Should Rich Internet Applications be cross platform by definition?

Should Rich Internet Applications be cross platform by definition?

Summary: Rich Internet Applications are getting a lot more attention. As a result, questions about what exactly constitutes an RIA are popping up. One of those is whether or not Rich Internet Applications should be cross platform. I think that's a noble goal, but in the end, the RIA is about more than cross platform. It's about breaking free from the browser.


The RIA world is still kind of a wild west of ideas, and as a result of that people try to define what "Rich Internet Applications" are. I think that's great, and I don't expect to be the one who creates the definition, but I wanted to throw my two cents about RIAs and cross platform.

I think cross platform RIAs are important, I think they're in the spirit of the web and I think reaching the widest possible user base that you can is important. But I don't think that an RIA needs to be cross platform to actually be classified as a Rich Internet Application. I think there is far too much innovation in the space to limit the definition like that. In addition, how do you define "cross platform"? Is it running on Windows and a Mac? Running on Windows, Mac and Linux? What about all the different flavors of mobile devices?

I think it's a good discussion to have, but when I take a look at applications like the New York Times reader, I don't see how you can try and not call that a Rich Internet Application. It's abstracting web content, wrapping a very interactive, branded experience around it, and allows you to take the information offline with you. Sure, it's a windows application, but it's the showcase app for Windows Presentation Foundation and a high quality RIA.

In the end, I think it's about creating those great experiences and breaking out of the browser that defines a Rich Internet Application. We've viewed the web through the pinhole of browser for way too long. With technologies like XML and micro formats that bring data to us in formats we can use, we're able to build powerful RIAs with a lot of great content. That's the goal, and I don't think it matters if that experience is available only for one platform. In the end, economics wins out and if customers demand cross platform, companies will follow.

Topic: Apps

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  • By your definition

    KWeather, Kdict, etc. all qualify.
    Yagotta B. Kidding
    • RE: By your definition

      Widgets are good examples of RIAs I think, so I don't see why KWeather wouldn't count as a Widgetized RIA.
  • defining RIA

    My definition of RIA is any application with a cinematic user interface (thus "rich") not tied to or installed on a specific computer (thus "internet") going beyond simple static content (thus "application").

    While an RIA could be platform-specific under this definition, this largely defeats the purpose of creating an RIA in the first place. Semantics aside, great RIAs are not only cross-platform (minimum of Linux, Mac, and Windows) but also cross-device (minimum of PC and cell phone).
    • RE: defining RIA

      I like that definition. And while I still think that cross platform apps are preferable to those that are locked in to one platform, when that platform is Windows you're still hitting a pretty broad section of the population.
  • There is only one platform

    Look at it from a commercial point of view. Only one platform is used by over 90% of the planet. Why spend all the time creating a 'cross-platform' app, that will need to make serious compromises to run on all available platforms?

    Taking advantage of the Windows software platform means you can create sophisticated apps that will reach the bulk of the population. As Linux desktop doesn't really exist (except in the mind of the small band of Linux users) we are really only talking Apple which is lucky to get 5% global usage. Apple users have deliberately made a lifestyle choice and want to be different - I say let them.

    So why hold back development by a need to be compatible with systems that have hardly any global usage?
    • RE: There is only one platform

      Well said, and I think the commercial argument is a good one. I hope that the economics cause companies to embrace cross platform availability, and right now it does make a great story, but in the end, there are a lot of people out there willing to just go with Windows. To me, those should still be considered RIAs.
    • Way more than one platform

      I love when someone uses the tired old myth of 90%+ for Windows. Those metrics
      count the number of units sold with Windows installed, not the number of units
      actually using Windows. The second fallacy with that assumption is the number of
      versions of Windows. Do you mean 3.1, 95, 98, 98SE, ME, 2K, NT, XP, XPSP2, Vista
      or some CE variant? Will the RIA use what is available as a base in each sub-OS
      ( home, pro, media center) or will you need to have Pro for the networking goodies
      and Media Center for the entertainment stuff? So far that is just what is available
      to desktop/notebook users, not counting the CE stuff on other mobile devices.

      There are ways to make an RIA available to most people by using things like Java
      or Flash or Quicktime (would be nice if Apple would help the limited effort done so
      far to play QT in different Linux players). Of course there are plenty of so-so
      programmers that will go for the easy, quick bucks from Windows users and not
      do a good job that can be cross-platform/device capable.