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Does the desktop matter any more?

📥  Development

Hi, I’m Phil Wilson and I’m one of the application developers in Web Services. Also, I sometimes write long blog posts – I really need to take the advice of Anil and Write less, say more!

This is an old topic, but the other day when talking about the dominant platform to develop software for, Vic Gundotra from Google said "the web has won."

So does the operating system running on your computer matter any more? Certainly in terms of using web sites it seems not. Whereas just five short years ago the operating system and the exact version of your browser would decide what you could and couldn't do on the web, things are much better today.


With the resurgence of browser development (spurred by Firefox’s challenge to Internet Explorer on Windows and the bundling of Safari on the Mac) it’s easier to develop complex web sites and applications that work on all of the most popular browsers, on many different operating systems, than it’s ever been before. This means that instead of the computer being the platform, the web, which is common to all the browsers, is the platform.

Alongside this, software vendors are producing cross-operating system and cross-browser libraries like BrowserPlus and Gears that integrate web applications ever closer to our desktops, regardless of what type they might be, and still provide ever-richer functionality. This blog post from the Gears team talks about how they’re already implementing the standards which are emerging in HTML to provide more of that cross-browser web-platform love.

In our office we run an almost 50/50 split of Ubuntu and Windows XP and it seems to make little difference to our daily development tasks (we’ve made conscious decisions not to adopt huge swathes of proprietary technologies like ActiveX or Applets which would introduce all kinds of complexity). It certainly doesn't seem to have affected how and what we can use our browsers for, and since we're in Web Services most of us practically live in our browsers! Additionally, the University has rolled out a small number (200 or so) Sun Ray thin clients around the campus where, from my naive perspective at least, the desktop experience is downplayed in favour of the web browser and being able to provide services from there (incidentally, it’s nice to see that Edge Hill have been having a good experience with these too!).

What all this really means for Web Services is that user expectations will continue to rise the longer this trend continues, and the quality of design, functionality and user experience of our output will have to rise to match. These are exciting times to be working on the web, and long may they continue!

No Responses to “Does the desktop matter any more?”

  1. Stuart Gould on

    Hi Phil, I think you make a very good point, more and more now development seems to be moving off the desktop and onto the web. With the growth in VLE and online applications the desktop seems less and less busy and the browser more essential. With mainstream software such as office becoming available (via Office Live) and google champing at the bit to get a whole suite of packages available I can't help but wonder how long it will be until locally installed software seems a waste of disk space.
    As part of our Sun Ray project we have Sun Global Desktop which is providing terminal server applications through the browser. We even have a full RDP client on there that lets users have a full windows desktop in their browser (the same desktop as if they were on a Sun Ray here). This puts us in a position where we could in fact offer pure browser sessions to a terminal and have a windows desktop appear only if the user accessed it via the SGD site. I might have a go at that actually!

  2. Phil Wilson on

    Thanks Stuart, you're right, it's a very interesting time.

    There are definitely some apps I use which would just too slow to use if they were web-based like programming text editors etc. where you need a no-log response, but tools like Gears might mitigate this even more.


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