Make It Available Offline

By Jim Rapoza  |  Posted 2007-08-26 Print this article Print

Step 4: Make It Available Offline Its kind of funny to talk about offline as a next-generation feature. After all, isnt offline access a hallmark of old-school desktop applications? And isnt the future vision of the Web one in which people are always on and always connected, no matter where they are? Well, that may be the vision, but it isnt the reality—and may not be, especially in the United States, for some time.
For next-generation Web applications to truly step to the forefront as alternatives to traditional desktop applications—and even as potential Web-based operating systems—they have to embrace the seemingly old-fashioned notion of offline access.

Think about it: Your company may have created a great new SAAS (software as a service) product that provides lots of value to customers. But if your customers employees cant use the product during a 6-hour flight, a desktop-bound app might just start to look much more attractive. The reality of the need to provide offline capabilities hasnt gone unnoticed by major players. Google, one of the biggest proponents of next-generation Web applications, has released a product called Gears, currently in beta, that makes it possible to provide offline access to Google applications. In addition, Adobes AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), set to ship by the end of the summer, makes it possible to build rich Internet applications that run outside of a browser and can use offline data (yes, this does sound much like a normal desktop application). Further, the Mozilla Foundation is planning on adding offline support in the next version of its Firefox browser. Step 5: Be Flexible Right now, many of the tools for offline access are still immature or yet to be released. And there hasnt been much activity related to standardizing offline access to Web applications, meaning that there will be competing and distinct tools for creating offline access for some time. However, businesses should begin evaluating these technologies now. As you build your next-generation applications, dont forget that your users and customers will be asking, "Is there a way to use this application when Im not connected to the Web?" Imagine youre a chef in a popular restaurant. Youve put together your special dishes for the evening. Hopefully, customers will like them, but if they dont, theres not much that can be done to change the specials—at least not immediately. This is basically the same model for classic Web and desktop application development. However, now imagine that many of your restaurant customers decide that they want to go into the kitchen and change and adapt your dishes themselves. They like your pasta, but they think they have a better recipe for shrimp. Or they want to use your burger, but add it to a pizza from another restaurant. This is the model of next-generation Web applications: Users expect to be able to tweak, adapt and change the applications in unique ways to meet their own specific needs. This is often called a mashup. In this model, your cool new application might find itself combined with an internal business application or mashed up with a popular free application from a big Web portal or search engine. It may even end up being combined with another application from a vendor you see as a competitor. Especially for software vendors, this can be a scary proposition. In traditional models, these companies try to maintain strict controls over how their applications are used, upgraded and integrated. But when it comes to next-generation Web applications, locking down your application is a mistake. To many users, a Web application that cant be easily customized or mashed up with other programs is a broken application—and one that wont be used or purchased. Letting users create mashups and allowing them to plug in functionality and integrate your application with other systems is the way to gain user loyalty. Probably more than anything else, this is the key lesson about next-generation Web applications. The ability of these applications to constantly change and adapt to new technologies, standards and end-user desires will radically change not only Web application delivery but also how people look at all the software that they use. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in Web services.

Jim Rapoza, Chief Technology Analyst, eWEEK.For nearly fifteen years, Jim Rapoza has evaluated products and technologies in almost every technology category for eWEEK. Mr RapozaÔÇÖs current technology focus is on all categories of emerging information technology though he continues to focus on core technology areas that include: content management systems, portal applications, Web publishing tools and security. Mr. Rapoza has coordinated several evaluations at enterprise organizations, including USA Today and The Prudential, to measure the capability of products and services under real-world conditions and against real-world criteria. Jim Rapoza's award-winning weekly column, Tech Directions, delves into all areas of technologies and the challenges of managing and deploying technology today.

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