Thursday, 4 January 2007

Investment in online and offline software

According to Elliot Noss, CEO of Tucows(c/o TalkCrunch) more than half of users now use webmail, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised to find out that many don't even know that they do. When you take into consideration the (non-caching, typically business) users of MS Outlook/Exchange, I would guess that having your email locally is likely to become the exception rather than the rule. So if web-based applications can gain user acceptance, then there are plenty of reasons to argue that most of our desktop applications could migrate to the web over time. But at the same time there is a contrary movement towards people chosing laptops instead of desktops, with "Two in three retail PCs being notebooks". Implicit is that, at least to some extent, users are now more likely to be working without fast access to web-based applications. Whilst some would see the gap between these two situations being bridged with technologies like HSDPA or WiMax, the other option is to "simply" cache the data between the offline and online data stores- as Outlook can. But this makes it MUCH harder to program the application, and more or less impossible (?) for a purely browser based application. I listened to the TalkCrunch podcast "Here Comes Adobe Apollo". Adobe are placing an interesting bet with their Apollo technology to allow a common "Ajaxy" application to work between the offline and online world, but it sounds from this podcast that quite a lot of the detail on database synchronisation is likely to be left to the developer. Taking a slightly different technical approach, today I spotted this "Dojo Offline Toolkit Kicks Off" on Ajaxian. Somehow this sounds cleaner to me, even if it is more restricted. This is clearly a hot area, and therefore I'm sure that there are others working on tools to bridge rich webbased applications with offline use (suggestions please?). My own view is that early-stage VC's and business angels are likely to favour such approaches to building product because:

  • Lower development costs (potentially) esp. if cross-platform is important
  • Lower support costs (probably)
  • More choices on monetisation (ad supported, premium, subscription etc.)
  • Improved lock-in; it's going to be hard to get your data out in some cases
  • Alternative route(s) to market
  • Different exit options
What do you think?