I read with some fascination Phil Windley’s Why Vista? post. Then I had a funny reaction when I read this part of the post:
Since the application windows can float free of the virtual machine–like native windows, you end up with Word 2007 running on your desktop–just like it was natively installed. Parallels calls this “Coherence” while Fusion calls this “Unity.” I described the spooky feeling this gave me the first time it (unexpectedly) happened to me on my blog a few weeks ago.
What he is describing is the ability to run native Windows applications in windows on the Mac OS/X desktop. The system will even go so far as to pick the right OS and application to run based on a file type. This only makes sense given that you probably want a preferred app for a particular file type.
I watched a video on YouTube of this, and he’s right. This does feel spooky or unnatural. My first thought was to attribute it to the Uncanny Valley of User Interface Design, a great post from O’Reilly about why Robots that are too human are less believable, and so too with user interfaces. That instict is right, I think, it does explain why this feels spooky, but let’s take it to the next logical step.
We step in and out of a dozen different applications every day on the web. They’re done in a plethora of different languages by many different companies. Google doesn’t look like MySpace which doesn’t look like Facebook which doesn’t look like this blog. Yet nothing about that feels strange or spooky. Businesses that love SaaS use applications from a variety of SaaS vendors. We had several at the last company I was at. Switching from one to the other felt a heck of a lot less spooky than switching from the old version of Microsoft Office to Office 2007.
The Web is already a polyglot world, and a better place to be in for all that. It just feels more natural as a user interface paradigm for aggregating a lot of applications and information together. The desktop world, for all its rich user interface possibilities is too stylized around the smaller visions of Macintosh or Windows. Those visions are too ossified beneath millions of lines of code and layers of libraries.
Hmmm. It’s another reason to prefer the web and ask how much Vista or Mac we really need. My consumption of desktop apps is down considerably from what it once was. I compose these blog posts online in WordPress and I do a lot of other document work in Wikis. I keep telling myself I need to dump Outlook and go for an online alternative, but I haven’t gone there just yet. I’ve seen up close and personal that some problems I’ve had with presentations could’ve been avoided entirely with a web presentation tool.
Meanwhile, the Web isn’t waiting around on the desktop. It is a promiscuous thing: the World Wide Web. It wants to be everywhere all the time. It is relentless and addictive. We hate to be without it. A friend chided me some time ago for my lack of a WiFi presence at my home so he could demonstrate his cool SoonR application. That’s been fixed since (although at the time, all my machines were online at home via wired connections), but I digress. The Web does not want to be left out, even when there’s no connection. Hence we’re seeing the emergence of mechansims that enable web applications to run without connections. Adobe has AIR. Google has Gears. And all the rest.
I love Ryan’s Stewart comment that, “AIR applications have a quick, easy install experience that is closer to the browser’s zero install.” When was the last time you installed something on your desktop that felt like that? I just built a new dual core computer (gotta keep up with the Multicore Jones’s ya know) and reinstalling all the software is absolutely the worst aspect of the whole thing. Ryan talks about a number of other aspects of bringing the web to the desktop, so take a gander.
Microsoft has been promising to turn the file system into a database since 1991 with Cairo. More recently, it was supposed to be in Vista. Although Vista took 5 years to develop, the file system didn’t make it in. The World Wide Web is a database has let us manage and access data far better than the desktop OS file folder metaphors for a long time now. We have mashup tools like Yahoo Pipes and standards like RSS that beat the heck out of the desktop’s cut and paste. I mean come on, how many times have you labored to cut and paste information from some one source into your Excel spreadsheet so you could analyze it? Now granted, I do wish the web browser supported cut and paste as well as the desktop, but we’ll get to that, I’m sure.
Most importantly, we have the innovator’s attention largely focused on the web. When their hearts and minds are already there, that’s where all the new stuff will be.
Richard McMannus has this as #8 on his great list of 10 Web Trends for the future.
Call it the Web Unplugged. When It’s ready, It will be better, and things like Air will set the World on Fire.
Patrick Logan makes a couple of pithy comments. One funny, one dead right about what else is needed: the browser has to get better. I think the browser issue is holding the web back at least as much as any lack of Open Social Networking. But we have come a long way. The old web was like a Green Screen 3270: Half Duplex!