Web Services Client Apps
The iTMS provides a store environment that is far richer than any competing website, because it doesn't use a web browser. Ask any office worker about the difference between using an email client and webmail, and they'll tell you all about how they hate having to use webmail. iTMS delivers a "better than web" experience using the same principle. Rather than a general purpose web browser interpreting HTML pages from a web server, the iTunes client software receives specialized pages from Apple's WebObjects servers that the music store client uses to display a fast, responsive, and rich online experience.
Web browsers are fine for searching for various kinds of information from different sources, but have huge limitations in delivering the equivalent to a desktop application experience. AJAX is a welcomed improvement, but in many cases, a non-browser, client app is simply the right tool for the job. Apple leads the rest of the world in delivering Web Services, firstly because Apple has an operating system and can therefore easily distribute and deploy client applications. Secondly, Apple has realized that web browsers are bad replacements for client applications.
On the other hand, Microsoft clearly thinks that tying web applications to Windows is a good strategy. They are wrong. Try using Windows Update; it's a clunky web page, but it only works in Internet Explorer anyway. Hey Microsoft, what's the point of using a web browser to server data that doesn't have to be cross platform on any level?
The point of a web browser is to serve data in a platform agnostic way. Microsoft may be proud to have defeated any hope of a vendor neutral web platform, but there is no point to tie proprietary systems into the web browser at this point.
Compare Apple's Software Update: it doesn't try to be an over glorified web page. It's a regular application that feels like an extension of the operating system. It is customized to show exactly what updates are available, and allow users to review and select updates they care about.
Navigating through Microsoft's Windows or Office update sites, which combine the limitations of the web with Microsoft's cross platform assassin Active-X, is so frustrating and cumbersome that Microsoft has more recently provided the option of Automatic Updates, which secretly dump updates in the background with all the customer service of a telemarketer. HI I SEE YOU ARE BUSY. UPDATES ARE AVAILABLE! WON'T SAY WHICH, LOL! ... OK RESTART NOW!
Why Microsoft delivers Windows Update through a browser is hard to explain. Not only are their pages simply badly designed (using anything on Microsoft's website is frustrating and far more complicated than necessary) but HTML and the browser in general are inherently fragile. If you close the browser window, or navigate to another site, the update is canceled. This is profoundly retarded.
Microsoft similarly uses web browser windows in many places where a real application would have been an obviously better fit. Microsoft, unlike most other vendors, has no problem distributing software to their users, so their insistence on using awkwardly designed web pages instead of integrated client applications is particularly inane.
Apple has a lead with WebObjects in that it is designed to serve both standalone client applications and standard web browsers. That provides the advantages inherent in a real desktop application with the cross platform portability of the web.
Continues: Personal Web Objects