Crackpot tech: Desktop Web applications

How likely are desktop Web apps to impact the enterprise

When asked whether a full-featured desktop app can be delivered via the Web, most people picture standard HTML forms, possibly with Java or JavaScript thrown in for aesthetics and minimal functionality, and laugh the idea off. But the full-scale apps being built for the browser using scripting languages and Adobe’s Flash and Shockwave development tools will soon prove them wrong.

Flash apps started out as rudimentary games with lackluster input methods and a cartoonlike look and feel. More and more, however, they resemble native apps. Take Gliffy, for instance — a very attractive, stable Flash app that drives like Microsoft Visio, providing full diagramming capabilities in the browser with nothing more than Flash 7 required on the client side.

Another worthwhile example is EyeOS, which looks like a Flash app but is built on PHP and JavaScript and runs off a standard Apache Web server. The array of options and eye candy in EyeOS is staggering for such a new project, clearly pushing the envelope of what such apps can do.

These projects, and others popping up all over the Net, represent the next step in Web app delivery, one that will break free of the HTML form and into interfaces that resemble fat apps. Vendors such as Scalent are already writing their UIs in Flash — and are reaping the benefits of a simpler deployment, arguably greater cross-platform support than Java, and a more seamless, attractive user experience to boot.

As the options diversify and improve, it's a safe bet that Web-based desktop apps will reshape the enterprise soon.

-- Paul Venezia

What's your take on the viability of desktop Web apps for the enterprise?

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