Online applications won't work

Periodically, you see stories making the rounds about how online applications are going to completely supplant traditional desktop applications. In fact, these ideas have recently been extended to encompass the entire desktop, with the rise of web-based "operating systems."

It sounds great, doesn't it? All your data and all your applications would be available from a central server. You could use any computer, anywhere in the world, to access your personal, customized desktop, and it would always be exactly the same.

However, over the last month or so, and this week in particular, I've experienced the perfect proof that such ideas are, well, over-rated. That proof is internet outage.

Yes, Time Warner's Road Runner cable internet service has been very unreliable the last month or so. It's normally pretty good, but I've been experiencing frequent outages, usually for several hours at a time.

With wide broad-band availability, many of us have started to take high-speed, always-on connections for granted. Putting your entire desktop online is great when you know you will always be able to access it. But if everything is online, then when your connection goes down, your computer is completely useless.

The everything online philosophy also seriously limits the usefulness of laptops. I know that may sound shocking to some people, but the truth is that you can't get free WiFi access everywhere. In fact, there are many places where you can't even get paid WiFi access. For instance, my wife sometimes takes the laptop to work on slow days, where they have no web connection (though I'm not sure why) and no wireless access points nearby. On those days, it's nice that OpenOffice and Klickity (her new addiction) are desktop, rather than web, applications.

Not that I have anything against web applications. They're great! It's just that, like everything else in the world of computing, they've been over-hyped. Not everything needs to - or should - be a web application. Not every web application has to use AJAX. Not every program will benefit from using the latest trendy technology. And, finally, one that seems to have finally sunk in: not every application has to incorporate XML in some way, whether it makes sense or not.

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