Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

DHH of Rails fame recently posted to the 37signals blog about not getting the need for “offline web applications”. Although he didn’t mention any one such framework specifically, it seems likely he was talking about Apollo, Slingshot, Firefox 3.0’s offline capabilities, and so forth. The gist of his argument is laid out in his first paragraph:

The idea of offline web applications is getting an undue amount of attention. Which is bizarre when you look at how availability of connectivity is ever increasing. EVDO cards, city-wide wifis, iPhones, Blackberry’s. There are so many ways to get online these days that the excitement for offline is truly puzzling. Until you consider the one place that is still largely an island of missing connectivity: The plane!

Now I have a lot of respect for David and for the products that 37signals has created, but it seems to me like he has made a couple of glaring errors in his analysis.

The first error is his supposition that the plane is the only place where people aren’t connected these days. I can understand how someone who lives and travels in high tech urban areas could make that mistake, but as many commenters on his blog have pointed out, we are far from universal connectivity in the industrialized world, and much of the world is even farther behind. And even where there is connectivity, hills, tunnels, concrete walls, and interference can wreak havoc on reliability and performance. I have no doubt that the trend worldwide is to more and more wireless access, and someday we may get to the point that David thinks is already here. But I don’t believe that we’ll be at the point where we have ubiquitous, reliable access for a long, long time.

The second is the supposition that Apollo, Slingshot, and so forth are all about offline web applications. I don’t think supporting purely offline applications is something most people are all that interested in. The benefits of the offline support are really about making applications that work in occasionally disconnected mode. The disconnect could be because you are on a plane, but it is more likely because your wireless disconnected for a while do to some sort of reliability glitch.

Furthermore, as David Young of Joyent points out, the benefits of RIA frameworks like Apollo and Slingshot aren’t just about being “offline”. They are really about bringing the benefits of web application programming to the desktop. David captures those benefits quite well, though of course his post is very Slingshot-centric. Although there are some huge differences between SlingShot and Apollo, most of what David writes applies equally well to Apollo. (See how I’m FUDing you again, David?)

~ by Andrew Shebanow on 02Apr07.

One Response to “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles”

  1. Thanks, Andrew.

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