Monday, January 30, 2006

[AoyW] Embracing & Extending Bill

It is a long fall from the internet clouds, where web pages coalesce into sites, to the PC continents, where documents accrete on disks. True, a browser can present a traditional document retrieved from a web site by invoking a local PC app to take over the browser, though editing it is futile. Newly extant are browser-based office suites enabled by AJAX, in which the app itself is remote, and just vaguely familiar. But rare is the PC app that is a component of a web page (leaving aside the Flash plugin). And utterly extraordinary is a locally stored web composed of ordinary, editable office documents, interlinked to form a site.

This is a sad state of disunity, the moreso because a mechanism to remedy it has been widespread for more than a decade, and built into Microsoft Office and most other PC apps: Object Linking and Embedding, a.k.a. OLE. Using OLE, knowledge workers could employ well-known apps to assemble project webs, and cease scrambling around desktop/server folders and email attachments to find related files. They are obstructed by the lack of a browser that is an effective "OLE container", to manifest web features around otherwise isolated documents.

Far from giving more control of the web experience to Microsoft, this approach embraces and extends its apps, leveling the field for new challengers in the knowledge-tools game. In these unified webs, server-side editors (which interact continuously with the user just like desktop apps) co-exist with traditional editors. That combination enables all kinds of web-styled solutions, in which users leverage well-known tools, and needn't fuss with relearning a word processor.

Happily, OLE-defined content can be viewed without the original editors, and could be modified without them using server-side editors. But how, you may ask, would desktop apps that were coded to write files send content back to a net service? The browser-container must catch the read/write requests of embedded apps and transmit them via HTTP; XDrive and other online storage services use this mechanism.

This "net service" is likely a background process on the user's phone or pocket server, which also delivers the web pages on which the OLE apps are embedded. Note that when pages in a project web are published to the worldwide web they would be translated to XHTML, SVG, etc. as is common practice.

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