Another Downside of Browser-Based Apps

I once again find myself having to use a web-based application. This is a often just a fancy name for a bloated set of code that provides a little more functionality than what a set of CGI scripts could provide.

The beauty of CGI apps was that they were often very succinct – they were used to process relatively small amounts of data that were entered in a small form.

Today’s applications give you multiple form fields and expect you to enter larger amounts of data. Some even play fancy DHTML tricks to allow you to dynamically add more fields so you can enter even larger sets of data. Nice, huh?

But what happens if that server goes down while you are entering all that data? Or if the people operating the site do not take into consideration just how long you can be entering data into one of their pages? You usually do not know about this as you are entering the data, and usually are not aware that you are about to lose all of that data you just entered until you press [Submit] and get back an error — too late!

Now, I do not script web pages, so I could be wrong about this… But we are in a world where we can play all kinds of fancy AJAX tricks, so why the HELL do web scripters (not developers, that term is reserved for people that do more than just write fancy client-side script) not just put a little AJAX code that keeps hitting the server to do things like (1) make sure it is still alive, (2) check for impending session timeouts, (3) and other stuff that make web apps appear more robust and professional?

Having a warning that the server has gone down before I submit some data would be great – I could copy my data to Notepad and then get it back when the server comes back. Now, this would be harder for pages that contain too many fields, but that is another indication that your app needs a better platform.

IIRC, even 3270-based form-style applications could handle server disconnections better than today’s equivalent browser-form based applications — at least they had an icon on the status line to indicate session state! That is the ironic part about this… not only did we take a giant backward in UI evolution, but we completely missed the robustness that those older applications had.

Hurray for progress!

Remember kids – while lots of applications can work in a (D)HTML/AJAX browser-based interface, not all of them can work WELL in that interface. Read up on what happened when someone tried to port Lotus 1-2-3 to a 3270-style interface… Wanna guess how well that went?

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