Thursday, December 18th, 2008
Herb Sutter is a great leader in our industry, and he has taken on Jeff Atwood’s post on Web 2.0 app design.
It comes to the age old issue of how “desktop-y” do you make your Web application? Herb believes that having them look like desktop apps is natural. I think that I disagree. I like Gmail because it is a great blend of web-y and desktop-y. In fact, it is more like
pine on the Web than Outlook on the Web :)
The best applications seem to nail that blend of both worlds. What do you think?
This is Herb’s conclusion:
Most SaaS/Web 2.0 applications today look and feel pretty much the way GUI applications looked and felt like on DOS, before technologies like Windows and OS/2 PM existed. Around the late 1980s, people wrote lots of GUI applications that ran on DOS, but we didn’t have a widely-used common GUI infrastructure that handled basic windows and menus and events, much less standards like CUA that tried to say how to use such a common infrastructure if we had it. So they each did their own thing, borrowing where possible from what seemed to work well for GUIs on other platforms.
Twenty years ago, everyone writing GUIs on DOS designed the UIs as best they could, borrowing where possible from what they saw worked on platforms like the Macintosh and Xerox Alto and Star — but the results were all over the map, and would stay that way until a standard environment, followed by standard guidelines, came into being.
Today, everyone writing rich Web 2.0 applications is doing their own thing, borrowing as best they can from Macs and Windows and others — but the results are all over the map, and will continue to be until there actually is such a thing as a UI standard for rich-GUI web applications. You can see that in the differences between Zimbra and Outlook Web Access. In the meantime, it’s not just okay to borrow from what we’ve learned on the desktop; it’s necessary.
And the question isn’t whether metaphors users already understand on the desktop will migrate to the web, but which ones and how soon, because it’s the whole point of SaaS. The industry will soon be going well beyond Google Apps; with offerings like Office Online already announced for the short term, which puts still more rich-client GUI apps like word processors and spreadsheets in the browser (with functionality somewhere between Google Apps and the desktop version of Office).
Zimbra and Outlook Web Access aren’t examples of poor web app design, but exactly the opposite: They’re just the beginning of the next wave of rich web apps.
Posted by Dion Almaer at 6:05 am