Friday, July 9, 2010

Web applications in addition to Web browsers

I have been a long time user of the Internet. Way back in the eighties, I used the Internet to read and send electronic mail, and also to research information, using what was then called the Usenet, which we now know as news groups.

When the World Wide Web became popular, it became easier to use a Web browser to do research. Over time, the Web also became a useful way to exchange Email, either using Webmail or using an integrated Email client.

In a similar way, the Web also became a more useful way to do research in multiple ways - the use of a search engine, such as Alta Vista, Yahoo, Excite, and later, Google.

Over the past decade, the development of dynamic Web page content, not just static text, has created the opportunity to have complete online applications, which can be Web instances of the Email, news groups, and chat, but it can also be the place where documents, spreadsheets, electronic commerce, and other applications exist.

This Spring, an interesting offshoot of the Ubuntu and Mint projects emerged that caught my attention and increased my interest in using not just traditional Web browsers, but application instances of sites that offer applications.

As an experiment, I've been using the Mozilla Labs Prism application to access specific sites. A couple of them, such as GMail and Yahoo Mail, are simply Webmail sites. A few others, such as the Desktop Linux Reviews Forum and the USALUG, are technical user forums. But I've also tried other stuff, such as Facebook, CSNNE - Comcast Sports Net New England, DistroWatch, and Wunderground.

I've found Mozilla Prism to be a fast, effective way to access these sources of information. I've not used it to completely replace regular Web browsing, but I am now regularly using it to supplement my Web browsing on these specific sites, and I've also looked at some of the Google Apps and Gadgets for doing similar things with Google based services.

I have not found any of these to be a complete replacement for the traditional alternatives, but I frequently find them to be a useful way to quickly access specific information. It will be worth investigating additional methods as new ideas about this kind of technology emerge. I can definitely see a future for appliances that access specific kinds of information or provide a specific service over the Internet.

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