Monday, 9 June 2008

Offline Web Application such as Offline Moodle will take off when Wifi is everywhere

Another point I'd like to make re Offline Moodle is when people argue that with the advent of wifi and it's continued advance, in time the web will be available literally everywhere. I hear people say, 'Doesn't that make an Offline Moodle useless?'. I understand what they're getting at but I argue no it doesn't. It's great to see that at the OU they have a vision that goes beyond the Offline World as being one without internet access.

To make the point I want to back in history to when mainframes ruled the computer. Back then it was dumb terminals and all the power was in the mainframe. In the internet age I see that the mainframe is the big web server or web server farm and the dumb terminal is the browser.

In this day and age we've had the pc for years and the trend has been to have faster and faster machines i.e. intelligent terminals that take processing away from the main frame and very importantly reduce network load and latency. Basically if you want to do lots of cpu intensive nifty things with data you can either bring the results to your machine and do the processing elsewhere (Mainframe) or bring the data to you and process it on your machine (pc - server). All I can say is that the pc model seems here to stay and there are good reasons. Once we try and do really difficult things in real time it's just not possible to rely on passing things up and down network cables and still deliver. You have to do everything at such fast speeds you can't wait for the server.

Lots of people are now asking more anbd more of their browser. Google Mail for one has an entire library to load that makes more things happen instantly without round trips to the server. This happens in the human body. The brain oversees everything but it delegates reflex actions to the spinal cord because it simply cannot react in time when required. The brain is actually an extension of the spinal cord and is just a biological network. The spinal cord relays to the brain what it is doing just like the browser will relay to the server but the brain delegates control to the centre closer to the muscle in question and I believe that in time this will happen in web applications. This means that in time web applications will support this model innately rather than as an add on as they currently do with approaches like AJAX.

So how does this all relate to Offline Moodle?
Well first off If web access is available everywhere then it becomes the server itself and the network that's the limiting factor to growth. Just like the pc model I expect browsers to do much more and so Moodle will run more and more within the browser or a supporting layer on the client.

We've chosen to bundle a full Moodle with the architecture required to run it simply because to be truly 'offline capable' Moodle itself needs to change from within to support offline functionality. I feel it should be built to run inside mobile technology such as googe gear, adobe air or whatever is deemed best. But that decision isn't for us to make it's for the Moodle community as a whole.

That's why right now all we're really doing is pulling the architecture together that's required, stitching it together and making sure it'll be viable in a suitable environment. The reason is that Moodle itself isn't quite ready along with the rest of the web community. Solutions are coming along and hopefully soon the growth of offline web applications will fuel the debate and deliver better solutions. But for now we're just trying to work behind the scenes to enhance the existing functionality so it can support the demands that will be there once offline applications become more prevalent.

AS is normal in this fast evolving worl. I can't prove that mobile web apps will follow the trend of the pc but I feel that natural evolution and the factors involved will push applications this way and I think it's already starting.
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