We’ll soon be having an interesting conflict between the recent Ajax hype on one hand, and the trend of "smart clients", which includes "offline capability" in its tenets, on the other hand. I found myself complaining today about the otherwise nice task list application "Remember the Milk", which is Ajax based, and thus available online only. Well, I was on the train, and the GPRS connectivity was very bad. And I wanted to administrate my tasks. Well, luckily, I’ve got OneNote as a spare. But after this experience, I’ll be looking for a task list application which is usable offline as well. I’ll let you know what I find (I hope it won’t be Outlook…). Ajax clients are definitely not smart, and it’s hard to see what we could do, architecturally, to make them smarter.
I just had the reason to try video telephony (and application sharing) over the web, for a remote training session. Never done that before! First of all, I have to say that it was a pretty absurd experience. Both sides have a web camera on top of their monitors, so if you want to look at the other person, you won’t be looking at him from his point of view. And vice versa. So, either you look into the camera, and you don’t see the other person, or you look at the picture of the other person (who’s probably not looking into the camera, either), and appear not to be looking at the other person. But you get used to it. It’s confusing at first, but then, you just have to decide where you want to look, and why. Probably it’s best to look into the camera when you’re talking, and not at the picture of the other person. Because then the other person will probably be looking at your picture. And will appear to you as not watching you. But that’s OK, since you’re looking into the camera, and not at the picture, anyway! Perfectly consistent, when you get it.
So, enough psychology.
The other day, I found a free Skype plugin, called Festoon (previously vSkype), which provides video telephony, and application sharing, too, as a bonus. It’s sponsored by commercials, but these are mainly about online poker, and since I’m not interested in that, I’m OK with those. :-)
Festoon is in beta version, but it works very well. The video quality is very good even over a pretty slow connection, and since it uses Skype for the sound, the sound quality is very good, too. The synch between audio and video isn’t perfect, however. You can invite any number of participants in a call (I’ve only tried two), and I guess you’ll see them all side by side, then. You don’t have to mess with opening ports in your firewall, like for example when you’re using MS NetMeeting or MS Messenger, and that’s perfect. Easy to use. However, it’s not yet completely integrated into Skype. That’ll come, I guess.
And the "application sharing" feature is much better implemented than in MS NetMeeting or MS Office LiveMeeting. In both of these, you can’t share the window of an application if it’s covered by some other window, for example, if you want to check your mail while the other persons are trying to understand your incomprehensible PowerPoint slide, they can’t see your slide any more. But this works in Festoon! It must be looking at the in-memory bitmap of the windows when it shares the application.
A drawback with the application sharing implementation is that you can only share one application at a time. I guess sharing more applications will be implemented in a non-free version. And you can’t let the other side control your application, either. But this is sufficient for many purposes.
My guess is that video telephony won’t be very popular until there’s a way of solving the problem with the camera position. Perhaps we could have two cameras, and let some imaging software interpolate a picture of you that looks as if you’re looking into the camera, when you’re actually looking at the picture of the other person? I have no idea if that’s possible.
The term Web 2.0 particularly bugs me. It’s not a real concept. It has
no meaning. It’s a big, vague, nebulous cloud of pure architectural
I wonder if the problem comes when we attribute something "architectural" to it. I don’t think it is. As some kind of "visionary fluffy concept", it can certainly have some meaning. I have no problem with that, such concepts can be OK for what they are. But the architecture astronauts will most certainly use it for their purposes; I guess that’s when we’ll all be annoyed.
There are many bugs, sure. But I believe it’ll be great, soon!