I read this poll on LifeHacker the other day about web-based email vs. desktop email apps. It reinforced what I believe is the current momentum in web applications these days — that over time, people are going to get more and more comfortable using web apps the way they used to use desktop apps. It’s been five years since the release of Gmail, which I view as a forerunner in this area, so clearly this isn’t going to be a quick change.
Browser innovations will help users with the perception that web applications are interchangeable with desktop software. Google Chrome is already working in this direction by reducing the amount of browser UI and allowing the user to focus on sites and apps they are using. I’m won’t argue that Chrome will be a major browser; it may never be. I do believe that Google’s intention is to continue swaying the way we look at the Internet. As other browsers follow suit (in some cases), Google’s web applications and sites will all benefit.
As we move forward, many computers, especially in public spaces like libraries and educational computer labs, will use fewer licensed software suites and more subscriptions to web-based applications. As with Gmail, it doesn’t matter whether I check email on my computer, your computer, a work computer, or a mobile phone — I still have access to the application because modern web browsers provide the baseline of support for these apps. With stabilization and implementation of features in HTML 5, additional web-based apps will be built and they will continue to look and act like our familiar desktop apps. Over time, institutions will replace their local file servers, email servers, and parts of their IT staff with outsourced apps that are purchased by subscription and delivered in a browser.