Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The future of Web 3.0: Thick clients?

The New York Times has launched Times Reader, a .NET thick client that provides a more faithful rendering of Times stories than can be achieved with a browser (so they claim), such as:

  • the same font and column structure you see in the printed paper; and
  • no scrolling necessary -- just use the arrow keys on your keyboard to turn the page
Can you do this with a browser? Depends on the browser :) The standard bodies have done there job with the CSS 3 Multi-Column Layout spec. Some clever people have created javascript hacks that display multi-coulmns for pure text. And the Mozilla dudes have preliminary support for multi-column content in the current production version of Firefox 1.5.

So which browser doesn't support multi-column layouts in a meaningful way? You guesses it, Internet Explorer. And font support tends to be operating system related. So why don't the NY Times push Microsoft to make Internet Explorer standards compliant instead of building thick clients that will only run on Windows?

(Lack of CSS support, including the upcoming IE 7, is still the biggest gripe I hear when talking to web design professionals.)

On a related note, what will our interface to the internet look like post-Web 2.0? Will it be thick clients instead of a browser? I guess I'm used to a browser, but the thought of having to learn a different UI to navigate each "web site" I access is frightening. Some of the Finetix UI experts I've discussed this with can only see AJAX + CSS in the near and medium term.

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