Friday, July 18, 2008

Rich clients are still better than the browser

It seems to me that the user experience one gets when using a browser-based front-end, leaves something to be desired. That's not to say that the browser front-end hasn't come a long way, I just don't think its quite there yet.

The main issue I've come across when building or using web browser interfaces, it the lack of cross-browser support. The browser is a lot like an operating system in that there will never be a common ground between your users. There will always be Windows users and there will always be Linux users and there might always be Mac users (there aren't any die-hard Mac users anymore are there ;)).

The difference being, of course, that with rich clients, the main difference is in how the GUI library of choice is built. The implementation generally stays the same. Even if two browsers support the same feature/syntax, it is never guaranteed that the feature/syntax will remain functional. Just because your rich client is not delivered over HTTP and rendered by a browser, doesn't mean it can't function as a web application. As you probably know, there are countless rich web applications in existence today.

On top of it all, rich clients are much more reactive to user input. This is because there is no javascript to execute which is terribly slow (although it has come a long way). The user experience could potentially be bench marked by test users. Your application could have a web front-end, as well as a rich client front-end. Your test users could then be used to inform you of which experience delivers the better experience.

I thing the browser will eventually be able to deliver a user experience at the same level of quality as a rich client can today. Just not yet. And I'm not going to attempt a guess at when that time will be because these estimates are generally wrong in this business.

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