This is sort of a Good News/Bad News situation.  The Good News is that Dare Obasanjo appears to be blogging again after taking an indefinite hiatus.  There's no mention of the hiatus in his newest posts so I don't know if this is "a return" or just "a spurt" but it was nice to read something from him that was longer than 140 characters. 

The bad news though was that one of his posts is just complete drivel. 

In his post "Offline Web Apps, Dumb Idea or Really Dumb Idea?" he draws three conclusions on why Desktop apps are better than offline web apps.

1.  The user experience of a "rich" Web application pales in comparison to that of a desktop application. If given a choice of using a desktop app and a Web application with the same features, I'd use a desktop application in a heart beat. 

I guess it depends what you mean by "same features".  The truth is, desktop apps can do things that online apps can't easily do yet (like inline spelling and grammar check in Word for example).  Those things still give the desktop app an edge but those are things I'd call "features".  So they don't count (as far as I'm concerned)

In the situation where both applications have equivalent features though a web app will win almost every time. 

There is a reason why Microsoft Money essentially hollowed out their application in favor of web apps and it's because people seem to find a web interface more intuitive than a desktop one.  The truth is, most people hated using computers before the web.  But the abundance of information drew them in and now a web interface is what they are most comfortable with. 

Do usability tests on a group of "Computer Illiterate" people and you'll find they react much more favorably to a web interface (even if its a simulated one in a desktop application)

2.  The amount of work it takes to "offline enable" a Web application is roughly similar to the amount of work it takes to "online enable" a desktop application. The amount of work it took me to make RSS Bandit a desktop client for Google Reader is roughly equivalent to what it most likely took to add offline reading to Google Reader.

This is the point that inspired me to post because this is just completely off the rails.  He compares syncing a desktop application with an already existing online application to Gear's ability to allow a web app to be used offline (without a separate desktop application) and says its the same thing.  Its very clearly not. 

An apples to apples comparison would be to compare a web app author using Gears to a desktop app author wanting an online interface (that they'd have to write).  In this comparison the web app developer only has to write a few lines of code while the desktop developer has to write a whole new web based application. 

Hardly the same amount of effort.

3.  Once you decide to "go offline", your Web application is no longer "zero install" so it isn't much different from a desktop application.

This is a semi-fair point in that Gears would need to be installed on all the client systems just like a desktop app which takes away the "no install" advantage of a web app.  But beyond that the web app still has an advantage because a desktop app needs to run an install every time it is updated.  The web app only needs to do the initial Gears install to be able to update all invisibly from that point forward.

That said, with auto update becoming more and more prevalent in the desktop world I'll be the first to admit that this "web app advantage" is one that is fading fast. 

One last point from a post quoted by Mr. Obasanjo's entitled "The Frustratingly Unfulfilled Promise of Google Gears".  In it Harry McCracken says this...

If Google Gears is a bandwagon, in other words, it's one that almost nobody--including the proprietors of most of Google's own services--has jumped on yet...

How come? Well, it's clear that even with the advent of tools and platforms such as Gears and Adobe Air, moving online apps into the offline world is just plain hard. No current Gears-enabled app is anything like its full-blooded self in offline form--and since most of them are stripped-down compared to traditional desktop software even in their online versions, that means the offline ones are barebones at best.


As for Web developers other than Google, I'm not sure whether they're struggling with Gears, or whether there's simply less interest in offline apps than I hoped and guessed there would be. And the chance remains that some good ones are in the works right now. (One of the problems with Gears is that there doesn't seem to be a good repository of information about existing apps that use it--if Google tells you about all of them when you download and install Gears itself, I've missed that info.)

In response I'd say that the web world is just waiting for someone to do it right. 

There is...for lack of a better term...a certain Zen to doing specific tasks in technology.  Until someone finds a way to do that task in a way that feels right almost no one jumps on the bandwagon. 

An example of this is MP3 players.  MP3 players existed but weren't popular for years.  Then the iPod came along and did it right.  Now you have a booming market with a bunch of player manufacturers creating devices that do things in "the iPod way" but with their own little tweaks. 

Offline Web apps are the same scenario.  Developers need a template to wrap their head around before they'll move forward.  In the same way that every desktop developer keeps Microsoft Office in the back of their mind that template is needed for offline web developers to feel comfortable in the environment.

Until offline web apps find their iPod or their Microsoft Office the technology will remain largely unused.  When they do though you can expect Developers to switch over in droves.

Quick Aside: In his post, Mr. Obasanjo quotes a post by David Heinemeier Hansson(one of the founders of 37Signals) which was entitled "You're not on a f***ing plane (and if you are, it doesn't matter)!".  In it he says....

The idea of offline web applications is getting an undue amount of attention. Which is bizarre when you look at how availability of connectivity is ever increasing. EVDO cards, city-wide wifis, iPhones, Blackberry’s. There are so many ways to get online these days that the excitement for offline is truly puzzling. Until you consider the one place that is still largely an island of missing connectivity: The plane!

I just had to quickly address this because, and I'm sorry to say this, but its just stupidest thing I've ever read.  Anyone who has ever waited in an office lobby where they didn't have access to that company's wifi network or walked into a restaurant with no WiFi and no Cell. Bars knows there is value to going offline. 

The idea that the head of a company that produces online software for business clients would post something like this boggles my mind.