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It’s been going on for a while, since the beginning of computers, really. The debate for having a rich client talking to a server versus having an app live on the cloud.

At the beginning, IBM did all the calculations on the main frame. Then in the 80s, computing shifted to the client server model with the personal computer or “PC”.

With the internet and the cloud things are shifting back to the server from the rich clients.

Mobile parallel universe

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Compare that to the mobile ecosystem. Client side apps before the iPhone were a categorical disaster in terms of adoption save for a few cases. Very few people browsed the web or did much of anything else because of the limitations carriers put on the applications phones could run. Not to mention, you had to program an application for hundreds of individual devices with dramatically different capabilities.

Introduce Apple and the app platform. The rich client flourishes and apps of every flavor, almost 65,000 of them at last count, abound. Apple provides a standardized platform of 40M devices with rich browsers, accelerometers and a relatively neat development environment.

Google’s POV

Vic Gundotra, VP of Mobile at Google, spoke today at MobileBeat. He pointed that that the rich browser on the iPhone and now on Android and Palm, will push applications back to the cloud, just like on the web.

In all likelihood, there will be a combination apps and web apps. Apps will likely be reserved for gaming and graphical intensive utilities that need the hardware acceleration the OS can provide. Cloud apps will be used for the rest because they’re easier to develop and they aren’t any platform dependencies. Build the app once and it will function on every phone.

The beauty of the web is standardization

The internet standards are converging. Browsers are now supporting standards better than ever before, pushed by FireFox, Chrome and Safari. There’s a backlash against older browsers, IE6 in particular, by Facebook, YouTube and others, pushing users to upgrade to newer browsers.

The push toward a common standard is driven by the benefit of code once, work everywhere. We’re close on the PC. Amazingly enough, the standards support for the PC and mobile may arrive concomitantly, a remarkable achievement and a testament to the pace of innovation in the mobile ecosystem.

Google may be right

There will be a very important place for mobile apps delivered over browser. In particular, developers will embrace it, not only for the ease of development, but for the unconstrained distribution channels, lack of revenue share commitments to handset manufacturers and the ability to use conventional web marketing tactics to acquire customers.

Let the debate rage on.

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