Bob Balaban's Blog


    Bob Balaban


    What % of the time are YOU online?

    Bob Balaban  March 10 2008 07:30:48 PM
    Greetings, Geeks!

    To quote one of my all-time favorite TV characters, Roseanne Roseannadanna (ok, so I'm a baby-boomer, so sue me), "What's all this I hear about discombobulated obligations?" Or, in plain English, "disconnected applications". Today I took the Amtrak Acela (the "fast" train, or, as one of my European friends calls it, the "faster" train) from Newark, New Jersey (home of the corporate hq of my new company, Binary Tree) back home to Boston. It's a 4 hour ride, give or take, and I got bored reading "Office 2007 For Dummies", so I decided ot go online to check my email.

    Well! It turns out that the fancy, shmancy "Fast" train from Newark (New Jersiey) to Boston (Massachusetts), does NOT have wireless Internet connectivity!! I thought I was going to DIE!! I said to the conductor guy, "HEY! Mister CONDUCTOR guy on the fancy shmancy "fast" train from Newark New Jersity to Boston Massachusetts!! How come there's no wireless Internet connectivity here?? Huh? Is this the fancy shmancy FAST Amtrak train, or what??"

    He said, "HEY! Mr. Passenger guy. You sound just like Roseanne Roseannadanna from that old Baby Boomer TV show! NO, we do NOT have wireless Internet connectivity on this train! Unless, of course, you purchased yourself a fancy shmancy telephone company broadband wireless connection card! Did you do that, Mr. I-want-to-be-connected-everywhere, Mr. "Baby Boomer" TV-watching guy? Did you? Huh?"

    Ok, enough, before I get sued by somebody. Here's the question -- does anyone still care in a major way about disconnected apps? It's been a huge differentiating/selling point of Notes for decades, and I use it all the time. I love having a local replica of my email file, so that I can still read and write email when I can't get an Internet connection for one reason or another. I also make use of the local-replica feature when I can get a connection, but it's slow. I let my dbs replicate in the background, and get decent performance using a local copy in the meantime.Admittedly, I use it a lot less than I used to. Just 2 or 3 years ago, wi-fi was way less ubiquitous, and in airports and hotels I frequently had to rely on slow dial-up connections. But even now, I find that on airplanes (and yes, even on fancy-shmancy trains), I'm forced to be offline. In these situations Notes' replication/disconnected support is a real win.

    But now I'm wondering a) how big a percentage of most people's time is this case? and b) is it stabilized, or shrinking?

    I've noticed over the last few years that the Microsoft suite of Web and collaborative applications pretty much assumes all-connected-all-the-time. And they have some valid rationales for making that trade-off -- it's certainly easier to create the software baking in that assumption, and it's certainly true that more people are actually connected a greater percentage of the time.

    So, weigh in for me, fellow Geeks! Is "offline" support still important? Is it of growing, steady, or shinking importance, In Your Humble Opinions? Will anyone still care in 3 years? 5?

    Goodnight Geeks! (and goodnight, little Roseanne Roseannadanna!)

    (Need expert application development architecture/coding help? Contact me at: bbalaban,
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    1Ben Poole  03/11/2008 8:43:49 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    Personally, I'm on-line most of the time. But I still have regular jaunts on trains, lay-overs in areas I refuse to pay exorbitant internet charges for, and so on.

    I've been hearing for YEARS that we will all be connected 100% of the time, but the reality is still far from there to my mind. My old employer still has thousands of workers who aren't connected, hence the use of things like Lotus Notes.

    2Matt White  03/11/2008 9:11:24 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I would guess I'm online about 90% of the time. But the time when I'm not online can be my most productive (what with the lack of good blogs to read etc) so replication is a real boon then.

    Apart from that, replication is still far and away the best way for simple backing up of databases and working in low bandwidth environments. It would be nightmarish to have to work without it.

    3Rob McDonagh  03/11/2008 9:31:21 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am *personally* online almost 100% of the time. But my employer has a significant number of users who travel with laptops. Sometimes they're online with decent connections, but most of the time they're either offline or they have a lousy connection speed. In either of those last two cases, they work in offline mode and replicate. If they were forced to stay online, they wouldn't bother to turn on the computer until they got to a high speed connection, which would make them much less productive.

    4Ben Langhinrichs  03/11/2008 9:42:35 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am on-line close to 100% of the time when I am at home, but only about 50-75% of the time when on the road. But even if I were on 90% of the time, imagine a company where 90% of the people had reliable e-mail access, but it was a different 90% every day. Until 100% is a realistic goal, replicatation is essential.

    For that matter, I work primarily with local replicas because of speed and because they are essentially private until I replicate. No matter how fast the broadband or how reliable, I'd rather work in an off-line mode. So, I think the offline support is fairly critical.

    5John Vaughan  03/11/2008 9:52:09 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    this will come as a shock to some, but sometimes i actually CHOOSE to work in offline, local mode, even though i have an active connection to the net.

    i know, crazy right?

    but sometimes i like to work local because i need to ignore the internet at large, and get things done. it helps me stay focused.

    i'm an outlier here i'm sure, but i think the point is many ppl find many situations in which they need local offline mode. its a kind of flexibility that remains important and i don't think it will ever be unimportant.

    6Kevin Pettitt  03/11/2008 12:15:44 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I'm basically like Ben and Matt in being online when at home or in the office, and offline anyplace else that lacks *free* wifi. Interestingly one of my colleagues just came back from a conference where the ease of hacking wifi and bluetooth was a major theme. I suspect that this problem will get more visibility in the near future, so even as commuter trains and airports come online more and more, I see a growing demand for ways to work productively offline.

    Even one of the most promising avenues for achieving ubiquitous connectivity, the mobile phone network, will have to achieve a much higher level of reliability to serve that purpose. So I would view offline capabilities in much the same way as a UPS battery backup - essential protection against occasional and all but inevitable infrastructure failures.

    7Matthijs Hoekstra  03/11/2008 2:16:35 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    It depends. I like to have my email offline and some documents I work on, but most functionality from apps I use I don't need to have offline.

    Although I have UMTS for my laptop I am not online all the time, only when I need to/want to.

    8Henning Heinz  03/11/2008 2:43:11 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am always online and if I am not then I don't want to. Offline access is not important for me anymore although I very much like the single file concept and automatic replication between devices and servers.

    9Jerry Glover  03/11/2008 4:24:05 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    Online most of time at home/work, but that doesn't negate the need for offline when traveling a lot of the time. You have to remember, even with wireless cards, there are places outside the dense metros where there is spotty or no coverage. Even many sales and support people based in big cities have to go out to more rural areas where free WIFI is rare and wireless coverage is incomplete.

    I think it's telling that even with in the supposed ubiquitous, always-connected world of Web 2.0 and RIA, there are people building offline local storage technologies to support those apps such as Adoboe AIR or Google Gears.

    10Laurie Desautels  03/11/2008 4:27:44 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I continue to be a huge fan of working offline for a number of reasons ... all mentioned here: 1) don't have access to internet as much as a consultant who quite often works in my customer's environments, 2) speed of the local replicas for our own applications, 3) Like John Vaughan (@5), sometimes being offline is a good thing, and 4) sometimes I just can't get my darn wireless working (I must not be as techie as the rest of you) or the cost is prohibitive.

    11Ian Randall  03/11/2008 5:31:36 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am on-line about 70% and offline about 30%.

    I use offline for product demonstrations, software testing and QA. I generally access email on-line, unless I am travelling. (Being able to compose responses to emails while in an airport lobby or on a plane is handy).

    I also travel overseas often and fast, reliable internet connection for some of the places I visit is at best patchy. I was recently in Qatar and the whole QTEL public network (mobiles, land lines and Internet) was down for several days because someone dug up a major trunk cable in Egypt (perhaps QTEL outsources some of their billing or provisioning services).

    If I work in on-site with clients, I also need to be able to work off-line a lot, because it can sometimes take days for the clients IT department to give me a network logon and often they block a whole range of ports for guest consultants.

    So, as a result, I tend to work off-line a lot, sometimes for several days at a time, before getting back on-line.

    So for me, being able to work while disconnected is a must.

    12Andrew Brew  03/11/2008 6:50:08 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am online nearly all the time, but do a lot of work offline, for the reasons mentioned by others - security, reliability, performance. If I could only work when online I guess my productivity would drop by close to 50%.

    13Richard Schwartz  03/11/2008 11:08:17 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    What all this I hear..." was the catch phrase of Emily Litella, not Roseanne Rosanadanna. They were both Gilda Radner characters, of course, but Roseanne Rosanadanna's tag-line was "It's always something."

    Except when sleeping, driving, flying, or at my in-laws house, I am on-line most of the time -- and able to go on-line quickly if I am not.

    But, even when on-line I am not always able to get to all my servers, because I'm inside a firewall that won't let me out, or the servers I need are behind a firewall that won't let me in. In those situations, I'm always grateful to have a local replica to work with.

    14Bob Balaban  03/12/2008 2:57:55 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    @13 - See? It's always SOMETHING! Either you quote the wrong Gilda Radner character, or your server is offline.....

    (thanks for the correction)

    15Charlie Phillips  03/12/2008 7:37:12 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    "does anyone still care in a major way about disconnected apps?"

    Nope - not if it means installing more software. Our clients will have none of that - if it doesn't work in a web browser, they want no part of it.

    16Mick Moignard  03/13/2008 5:30:16 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I'm online most of the time, but Offline is still vital to me. It means that I have the stuff I need locally on my laptop whenever I need it without having to go look for a connection, but that I don't need to worry about it being up to date, because it just is. I'd say I'm offline (no network connection at all) maybe 15% of my computer-using time.

    But then there's the question about what Offline actually means. When I'm at home, and at some customer locations, I'm online to the Internet, and use a VPN to get to Unipart. When I'm disconnected from my VPN, I'm offline from Unipart, and online to the Internet. Connect the VPN, and I'm offline as far as the internet goes, but online for Unipart. Which means I have 3 states: totally offline, online publically, and online corporately. I'd say the percentages are around 15%, 25% and 60%.

    17Bob Balaban  03/13/2008 10:58:54 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    @16 - You make a good point in saying that "online" can mean different things. I think what I meant by on- vs. off-line is "connected to or disconnected from your application"

    Of course, that just pushes us into a discussion of what the definition of "your application" is. I suppose that my intent is approximately, "the application that you want to work on right now".

    And yes, I might be online with my corporate email server, but if the link is very slow, it's a much better user experience for me to replicate to a local mail NSF in the background, and just use the local copy for reading, searching and sending.

    What am I <i>really</i> trying to get at here? I want to know if the Microsoft model, where all their collaborative applications (e.g., Sharepoint, Outlook) are architected to only work if they're connected to a server, leaves a real market niche for Notes. It certainly did leave a lot of openings for Notes in the past, I'm wondering if that's still true today.

    18Scott Skaife  03/13/2008 1:32:47 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I think that it does leave a section of the market to Notes. I would also say that if IBM were smart, they would be following Adobe around making sure that every time Adobe makes a comment about their cool new emerging technology of offline web apps, they point out that this has been available to Domino since 2002. The marketing by Adobe, and rumors of Firefox having offline capabilites are a sure sign that SOMEBODY thinks offline access is important.

    19Keith brooks  03/13/2008 3:12:09 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    You can go offline of course with Outlook, as well as Notes for mail cleanup or writings or blog postings, yes virginia you can email in your blog postings.

    But I can take all of my apps, well Lotus ones, and work offline when I need to on planes, trains,beaches and automobiles.

    And that makes a world of difference.

    But some people, you know, like to not be connected sometimes.

    Which is probably why I don't have a blackberry, although now I have traveler :-)

    20Matthijs  03/13/2008 4:25:37 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?


    Bob, Outlook works great offline and when using cached mode it automaticcally connects in the background to the exchange server (over https when nessecary) so the experience is always great, offline or connected through a slow link. i am alway working from the local cache so to say.

    So when thinking about offline/online, it's nice to have a great experience even when online with a 'bad' connection.

    For example I hate connecting over VPN and working from the my documents folder which is redirected to my homeshare on our network for example (slow)

    21Erik Brooks  03/16/2008 12:09:27 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    For the people that travel in my company offline access is a big deal, especially for airplane travel. There's usually something worth a few hours they can take with them on the plane.

    And I get *LOADS* of good code written while on a plane with Designer running offline.

    We've even got DOLS running fairly heavily in a few markets where being online is simply not an option most of the time.

    I'd say I'm online 99% of the time, but working offline anway during 20% of that for performance reasons. Even broadband can pale in comparison to the performance of local access + replication.

    22Joe Litton  03/20/2008 10:34:45 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am online 100% of the time.

    And I am offline 100% of the time.

    I use the BlackBerry to allow the 100% online - access to mail and phone mostly.

    Even when a great connection is available (which is often) I do offline development - largely for better response time.

    And there are absolutely frequent times when I'm not able to connect my laptop - but still stay productive, reading/replying to email, doing development, testing apps, all via local replicas that are replicated later when I do have a connection.

    23Karl-Henry Martinsson  03/20/2008 9:51:25 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    Personally I am online 100% of the time. But like Rob and a few others, we have users at my workplace that are not able to be connected all the time. I work for an insurence company, and when one of our claim adjusters visit Joe Bob way out in the countryside after he been rear-ended by our insureds truck, he want to be able to write a check and record all information right there, not several hours later whhen he manage to find a Starbucks or get to his hotellroom. Outside the bigger cities, there are still plenty of dead spots when it comes to wireless networks, and in even larger areas the connections are really slow.

    So offline abilities is a requirement for us.

    24Bob Balaban  03/31/2008 7:07:07 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    @19 - Good point, Keith, it's not just about email. I agree.

    25Daniel Lieber  04/01/2008 10:57:21 AM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    I am Internet connected MOST of the time, but certainly not ALL of the time I need to do various work projects. Particularly when I am at client sites and while en route, connectivity can vary widely. Off-line access to applications is critical to productivity.

    Once the discussion gets outside of North America, the issues become even more prevalent. In much of Asia, Internet access is not ubiquitious, and can be very slow by North American and European standards (such as having a major office served by 2 T-1 lines or field office with a 128k DSL line). The connectivity can be "broken" by either being sporatic or offline completely for significant amounts of time as was the case after the major Taiwan earthquake in Dec. 2006.

    So thus, off-line applications are very important for global customers and those where the assumption of constant connectivity is not valid. For asynchronous communications, such as e-mail, the models work pretty well already and the clients have localized data stores. For interactive data applications, such as most line-of-business applications, a hybrid model is generally acceptable (e.g. Lotus Notes and, to some degree, Groove).

    26Marjan  04/01/2008 8:33:14 PM  What % of the time are YOU online?

    Hi Bob,

    just found your blog, what a good read (and giggle it is).

    When I am at home I am online all the time, at work too. My work does not require travelling or anything exciting and there is hardly a commute so in my 'world' (the working mother one) there is no need for off-line apps!