Friday, September 21, 2007

Using online applications

As part of our business, my business partner and I have been using many of Google's online applications - a word processor, spreadsheet program and now a presentation program. These applications can be located in the app area of your Google account (you have to have a Google account to access them).

By and large, they are good. The functions they have are useful, although they do lack some of the more sophisticated formatting and mathematical functions present in their off-line counterparts. Despite this though, a major consulting firm recently signed a deal with Google to get these online applications used by more businesses.

This move is good for us. Google's applications are an example of something called Software as a Service (SaaS) - where you use online software services rather than download and install software. The software tool we're developing works in this way (kind of).

However, having used Google's applications quite a bit over the last couple of months, the experience isn't without problems. The biggest one is feedback - it's just too slow. Things that you do with a swift two key-stroke combination or a couple of menu choices in Excel or Word that are executed instantly, have a constant delay in Google apps - which gets worse the more information you have on a screen.

It feels like a big step backwards in terms of design, which is sad.

It vindicates a decision we made when we began development of our software tool - we decided to build a SaaS tool that worked on the desktop, not in the browser. With the UI on the desktop, there is no user lag and you can create a much richer experience. Significantly richer. Check out this example.

Even with all the advances in web technology over the last few years - mostly targeted at improving the user experience - the browser is still a straitjacket for really good design.

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