How in-the-browser software should work

I wrote recently about my growing unease with the addiction we have with ever greater convenience with our computing over the necessity of control. A lot of this is driven by cloud, and software-as-a-service (SaaS).

The convenience of SaaS is difficult to argue with. No installing software. No upgrades. Files accessible wherever you want them. The ability to share documents and collaborate on them with others in real time.

The downsides are all to do with control of your data. If it’s a paid service, and you stop paying, can you still access and open your files? Or if the company behind the system goes belly up? Is all your data locked up inside a system, or in a format you can’t reuse?

It is possible for those behind cloud based software to get it right though. Take a look at Dave Winer‘s new tool, Fargo. It’s an outliner (and outliners are cool, remember) and based in the browser. However, it also:

  • uses Dropbox for storage, so you have access to your files via Dropbox’s website, or downloaded locally to your computer, whenever you want. It’s not locked into Fargo’s own filesystem
  • uses the open standard OPML for the file format, so if you stop using Fargo for whatever reason, you can still load your files into any outliner that uses the OPML standard (which they all do, if they’re worth their salt)

This is how in-the-browser software ought to work. All the advantages of cloud based applications without giving up the control over our data that traditional desktop apps give.

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