The Resurgence of Desktop Apps


Remember the NC (Network Computer)? According to Wikipedia, the NC was Oracle’s much-hyped “diskless computer”. In contrast to the PC (personal computer) the NC was basically a thin-client, a cheap and extensible computer that could be maintained and updated to the latest and greatest with the minimum of hardware requirements. As opposed to fat-client PC’s which provide rich functionality independently of a server, the NC’s would require lofty back-end support in order to be anything more than a dumb-terminal. When PC prices fell, the NC’s were no more. Great idea, killed off by continually changing business requirements and the evolution of the web.

Which brings me to AIR and rich desktop applications. A rich application usually relies on an internet connection for updates, synchronization, and feedback based on user interaction, much like an NC did. However an AIR app succeeds in running on a desktop unconnected which is exactly where the NC failed. Rich desktop apps can continue to be “rich” even while unconnected, and unlike most tradional rich internet apps, desktop apps have greater access to the the richness already present in your fat-client (or PC). You now can update and work with your photos and music collection and further bridge the gap to online entities. I’m not ready to start using the word “fat-client” in place of PC anytime soon, but I see a lot of parallels here in terms of how data ubiquity and convenience is driving us toward a convergence between the destop and internet.

Businessweek has a great article here explaining how the desktop application trend is starting to take off. On another note, Fidelity did get another nod by Businessweek on their feature concerning online investing tools here. We’ve got some great initiatives going at the moment which I’ll be sure and post about as soon as they go public.