working online is about to get a lot more satisfying. thanks to a new wave of internet-based technology, using online applications such as word processors or more complex tools will no longer be a slow and off-putting experience.

that, at least, is the view of eric schmidt, chief executive of google, who last month predicted a coming boom in online applications. from one , his enthusiasm is hardly surprising: he has pinpointed this area as google's next big market and has plenty of reason to talk up the prospects.

yet his comments also highlight advances that are bringing rapid changes to many online experiences - even though some internet developers warn that not all the results will be welcomed by workers.

one of these developments is the of the internet browsers themselves. though their look has changed little, the guts of browsers have turned them into more platforms capable of supporting better experiences. mr schmidt attributes this to the arrival of greater competition for microsoft's internet explorer in the shape of the firefox and safari browsers.

jason fried, of 37signals, maker of a popular online application called basecamp, says that as a result, technologies have become "a lot more standardised" among browsers, making it easier to create applications that run on all of them.

dean hachamovitch, general manager for microsoft's internet explorer, disputes that point. the basic technology standards that govern today's browsers were set a ago, he says: if better applications are being built inside browsers, it is simply because developers have had more time to work out how to the technology better.

he adds that "ajax", the package of technologies used to add elements to a web page without having to reload the whole page, has been in browsers for years. ajax is the source of some of the biggest recent advances in browser-based applications.

a second force behind change has been the rapid development of "plug-ins" to extend the capabilities of browsers, particularly when it comes to "rich media" applications that use video. like adobe's flash player, which was first used to render text and graphics but has since become a common tool for viewing video over the web, these pieces of software are advancing far faster than browsers themselves, which are held back by a need to work with all websites.

microsoft recently jumped into this game with silverlight, its new technology that runs in any browser - a break from microsoft tradition.

the plug-ins are set to become the vehicles for many other new capabilities to be added to web-based applications. adobe, for instance, is using the flash player to distribute its new air software, which makes it possible to view some parts of applications while not connected to the internet. according to david wadhwani, an engineer at adobe, future additions will include a voice-over-internet service , making it possible to add voice to applications.

this race to create new web-based experiences through plug-ins is not welcomed among developers. the software tools that developers use to build these experiences are still new, says mr fried. that leads to applications that slowly and are of quality, he claims.

the third element driving the of online applications is a blurring of the differences between online and offline experiences. this is partly prompted by an attempt to let people use elements of their internet-based applications when not connected to the internet. google, for instance, is testing a browser called gears that adds this capability.

over the next year, browsers themselves will come with support for web-based applications when offline, says brendan eich of mozilla, the open-source organisation that created firefox.

a parallel effort is under way to create desktop applications that can be fed by real-time data from the internet. an ebay application, for instance, lets frequent sellers organise their inventory when offline, then uploads the information and feeds in the latest results when connected to the internet.

some argue these developments are moving faster than users really want. mr fried at 37signals says they are a product of the race among technology companies, not a to customers' needs. "i think that to say you should work everywhere is a sad notion," he says. "you should work at the office, or at home."

eventually, internet will extend everywhere, turning all applications into "live" services - but for now, he says, enjoy the freedom while you still can.


至少,这是谷歌(google)首席执行官埃里克•施密特(eric schmidt)的观点。他在上个月预计,在线应用程序将迎来一个繁荣期。从某种角度而言,他的这种热情没什么值得惊讶的:他已瞄准这个领域,将其作为谷歌的下一个大市场,而且有很多理由畅谈未来的前景。



37signals公司创始人詹森•弗里德(jason fried)表示,竞争的结果是,在各种浏览器中,技术变得"更为标准化",使得人们更加容易编制能在所有浏览器上运行的应用程序。37signals公司是流行在线应用软件basecamp的制造商。

微软互联网浏览器部门总经理迪安•哈查莫维奇(dean hachamovitch)对这种观点表示怀疑。他表示,支配当今浏览器的基本技术标准是在10年前设立的:如果浏览器内部配备了更好的应用程序,那只是因为开发人员花了更多时间去寻找能够更好开发这项技术的方法。


变革背后的第二种力量,是"插件"的迅速发展,这扩大了浏览器的功能,特别是使用视频的所谓"富媒体"(rich media)应用程序。像adobe的flash播放器(最初用于展示文本和图表,但此后已成为在网上观赏视频的普遍工具)一样,这些软件比浏览器本身的发展速度快得多。浏览器需要与所有网站兼容,因此,其发展速度受到了影响。


插件程序将成为一种媒介,充当其它许多新功能添加到互联网应用程序的载体。例如,adobe正利用flash播放器传播其新的air软件,这种软件使得人们可以在不联网的情况下浏览应用程序的某些部分。adobe工程师大卫•瓦迪瓦尼(david wadhwani)称,未来的附加程序将包括一个互联网语音服务组件,使得人们可以将语音通话添加到应用程序上。



开放源代码组织、firefox浏览器开发商mozilla的布兰登•艾奇(brendan eich) 表示,到了明年,浏览器本身就能在离线状态下支持网络应用程序。



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