The Apple flavoured future of web applications

Ever since I can remember first getting into reading ‘behind the scenes’ articles on the tech industry, as far back as the early 1980’s, there have been predictions that “sometime in the next 10 years” the operating system will be obsolete; that regardless of the local windowing and disc management environment you happen to be running, all of your actual applications will run on a remote machine.

For a while this so-called cloud computing or thin client approach all seemed a bit too science fiction to ever actually happen. Then the internet came along and became so common place that we now take for granted launching services through the web browser which are effectively replacements for the applications we once ran only locally.

Take office productivity for example – which for almost all day-to-day uses can be replaced by Open Office and Google Docs, both of which work completely independent of the operating system and browser the user happens to be using to access the internet and, perhaps more importantly, both are completely free of charge, as opposed to the £189 Microsoft are asking for just a single install of their standards ignorant and bulky ‘Office’ suite, which is Windows and Mac only and offers little by way of compelling extras.

For some of the really heavy lifting, however, we still predominantly rely on local applications. Most of us will upload our photographs and video clips to YouTube and Flickr, but we sort them and name them, edit them and categorise them in iPhoto and iMovie, Adobe Browser or Graphic Converter, ACSee or XNView first, before we upload them and we’ll still keep a local hard copy, distrusting of the remote service to keep our memories 100% safe.

Apple are betting this will change. Most exciting of all is that, far from being a pipe-dream, SproutCore is being placed into the hands of developers as we speak. SproutCore, is Apple’s Open Source extension to JavaScript which enables rich in-browser applications to work as if they are local.

Now, there’s nothing Earth shatteringly new about this in and of itself. Ever since Adobe bought Macromedia and begun extending the capabilities of Flash, modern web browsers running on a computer of even modest processing power have been able to run rudimentary image editors like Flickr’s Picnik or the incredibly impressive HobNox.

What’s new about what Apple are doing with SproutCore is that they already have an application coming to market which not only has the potential to gateway new users into OS X like never before, but lead the way in the industry for how web applications are marketed and released in the future.

Coming soon from Apple is a replacement for the old .Mac (pronounced Dot Mac) service, called MobileMe, which allows iPhone and iPod Touch to synchronise Mail, Photo Sharing, Address Book and Calendaring (and no doubt by the time it’s lunched many other services besides) via a web application which looks and behaves exactly like a desktop application, regardless of which browser the user is viewing it through, Windows or Mac, with 20GB of storage for just $99 (£49) per year and automatic synchronisation to all of your other software and devices.

Watch this space and be sure to check out Apple Insider’s excellent article here for more details.

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