Rich Versus Reach – my perspective

The Rich versus Reach debate is raging in the blogsphere at the moment.  The debate has been very healthy with less of the usual emotional clutter that clogs up most debates that touch on the future of Microsoft.  I am an enterprise guy, with a complex home network as well, which gives me an interesting perspective so I thought it would good to pull some of the threads together.


The debate mainly started with a post by Joel on How Microsoft Lost the API War it’s a good article at the start but then begins to lose its focus and starts to make some bold assertions which are hard to substantiate.  These are partially rebutted by Olivier Travers in his post Microsoft Lost the API War? Not So Fast and more thoroughly by Robert in his post Seven Reasons Why the API War is Not Lost After All, which comes over a bit evangelistic but is still a good contribution to the debate.  Robert introduces a new perspective for me on Avalon where he describes how it may be possible to download XAML directly from the web as an alternative UI experience to HTML but still accessing all of the same server side web services.  Piva wraps up most of the discussion with a good summary.  Finally there are a few less emotive discussions on the topic of Thick versus Thin which you might like to look at:


  1. You Can Never Be Too Rich or Too Thin
  2. How to Decide Between a Browser-Based or Rich Client
  3. Return of the Rich Clients
  4. Jupiter Research Sees a Return to Rich Client Applications


So what do I think about it all:


First let’s remember where the debate started which is that Microsoft has missed the boat again, and that the world will be a different place application wise by the time Microsoft finally ships Longhorn.  The result Microsoft will have lost its platform advantage and all apps will be delivered to some platform neutral client.  My comments:


  1. Organisations, and individuals for that matter do not constantly upgrade their applications, nor do application vendors change platform rapidly.  Whilst I have seen a huge number of web applications appear, many of these are new classes of applications that were only practical or economic to deliver via the web, were information delivery applications, or were reach interfaces that complemented the primary rich UI.  In recent desktop refresh programmes I have been involved with Win32 applications have dominated and very few of these have had web equivalents that allowed us to ease the migration challenge.
  2. In building Longhorn Microsoft appear to expect this to continue to hold true, hence they:
    1. Are providing support for legacy applications
    2. Providing UI services today, Winforms, that will still be there in Longhorn and in active use for 5 or so years
    3. Expecting it to take 5-10 years before WinFX is considered the mainstream platform
    4. I hope providing first class support for web applications and the ability for Longhorn to act as a web services client
    5. I hope learning the lessons of the past, see later
  3. I have debated here, my view of the Longhorn value proposition.  It’s a lot more than just a platform for the delivery of applications.  Longhorn will provide a rich set of UI services, communications services, data integration services etc that will enhance applications in ways that will be difficult to achieve with web apps alone. 
  4. There are a whole class of applications that need a rich client.  This does not of course mean a Windows client but it does mean that some form of rich platform will be around on the desktop for a long time.  If this is Longhorn, and for many millions of desktops I guess it will be, then there is a good chance that applications will build on top of these services if there is a strong value proposition there.  My feeling is that there will be a value proposition but that it will be a very long time coming for many applications.  A lot depends on how much effort Microsoft make to ensure that Longhorn is appealing just with the applications that they supply or hardware vendors bundle with new PCs.
  5. There is a lot of third party activity around thick clients, in the OS client space, (Linux and Windows), and in the application space with Java application platforms.
  6. Personal computing is likely to see a resurgence, with personal information management, device integration, information aggregation from many different sources, news/change/subscription integration from many different sources.  Some of this works well server side but some of it is just so much easier at the client side.  I have talked a bit about what I want to see here
  7. My hope is that Microsoft and others will make VERY sure that the problems we all face with thick clients and rich applications are largely resolved.  With massive improvements in device deployment, device backup and personality restoration, operating system and application maintenance and application delivery needed as a minimum.
  8. Information Bridge Framework gives some hints of the type of UI binding mechanisms we might see with Longhorn and how these can be driven by context that is maintained dynamically on the client based on what you do.  I talked a little about IBF here.


Finally let me state my position:


  1. I would like to see less emotion in the debate
  2. Provided Microsoft make Longhorn a first class web client I have no problems with them
  3. There will continue to be a variety of approaches to the delivery of applications, the market will decide based on features and TCO which approach suits which applications
  4. It may be that Microsoft is on to something with their Integrated Innovation concept that will bring real compelling value, it may be something that only a company that sells an OS, Office Suite, Development tools, and application servers etc can see and make happen, good luck to them – Linux and IBM will keep them on their toes.
  5. It maybe that Microsoft invented Integrated Innovation to protect their Client OS and Office suite revenues, in which case they are likely to be caught out in a big way fairly soon.  I am debating this point in this blog entry
  6. There are a lot of VERY smart people at Microsoft now, (a lot of them did not start at Microsoft), and they have a lot of money, enthusiasm and vision.  Don’t under estimate them.
  7. Microsoft are being extremely BOLD at the moment, they are facing a huge revenue hole over the next couple of years.  They are undertaking a huge re-architecting of their platform and the applications that run on it.  That boldness maybe born of arrogance, but I suspect not completely!

here is a recent blog entry that gives a fairly thhorough review of the original post by Joel.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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