Access to the Internet has been pretty much the same for years. Want to use the Web? Just launch your favorite web browser, which is really an HTML client and you can visit any page you want. If you want to use another service, such as e-mail or instant messaging, you need to launch another client program for that service and so on. Apart from improved versions of these programs and the use to combine multiple services into one program, it seemed that users had nothing more to expect. But in the end of 2005, a new technology emerged that allowed data from the Internet to be displayed directly on the user's desktop. This technology was called widgets.
Widgets started as a freeware application called Kapsules, by two companies. Shellscape Software and Konfabulator, which was recently bought by Yahoo. Simply put, widget technology is a transparent layer on top of your desktop that can execute small software applications. These applications, called widgets, are relatively small and they are compiled and run on the user's machine. Apple has already introduced Widgets in MacOS X v10.4 and after Yahoo bought one of the major widget manufacturers it is expected that this new technology will attract some interest from Microsoft as well. We might even see widgets supported in Windows Vista, or introduced as a Vista add-on. It's very likely that within this year (2006) we will even have a surge of widget applications. And these applications may very well change the way we access information on the Internet. What still remains to be seen is whether applications such as browsers or e-mail clients will be accessible as widgets.
Widgets, however, is not the only way to run and use applications online. In fact, online software in the form of services has been offered for quite some time now. It started with web-based e-mail and now we also have web-based antivirus software and even CRM systems. And just when we thought that that's all we would ever see, Microsoft presented a demo version of Live Office, an online version of Microsoft Office that will be subscription-based. This is obviously targeted towards those who find Microsoft Office too expensive, or just want to use specific features rather than pay for the whole application suite. Furthermore, this can be considered as Microsoft's answer to Google's own online services.
Whether it's widgets or more traditional on-line applications, there seems to be a major paradigm shift in software development. More and more internet-based applications are being developed and not only that, but major software companies such as Microsoft are actually converting existing software suites to be available online. Is this perhaps the end of software piracy? Or is it something greater? Will the concept of a Personal Computer become obsolete, as we all connect to a central server to run our software and use our data? True, it saves us the trouble from having to maintain our own system, transfer our files from home to work and worry about our hard drive crashing and loosing our data. Let's just hope that whoever the administrators of that server will be, they keep frequent backups!
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James Hayes has an MS in Computer Science and maintains a page providing Cheap Web Hosting Information
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