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What does it mean to live online? That was the question we asked ourselves when one of our mentors challenged us to live and work entirely online. It was almost a Yoda like question. We thought we were already living online. We stay connected via Facebook and Twitter. We amuse and entertain ourselves on Pinterest and Angry birds. We stay informed via Techcrunch and Hacker News, and search for answers on Quora and Stack Overflow. Our hard drives don’t have most of our files anymore; our key content is all in Dropbox and when we collaborate with others we do so using Google docs. Aren’t we living online already?

Did you notice that the list above did not include applications related to work? Intuitively we missed quoting them. That’s when we realized that amidst the growth in web applications, the category of web applications that have been left behind are the native applications that dominate our PC/MAC experience. When we prepare that investor presentation, we lean on our template-loaded MS Powerpoint. As we furiously crank out code, we use vim. When cranking out that mockup we resort to using Photoshop or more creatively Keynote/Powerpoint. When we build that financial projection, we revert to the macro-laden MS Excel.

The reason why we resort to these native applications is because they are powerful, feature rich, format portable, and reasonably stable. In fact, the web application equivalents of these applications are the bottleneck that is inhibiting our ability to live and work online entirely. Doesn’t it suck to have to download a Google doc and then format it to make sure its print ready? The more we thought about this, the more we realized that the disparity in feature sets between the native productivity applications and their web application counterparts is unsustainable. Web applications will eventually bridge the gap and that is when we will truly live and work entirely online. Here are 3 reasons why:

1. Letting a thousand flowers bloom: We have seen in the mobile apps ecosystem that awesome products emerge when the power of the platform is exposed to hundreds of thousands of independent developers. A quick check on iTunes appstore today shows that none of the top 10 applications are from the established tech majors. Since the smartest of developers do not work within the same organization, it is unlikely that one organization can produce all the awesome web applications that users need. As consumers have grown used to exciting applications, which are better than the native smartphone applications, they will start expecting the same from their productivity applications.

2. The progress of HTML5, WebGL and the virtuous cycle of productivity: With the advancement of HTML5, CSS and JavaScript developers are increasingly capable of developing exciting in-browser applications that can one-up the user experience of native applications. Rendering simulation and animations, editing images, modeling simulations, content editing in browser will get increasingly sophisticated. If you are looking to start out with HTML5 check out this resource. An allied technology WebGL is transforming CAD, CAE and other computational software into feature rich, in browser applications. In fact, such improvements in software drive exponential growth in web applications. Sure there is Moore’s law, but there is something more core at play here. The better your software and hardware is, the better software and hardware you can create. That’s why the advancement in computer science is exponential and the internet is a key factor in the distribution/development of better code. As developer push forth to improve their online work flows, consumers will feel the positive ripple effects in the form of awesome web applications.

3. The rise of digital natives: The demographics of the web have always been changing and will continue to change over the next decade. Initially it was the Digital Immigrants. The term coined by Marc Prensky, refers to individuals who were born before the existence of digital technology and adopted it to some extent later in life. These Digital Immigrants have fueled the current growth of mobile applications and web applications. But the future belongs to the 12-17 year old digital natives who grew up with technology. Interestingly, it is this same group that has gotten very accustomed to installing applications on mobile devices. On the mobile, couple of years ago, there were divergent opinions on how mobile applications should look like. Initially everyone was making apps that were just a browser packaged as an app. Soon enough, developers realized that the user experience and engagement with applications improved with native applications and this has emerged as the dominant model for mobile applications. On the PC/MAC, they have largely tuned out native applications installed on their PC/MAC because they started their computing experience with web applications. For this audience, existing browser applications are good enough and in their early online years they are rarely power users of work applications. How will the web applications game play out on the PC?

What would it take for you to live and work online?

Check out the latest discussion on this at Hacker News


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