When porting a thick client application to a web based application, there are some significant challenges that the team needs to think about.
Let me illustrate this transition by hypothetically taking away some of your favorite thick client applications. Imagine your boss comes in one day, and tells you “We are getting rid of all thick client applications because this is 2008 and we will be moving all application to web based interface. So tomorrow you will be receiving new computers that will only have a web browser (kinda like the machines you see if you ever used Denver Public Library computer).
No more MS Word or Excel or PowerPoint or even Outlook. Eclipse? ha! use an online text editor. Instant Messenger? use web based chat.
Just imagine going one day by just using web based versions of your favorite applications. Not a pretty picture. Why is this? Many reasons, but primarily because most web based applications do not provide the same user experience as a thick client does. That and our need for speed. Many web based application still perform poorly compared to their thick client cousins.
Web usability guru Jacob Nielsen talks about response times highlights pretty interesting facts:
1) 0.1 second is about the limit for having the user feel that the system is reacting instantaneously, meaning that no special feedback is necessary except to display the result.
2) 1.0 second is about the limit for the user’s flow of thought to stay uninterrupted, even though the user will notice the delay. Normally, no special feedback is necessary during delays of more than 0.1 but less than 1.0 second, but the user does lose the feeling of operating directly on the data.
Jacob also provides some useful advice on how to design the interface so as to make it more responsive to user needs. Notice that there is a difference between actual response times and perceived response times. What matters to end user is perceived response time.
So when rewriting an existing thick client application to a web based interface, these challenges must be kept on top of list or the application will be what Outlook for Web Access has become. A nice to have alternative that you will use only if Outlook thick client is not available.