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Although implementing programs as applets embedded in Web pages greatly simplifies some aspects of software administration and delivery, it also places some constraints on the form and size of the programs. For example, developers are compelled to use the browser metaphor for the user interface of their programs. In this metaphor, the various functions of a program are divided among several applets, which are placed on different Web pages. Applets are downloaded when the user accesses the containing Web page. Although the browser metaphor can be a simple, easy-to-understand user interface for some programs, it can be cumbersome for others.
On the other hand, it is possible to write an entire program as a single applet that opens up a separate window from the browser, thus avoiding the browser metaphor. However, a different problem manifests itself as an applet grows larger, because applets usually are downloaded across the network each time they are used. When people want to use an applet, they go to the appropriate Web page in their browser, wait until the applet is downloaded across the network, and then use it. Once an applet exceeds a certain size, it becomes painful to use because it takes too long to download.
The size limit of applets hinges on the time it takes the applets to download. Various factors, such as network bandwidth, network traffic, and user patience, influence an applet's maximum practical size. Over time network performance can be expected to improve, thus bringing some relief to the applet size limitation. However, just as user expectations for software have increased to coincide with advances in available disk space, RAM, and processing power, so too will user expectations for network-delivered software likely increase as network bandwidth improves.
Popular browsers have also imposed one other restriction on applets in the interest of security: Applets downloaded across the network aren't allowed to read or write files on the local disk. This restriction may be relaxed in the future, by allowing the user to specify varying degrees of access to the local disk depending upon the source of the applet. Until that day comes, however, this security restriction is one of the barriers preventing applets from becoming a viable solution for many types of software problems.