Sunday, April 08, 2007

Is the desktop dead? You wish!

Paul Graham says Microsoft's dead. I think his statement is a bit premature, but in essence, right: while still hugely profitable, Microsoft has become yet another big dumb company that matters less and less. The once fearful software dinosaur keeps (admittedly) playing catch-up to Apple's software innovations, and just about every new endeavor it attempts ends up as a humiliating failure.

But according to Graham, the main reason behind Microsoft's demise is... the death of the desktop. Ouch.

Everyone can see the desktop is over. It now seems inevitable that applications will live on the web—not just email, but everything, right up to Photoshop. Even Microsoft sees that now.
He links to Snipshot, a web application with basic image editing capabilities to prove the Photoshop point.

While impressive and useful in some circumstances, I'd be hard-pressed to find that app anything more than a novelty today.

So is Graham a Photoshop power user? Here's his background:
Paul Graham is an essayist, programmer, and programming language designer. In 1995 he developed with Robert Morris the first web-based application, Viaweb, which was acquired by Yahoo in 1998. In 2002 he described a simple Bayesian spam filter that inspired most current filters. He's currently working on a new programming language called Arc, a new book on startups, and is one of the partners in Y Combinator.
OK. I'm a bit tired of visionaries and web programmers pronouncing the desktop dead.

I'm a bit sick of platform-independent enthusiasts, including subcontractors I've worked with throughout my career, dismissing very legitimate usability and performance concerns. If the work you do involves several files, complex and quick actions, and a thousand clicks per hour, nothing comes close to a dedicated desktop application.

So let's talk again when someone develops a web-based version of, say, iLife. And yes, it does need to include optimized scrolling and full-screen slideshows in iPhoto, recording in iMovie, DVD encoding and burning in iDVD, and all the rich user interface features such as Exposé, multiple windows, drag and drop, immediate feedback, and acceptable performance. It might be possible in five years, but honestly, would it be worth the hassle?

Remember how television was supposed to kill the cinema? The desktop isn't going anywhere either.

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