Forget "fat" clients. Just use AJAX.
CTO Scott Dietzen is (quite rightly) proud of the effort. "We did two betas and a release candidate before the community gave the thumbs up," he said.
The new version also has mobile support. "We have support for Symbian, Palm Treo, Windows Mobile and we have a partner that fills in on the Blackberry," he said. "On any smartphone I have, all my email and address book data will now sync, over the air. You can get new customers from the CRM system, and it will show on your mobile phone while traveling."
So why am I not seeing more cool AJAX stuff on the Web? A shortage of programmers, Dietzen said. "AJAX programming skills are in short supply. AJAX development has gotten an order of magnitude easier, but it's still harder than HTML," and the programming workforce continues to age.
Dietzen recently went to the 50th birthday party for Carnegie-Mellon's computer science department (It's his alma mater.) He thinks maybe it would help if we started calling it computing engineering, not science. "It may be the case that computer science is less an exciting discipline because more is understood." The kids all want to be biologists these days.
I think Dietzen is close to the answer here. I think the ladder leading into computing has some broken rungs down near the bottom. There's this gap between computer-as-tool, and computing as something you create. When I have sought tools for my own kids to learn the basics of programming, they've been books written at a college level, teaching low-level tools.
What we need is something exciting, something in AJAX, that will teach the rudiments of AJAX programming. Something we can teach in high schools or in junior colleges. Followed up by contests, with prizes, and by big challenges which can lead to jobs.
This looks like a challenge for open source. Anyone want to take me up on it? Hey, we've got these new tools you can use to meet it…tools like Zimbra.