Soma, the VP of our Developer Division, mentioned last month that he’d be talking about Smart Clients at VS Live next week. I’m one of the lucky few folks in the evangelism team who got to help build the smart client demo that Soma will use during that talk. As Soma mentions, we’re going to show off some ClickOnce features as the basis for smart client deployment and updates.
We also hope to make a point that there is a spectrum of smartness, if you will. There a set of attributes which we think must all be present for an app to be called a Smart Client. But you can also take a thin client and add a little bit of smartness to it – and while that doesn’t make it a capital S Smart Client, it does certainly make it a smart-er client, and it improves the user experience.
A great example of this, in my humble opinion, is Google Suggest. It’s clearly still a web-based app that lives in the browser and won’t work offline. But it’s amazing how just a little bit of client programming (JScript against an ActiveX object) can improve the user experience. Chris Justus noticed the user experience benefits that client programming enabled, writing “The XMLHTTP / XMLHttpRequest object to communicate back with a server and get new info / instructions without refreshing the page … the new black of web development… go read everything you can about this…”. Even a Slashdot commenter, Gopal V, gave Microsoft some credit for enabling these kinds of client interactive pages.
Anders Norås also blogged about the coolness of smart-er web pages. He calls them “chubby clients”, and shows in a blog post how to implement Google Suggest-like functionality using ASP.NET.
The main focus of Soma’s demo will be on full-fledged smart clients, which provide a really compelling user experience. I’ll hopefully write more about the demo over the next week. But it’s worth remembering that even investing a teeny bit in client smartness can make a big difference in your user experience.