An annoying misfeature of AJAX web applications
Is the 'Web OS' just a geek's dream? talks about this dream (or is it a nightmare?). As they say: "A decade-old concept of moving a desktop computer's everyday tasks onto the Web is gaining steam. The idea of treating the Web like an operating system--and loosening dependence on Windows desktop applications--dates back to the Netscape browser's debut in the mid-1990s. "
But how would you feel if thie Oops! Yahoo Japan erases 4.5 million e-mails happened to you? Yahoo is certainly one of the primo examples of professional sysadmins running a web service. Does it make sense to trust your email to a service that's going to go 'oops, we lost your email'? Does the user agreement for these online mail services or any other online service make the service liable for losing your files? But this isn't what I wanted to write about.
Earlier today I was writing an interesting blog post on my other blog but if you go over there you'll find there's no new postings on that blog since last October. What happened is, after spending 30 minutes writing and editing and crafting a moderately sized posting, I went to click SAVE .. and was greeted by a login screen. Seems that during the time I wrote the posting the system automatically logged me out, and when I clicked SAVE it lost track of the stuff I'd written.
By the dream proposed by these "the web is your OS" idealogists, this is the way it should be. Everything should be accessed or edited through a web browser. But I'm here to say that the usage model for web browsers doesn't fit very well.
Why did that posting get lost? If I'd been editing the posting using a standalone application there would be no session to save, no autologout that causes my writing to disappear in a puff of greasy black smoke. Sure there are several ways standalone applications can crash and make stuff disappear so maybe it isn't any better than similar application usage in a web browser.
I'm wondering what will be lost in the rush to move our data online. I, myself, am very reluctant to follow the trend. I find it hard to trust these service companies to not peak at my data ... what if they got a supoeana? There's been past instances of these companies turning over personal email without notifying anybody. And what if those service companies die? Or their servers crash in a drastic way? Or their sysadmin's make a mistake and blow away your email?
But there's also this issue of application usability. Why did that posting get lost? I say it's because of bad application usability. And why am I editing this in a horrid textarea? It's because of bad application usability. Why don't I have a toolbar full of formatting buttons? It's because of bad application usability.