Friday, July 15, 2011

Fat clients are back - big time




Back in the days when I used to develop software (1992-1998), the client-server paradigm for software development ruled. Data was stored on the server-side and it was, except for server side calculations, manipulated locally on our PC desktops. We interacted with the data via fat but highly interactive, stable and speedy Windows applications.

When the world wide web arrived to our desktops, it was sort of implied that web sites would evolve into highly interactive applications run inside of a web browser. The web was the future, and we assumed that it would mean that we would interact with everything via a web browser. Yet, the last couple of years we have seen things moving in quite the opposite direction. The client-server paradigm with fat native clients is back. What is new is that the servers are in a cloud somewhere and can be accessed via web applications in a web browser as well as via native apps.

Several trends interplay and pave the way for the comeback of fat clients, such as the following:
  • Our consumption of rich media such as video, photos and music increases
  • We store more of our information in the cloud (because we want to be ablet to access it from anywhere)
  • We want highly interactive, reliable and fast user experiences also when it comes to Internet-based tools
  • We are becoming more and more mobile, using mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets
  • The capacity of the Internet and broadband connections, especially mobile have a hard time keeping up with, ever increasing traffic volumes
The bottom line is: we need the broadband for shuffling our content, not for downloading applications. Besides, it doesn't make much sense to download an application every time we need it, especially if it's easy to access and install the application locally on a device. App stores make these tasks really easy and nothing like the messy and error-prone installation procedures we have gotten used to with Microsoft Windows.

The risk of downloading and infecting devices with malicious code also decreases if it is just content and not applications that is downloaded. No code except maybe for style sheets and content markup would be downloaded. Security mechanisms, such ad encryption and access rights, can be put the content itself so that it does not slip away and get into the wrong hands.

Fat clients are back big time, and there is no reason to think they aren't here to stay.