The demand for a watered-down online office (and for real-time document collaboration) is no where near as big
as the hype would suggest. For example, I use Word at work a lot and depend on its advanced features, but at home I rarely need "word processing" beyond using gmail or blogger at all. So even though I've had a Writely account for months, I've never had any need for it or anything like it, just as I rarely fire up Word or OpenOffice for personal stuff. I doubt I'm alone.This post
about online/offline is on-the-mark. People want to be able to do everything, everywhere. It's that simple. Whereas desktop apps don't travel well, AJAX apps lack many features that businesses are addicted to (like strong support for a little thing called printing). As for non-business users, Writely et al may be sufficient, but like me, how many home users have anything
to write at home besides emails and blogposts? I suspect most Writely users (those who are actually active
) use it as a front-end to their blogs. Big whoop.
The future is the best of both worlds -- and AJAX will not cut it, because current web standards, official and de facto, will not cut it. What does that leave?
Super-browsers. Sound crazy? I'll even guess at the name for one of them: Internet Explorer. It'll be the Greek soldiers inside Vista: in five years, fat .NET 2+/XAML apps will be running in the latests IE on tens of millions of Vista desktops. These apps will be safe and secure, full-featured, and they will powerfully merge online and offline activity. Users will love it, why wouldn't they? And Mozilla will copycat, if they can, enabling .NET 2+ support, or they will fade back to obscurity.
This is already starting: Vista will be shipping in less than a year. So I don't even see the preceding as speculation, it's simply the most likely scenario.
The area left for interesting speculation is: what is Google going to do? Although there have been rumors that they'd come out with their own browser, the move doesn't make sense until you realize how Microsoft is going to, once again, leverage its desktop ubiquity. Then a Google super-browser which enables fat clients (Java applets
, take 2?) seems plausible. Especially given that it just bought Writely, because what that says to me is that all those Googlenerds can't be bothered writing some wussy on-line word processor in a month that hardly anyone will use and will never even pay for itself; instead they are working on something really big and secret ... like GBrowser running GOffice against GDrive.
Or maybe not. Why would Google force a final elimination round between themselves and Microsoft like this, where it's their "stack" versus .NET, one codebase to rule them all? It'd probably be a losing strategy, so long as virtually all desktops run IE out of the box. Wouldn't it make more sense for them to assume that everyone will use IE8+ with .NET enabled, and then write the best .NET apps themselves with Google servers as the backend? IE8 as Google's Trojan horse. This would be leveraging the Windows-opoly on the desktop to get at the global market of computer users with more intriguing online products than ever before. Sounds like a good way to drive a lot of business, to me.