A friend of mine called me this Sunday, happy as a child in a candy shop: she had just got herself a shinny new MacBook, after years lusting over my old-but-cute iBook G4.
Of course she wanted tips on how to do the basic PC things from a fellow Mac user, and I started by talking about cool software to install (thing such as Firefox, NeoOffice, etc.). But when I mentioned Adium (a multi-messenger client like Pidgin or Trillian – except for running on Macs, and not being ugly or clumsy), she said in a very candid voice:
“No, thanks, I can use Meebo for that”.
I got dazzled. Meebo is my favorite solution for IM when you can’t install IM software, or your network won’t let you connect on non-trivial ports – I even blogged about it when it was on its infancy. But using it as your main IM solution? That seemed like absolute nonsense for me, so I couldn’t even mutter a decent answer for her.
But after some time thinking about the subject, I realized there isn’t a rational reason for which you should use desktop software instead of a Web 2.0 application for IM – in fact, most of my IM nowadays is done on Google Talk – right from within GMail, entirely on the browser. And I almost didn’t realize it.
This episode made me think about how much of the resistance in switching from desktop applications to Web-based ones is based on real limitations of the latter, and how much is sheer inertia. And one interesting fact (easily noticeable after watching a few users) is that different people have different profiles of choice for web-based and desktop applications.
My theory was that power was the divider: heavy users of Word or Excel would never consider alternatives such as Zoho or Google Documents; people who depend too much on calendars would never switch from Outlook to online solutions; and so on. But seeing the new generations going straight to online apps (for things that they use heavily, such as IM) is making me reconsider that rationale.
It is hard to say when most applications will have compelling web-based alternatives, but it is even harder to argue that most, if not all, will have them at one point of the time. The fact is: programmers whose main motivation is seeing people use and like their apps (such as me) should really start to think more on the web as the default platform, and not as the least common denominator when multiplatform deployment is a must – a limited vision that sometimes still clouds my mind.