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Killer App(s) for Desktop PCs

For years, we've had better and faster hardware for cheaper prices, but in the last five or seven years, it seems to me (and this is no original thought) that there have been no real exciting new applications that make use of this new hardware.

Sure, there are games. Sure, there's exotic multimedia stuff like video editing.

But where is the new software that revolutionizes how most people interact with their computers on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis? Where is the software that makes deep use of 3 Ghz computers? Where is the software that gives us smart, integrated voice and gesture recognition, powerful and startlingly beautiful new interfaces, extraordinary ways of creating new things and dealing with what we already have--in other words, a more intelligent, pleasurable, coherent user experience?

I know that internet-based applications have been a fountainhead of innovation. But, as per the topic du jour, what about the power that resides on the desktop computer? Have we really made the most of it -- is this all that's possible?

Akilesh Ayyar
Saturday, June 19, 2004

If the concept for the next killer app was that obvious, it wouldn't be the *next* killer app anymore.

Mike Swieton
Saturday, June 19, 2004

I see that there's SOME barrier, but is it really a dearth of ideas? What's the real problem here? Is it that the technology is in some kind of trough where it's more powerful than before but not powerful enough for new really cool applications? Is it that software engineering has not advanced enough to create these new apps? Is it that the industry is too occupied with security and similar concerns to want to innovate radically in terms of features anymore? Is Microsoft the problem? What's really stopping us from getting visionary desktop software?

Akilesh Ayyar
Saturday, June 19, 2004

Any period of exponential growth is always followed by a lesse period of consolidation. The nineties blew open the internet. Now the industry is in the consolidating mode. Hence Joel's request for "Web Apps <--> Desktop Apps" and Raymond's penchant for "backwards compatibility" and  Eric Sink's  Law #13: "The Law of Sacrifice is all about saying "no" to opportunities."

Unless this consolidation occurs, further growth cannot happen, as the "new" stuff needs some scaffolding to launch itself off. It happens in business, in personal life, and also in software development.

KayJay
Saturday, June 19, 2004

From what I've heard, this is what MS are trying to do with Longhorn. Taking them long enough, but still.

I'd say Mac OS X is definately getting there aswell.

Matt
Saturday, June 19, 2004

"But where is the new software that revolutionizes how most people interact with their computers on a day-to-day, moment-to-moment basis?"

Same place it's been the last twenty, thirty or forty years, I expect: stuck in some lab somewhere.

I don't think the difficulty is finding new ideas, it's getting folk to adopt them. And most folk hate radical change, thus words like "innovation" become synonyms for "not too different to what already exists", as anything more ambitious is likely to be rejected outright. And without a reliable market, there's little motivation for investing the (considerable) resources required to take a truly revolutionary idea and work it up into a shippable form. It's just too risky a proposition.

e.g. Take Smalltalk: decades ahead of its time, but most users don't want Smalltalk, they just want a "better C". Professional programmers that have spent years becoming expert in C++ or Java are probably going to turn white at the thought of throwing all that aquired knowledge away and start out again on ground level. No amount of potential long-term advantages is going to convince them it's worth paying the very definite - and painful - short-term cost of a radical change. They'd rather stick with what they already know and have, and wait for it to "get better".

Ditto for Aunt Millie who's wedded to her Windows 95 and Outlook Express, and will hang on to them for dear life no matter how much better off she might be with the latest and greatest. Totally different kind of user, but completely the same kind of problem.

Real revolutions do happen now and again, but most progress is slow and incremental so as not to scare the natives away. What's really frustrating is the stagnation and eventual ossification of existing tech at the point of "just good enough".

For example, the CLI hasn't changed in, what?, thirty or forty years. GUI hasn't moved in twenty. Data storage (fifty years) might just be starting to crack now that the 800-ton gorilla's on its case, but I'm not going to hold my breath just yet. If you want to find out where your interaction revolution's got bogged down, these dinosaur-ridden prehistoric tarpits might be a good place to start your search. (Anyone that can crack them is assured of at least one fan...;)

has
Saturday, June 19, 2004

In truth, 3 GHz isn't much power.

Voice recognition requires more power.

"extraordinary ways of creating new things" requires nothing short of AI, which you can't do with 3 GHz and I'm not sure you can do at all.

Same for machine translation.

Alex
Saturday, June 19, 2004

Next killer app wil be a truly easy to use personal information manager that lets you:

1.  Brainstorm
2.  Outline
3. Email
4. Store and retrieve all of the above, with intuitive searching.
5. Is EASY to use.

There are lots of apps that do PART of this, but few do them well. And NOTHING does them all well.

Mr. Analogy
Saturday, June 19, 2004

The problem is that the folks innovating are too far removed from the users:

a. CEOs who have assistants, so they dont need to worry about organizing their information. Assistant does it for them.

b. Engineers who dont understand that Grandma wants her software to be EASY and INTUIIVE.

I's a basic lack of understanding of the PROBLEMS and to make an EASY TO USE program that solves the problem.

This is a non-trivial problem: it's very difficult to correctly diagnose a problem and actually come up with a workable solution, much less actually IMPLEMENTING that solution.

Mr. Analogy
Saturday, June 19, 2004

To me, iChat with iSight is the current Killer App!

http://www.apple.com/ichat
http://www.apple.com/isight

John
Saturday, June 19, 2004

> "extraordinary ways of creating new things" requires nothing short of AI, which you can't do with 3 GHz and I'm not sure you can do at all.

Darn, someone oughta told John McCarthy this.
And Doug Engelbart.
And Xerox PARC.
And Apple.
And...

;p

has
Saturday, June 19, 2004

> Next killer app wil be a truly easy to use personal information manager that lets you: 1.  Brainstorm 2.  Outline 3. Email 4. Store and retrieve all of the above, with intuitive searching. 5. Is EASY to use.

I think the real answer there is a document-oriented component architecture (e.g. OpenDoc) to tie together nice individual solutions to the first three tasks (plus anything else the user might need while they're at it), plus a relational filesystem (e.g. PARC's Placeless Documents; WinFS) to look after #4. That, plus some kickass HCI designers, should in turn take care of #5. Sorted!

Now we just need for someone to develop it, and for everyone else to go use it. :)

has
Saturday, June 19, 2004

Once we have wide spread wireless control of robots
we will have a lot of potential killer apps.

son of parnas
Saturday, June 19, 2004

Don't know what it is, but Microsoft won't build it.

They'd like too though
Saturday, June 19, 2004

I'd say Napster qualified as a killer app for a desktop PC, even though it required networking.

If, as Joel alludes to, the browser experience keeps getting richer... the web app interfaces (like GMail) keep getting better... well, we don't need much of a killer thick-client app anymore.

http://badblue.com/blog
Sunday, June 20, 2004

I don't want to sound anti-Microsoft (I'm not), but the iSight comment seemed pretty right-on.  I haven't seen much new on the Microsoft side of the fence in a while, but Apple keeps cranking out nifty new stuff: Soundtrack, Garage Band, iTunes Music Store, iChat/AV, iSight, Rendezvous, Expose, and Airport Express come to mind.

happy Mac
Friday, June 25, 2004

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