not completely up on my Microsoft technology, and this would seem to be a larger reason of why there is a slow adoption rate. This is insane! Of course, if you just use Mozilla, you could develop cross platform applications easily via XUL. XUL is part of what makes Mozilla cross platform, and XUL and XALM are similar). Again, supporting the theory that Microsoft does not invent very much.

His discussion on RSS's multiple standards is also interesting, especially with the entire Google's blogger dropping RSS for Atom and now back. Of course, my favourite was his statement of how adding another alternative to the problem does not solve the problem.

Joel completes the article by stating that many users prefer web-based applications. But the idea is not so nuts, I mean IBM plans to roll out a Web-based Office Suite. On the other hand, blogs, which were invented on the web, are also moving off the web via things like NewsGator. Although Joel argues that there are just somethings you can't do in a browser, I'm not sure this is true. I think it all comes down to standards.

While it is true that everyone has a browser these days, what is not true is that there is no effort in making the client side effective. There are still people using Netscape 4.7 (if not before) and Internet Explorer 5.0. The fact that Microsoft has dropped out of the browser race is not helping in this area, but it does give other browsers, such as my beloved FireFox more importance. With all these browsers on the market and all the variations of JavaScript implementations, this makes the client side difficult. Actually, based on Joel's comments, I assumed he was an Internet Explorer users, until I noticed this.

To get around the limitations Joel mentions, we could use technology that already exists, such as Java Web Start or XUL. Not everyone has Java and not everyone will want to use a XUL-based browser. So we will essentially need some new standard that will allow us to get there.

As an aside, it is interesting to note that The Inmates Are Running the Asylum talks about the web applications are a band-aid approach to the software installation problem, but I do not think many web-mail users are using their services because they do not want to install software, but rather because their e-mail is easily available at multiple locations. The above IBM example is probably more of what Alan Cooper is thinking though.

Anyhow, I found this article very informative and interesting. It is definitely a good read, and provides a good number of laughs.

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