By eweek  |  Posted 2004-02-19 Print this article Print

Steve Jobs used to talk about wouldnt it be great if software was like a radio. And then one day it was like a radio and nobody noticed. And it was the browser. My mother who is 74 has no trouble browsing, even my father who I think of as a technophobe, can browse. The second advantage of the browser you know about is that theres no deployment. Thats a huge advantage. Because theres no deployment you dont have to bring all your peoples PCs in or upload them all heavy. Now softwares gotten better at being adaptive and self-modifying, but that cuts both ways. Im sick of applying my upgrades on Windows every night. And it makes me nervous that the software on my PC is constantly changing. So I think what we want isnt a thick client, and I wasnt leading that way. But I think there will be some cases where theres a thick client. I think in general we still want to say an app is just something you point to with a URL. And you dont have to deploy it. And you can throw it out of memory at any time, and theres no code and no libraries and no interdependencies. All the great things about installation-free software that the browser gave us. And the other thing big thing of course is that if you make a change everybody sees the change. So how do I get my cake and eat it too? How can you have a model where you have a thin client just like we have today and yet it works well against the data model. And I think what you do is you have two things that you point at on the web. One thing you point at is the information and one you point at as the way you present it and interact with it. And then the browser is smarter and it knows how to cache. It already knows how to cache your pages and now it knows how to cache your information. And it knows how to do offline synch so you actually go offline and come back online and can synchronize. But other than that its still a browser. You have to know one thing once and thats your browser. Then you just point to the URL and you run them in the way that you do in the browser mall as opposed to .EXEs.
Now, Longhorn I think is conflicted about this. Bill [Gates, Microsoft chairman] has always wanted a thick client. Eric Rudder, in part is where he is because he promised Bill a thick client—and partly because hes brilliant and a great guy. Im a big fan of Eric Rudder, which probably sounds funny coming from someone from BEA. Eric and I have a lot of mutual respect for each other. But hes trying to live up to a vision that in my opinion is mostly not in the customers interests and that is a thick client. So I think the clients going to get thicker but will still basically be a thin-client paradigm. And I think that will be true because the customers, given the ease of use of the a radio, dont move away.
Let me give you one other example. Word processing. I used to use this command-oriented word processor called Volkswriter. And other people used Emacs. It had all these powerful commands you could type in. And along came the WYSIWYG word processors. They were cooler and they printed much better, but I lost half the power I had. I could no longer say search for everything that contains this and then when you find it modify this part to include this note—things I couldve said in the old command-oriented language. And no one ever went back. To this day word processors dont let you do that. Because it turned out there were 10 times as many people that needed the ease of use as needed the custom stuff. Thats whats happening with apps. There are some people for some apps that need really custom UI because they use them everyday day in and day out and they need that kind of productivity of a custom tool and a custom toolbar. For most of us most of the time the browser works well enough, particularly if you do some of the tricks people are doing with the HTML. And the training costs are zero and thats huge. And the deployment costs are zero and thats huge. And I dont think anyone will ever accept that being taken away again.


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