Thursday, 05 December, 2002

Web Apps Suck

I've long held the opinion that Web apps suck.  Not all, mind you, but a goodly majority.  I know that seems like heresy, especially coming from a technologist.  How can Web applications suck?  Isn't the Web the great enabler?  The playing field leveler?  The magic bullet that's finally going to bring computing the the great unwashed masses?  Don't believe it.  It's silly to think that a web application, written to run inside a web browser and on multiple different operating system and hardware platforms, will have all of the features and functionality of an application that's written to take advantage of all that today's hardware and operating systems have to offer.  First of all, you're at the mercy of the lowest common denominator:  the browser and the abysmal application environment that it presents.  Secondly, except for the few million of us who have broadband (and even for some of us), the Internet connection on which thin client applications rely is slow and unreliable.  Finally, there's the whole security issue that nobody's quite figured out yet.  Face it, most web applications are slow, clunky, and insecure.  We've all known this from the beginning, but we've been screaming "thin client, thin client" hoping that somebody would come up with the answer.

The answer, I'm happy to say, is fat client applications that take advantage of the underlying hardware and operating systems, and access services on the Web.  The whole idea of thin client Web applications, when the client often has as much or more power than the server, is a joke.  We've wasted a huge amount of effort trying to write browser-centric applications because we thought it would let us write a single application that runs universally.  And we've had some small measure of success, provided you're happy with slow, clunky, and insecure applications.  The Java crowd has the same dream, and most of the same problems.

As I said, anybody who has been in this business for more than a year understands these things, and understood them back in 1995 when people first started talking about web applications.  So it was with some humor that I readthis article from Computerworld magazine.  "Sometimes we had to tell the client that what they wanted was unrealistic for the Web platform."  I'll just bet that "sometimes" turned out to be "often" or maybe even "most of the time."

Do you think some sanity is returning to the software world?  It can't happen too soon.