Ryan Stewart has a thought-provoking post on why RIA (Rich Internet Applications) are better than Ajax, browser-based apps. He wrote it in response to my post about Zimbra - which I wrote is pushing the envelope of Ajax, but battling against the limitations of the Internet Explorer browser. Ryan's main point is that the browser is not the best tool to deliver 'rich' Web content. He certainly makes a compelling case:
"The line between the desktop and the web is going to blur, and the most important users, the ones at home, will be drawn to a richer experience. That in turn, is going to draw content providers and advertisers in a big way."
Looking at it Ajax apps still have the edge in user experience, platform independence and network effects.from a pure development point of view, I can see Ryan's point. I used to work as a Web Manager (in the old days known as a 'webmaster') and I do recall most of the programmers I came across in-house preferred developing for desktop apps, rather than Web apps. One of the reasons is that desktop apps are easier to code for than Ajax, plus it allows the developer more control. And when you're talking about Intranet apps, where the user desktop can be controlled by the IT dept, well it's often the easier option to do a desktop app. As P. Douglas commented in Ryan's post:
"The bottom line is that programmers will be able to create simple to sophisticated RIAs in a fraction of the time it takes to create lesser applications in AJAX."
You'll get no argument from me about that. Where I think Ajax apps still have the edge is user experience, platform independence and the fact that Ajax technologies are the mainstay of the big Internet companies like Google and Yahoo. Microsoft even has a lot of Ajax developments currently (e.g. Live.com), but obviously they also have a big stake in RIA for the future (especially with Vista).
All in all, Ajax is here to stay - for now. The aptly-named Ajax Info blog has a post which outlines 4 main reasons why Ajax apps will continue to be deployed:
1. It solves current business problems.
2. Platform independance.
3. Skill-set comformity.
4. Network effects.
In summary I think that Rich Internet Apps, although very powerful (as Ryan says), simply do not have the flexibility and sheer uptake to seriously challenge Ajax as a Web development platform. This may change in the future, especially if Microsoft has something to say about it. Also companies like Macromedia continue to push the RIA vision. I think that's great and I expect a lot of innovation when it comes to Web/desktop integration. But it's not time to write off Ajax just yet.