Desktop browser applications anyone?

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Earlier this year I came across the work of Peter Nixey and his prototype web service, eventsites which demonstrated how users could create mini-websites for events such as parties or meetups. At first glance it looked like just another web mashup, combining Google Maps, Flickr and EVDB, but on closer inspection I soon realised that eventsites was quiet unique because it uses no server-logic and stores no data of its own?

“Eventsites is simply a client to other web-services. Eventsites uses EVDB for authentication and data storage, Google Maps for mapping and Flickr for photos. All the interface logic is done using AJAX in the browser. Since the heavy-lifting of Eventsites is done by EVDB, Google and Flickr, we can afford to do something unique with it.”

What eventsites is in fact demonstrating is the impending emergence of desktop-like browser based applications. i.e Google Spreadsheets, Zoho , Zimbra, ThunderBird linking to web services.  

“By outsourcing all of our secure logic, we can afford to move the interface logic from the server into the browser. By doing this, we have in essence created a desktop application that simply happens to be delivered via the web.”

At the moment eventsites still remains a prototype but it could easily become a viable commerical application by generating advertising supported revenues to offset any commerical API licensing costs.

In the coming months browser based applications will certainly take center stage, in the fight for developers hearts and minds, as Windows Vista, IE7 and Firefox 2 near final shipment. Earlier this year Microsoft announced their XBAP application strategy (XAML Browser App) and the Firefox camp has been promoting their equivalent XUL strategy for sometime now. In fact Firefox’s user interface is just one of several applications already written in XUL.

But it wouldn’t be the internet if there weren’t incompatible competing standards and of course XBAP and XUL are not compatible. To make matters worse Microsoft even has competing technologies of its own for developing web broswer applications, ranging from XBAP, Atlas & ASP.NET to WPF/E.  Ian Moulster, a Microsoft UK evangelist, has a good piece on his blog about where and when Microsoft thinks developers could use their different technologies and Channel 9 has a video on XBAP.

Fundamentally whether its XBAP or XUL or somewhere in between, its all about the size of the audience you want to reach and richness of the application. As ever, the less standardised the cross-platform browser support i.e XBAP is only going to work on IE7 and XUL on Firefox – the smaller audience you will reach.

The move to desktop browser applications is certainly heating up with the announcement that Google will launch “Google Apps for Your Domain this week” (aka Google Office 1.0). A software bundle aimed at small and midsize companies. The free, ad-supported package combines Google’s E-mail, calendar, and instant messaging with Web site creation software. It will be hosted in Google’s data center, branded with customers’ domain names, and packaged with management tools for IT pros. – review on TechCrunch.com

If you would like to discuss eventsites with Peter or the broader discussion around desktop browser applications, then he is speaking at the Beers & Innovation event on the 14th September.

Update: The B&I event is now sold out. Deirdre Molloy is operating a waiting list so email her (deirdre . molloy @ nmk.co.uk) if you want your name added to it; and likewise if you’ve booked and can’t make it. 

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