Why Rich Internet Applications are important for the browser

Why Rich Internet Applications are important for the browser

Summary: Rich Internet Applications span all kinds of software deployment models. I had a fun conversation with Ted Leung tonight and he made me realize that one of the huge selling points behind real RIA technologies is that they enable *actual* applications in a browser. Ajax just doesn't cut it, which is why the RIA evolution is so important.

TOPICS: Browser

At Ignite Seattle this evening I hung out with Ted Leung for a while and we chatted about Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Coming from the open source world, he always has a very interesting take on the RIA world and I always learn a ton from him. In this case, he mentioned something off hand that really resonated with me: If we're going to deliver applications in the browser, then we need something better. For him, and for a lot of people, that's where Rich Internet Applications really shine.

There has been a tremendous amount of attention on getting "back to the desktop" with technologies like Apollo and Windows Presentation Foundation that enable some very rich, design-friendly experiences outside the browser. But there is still a very large contingent out there that thinks the browser will be the best way to deliver applications. But if that is the case, then we have to have a model that enables the browser to actually do that. Trying to build real applications using JavaScript that requires a tedious development cycle and a lot of per-browser workarounds just isn't going to cut it. From Ted's point of view, that is what makes the idea of open source Flash so compelling (and important). We get all the richness and robustness of Flash, but in a platform that anyone can contribute to and help grow.

This isn't a post about open source, but the conversation did leave me thinking. Mozilla has started to really expand on what the "browser" is, and they're pushing hard in the direction of making it a viable application platform. Even companies like Dekoh are using Java to help developers create applications inside the browser. But to me, Flash is still light-years ahead. The only perceived knock is that it isn't as open as the other technologies. But we're seeing innovation in the rich, browser based application space. "WPF/E" is the most notable one, and I'm excited to see what Microsoft's vision for the browser based application is at MIX. (Steve Borsch has some interesting thoughts here)

Part of the appeal of Rich Internet Applications is that they are about delivering the next generation of software. They're about supporting the convergence of the web and the desktop and giving developers the freedom to choose the best platform for their needs. In some cases, having access to the desktop will be the requirement. In other cases, browser based applications will be perfect. RIAs span both categories. In the end, it's about the experience, the richness, and the power of building real software. RIAs provide a way to do that that hasn't existed before, and that's why they're so exiting. They change the game in so many ways.

Topic: Browser

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  • Absolutely correct -well though!

    There are atleast two fundamental facts which will support your thinking.

    1) Value shift towards services and apps independently of the underlaying operating systems. There are so many industry forces which are driving towards this and it also gives more room for enterprises to bypass old legacy systems.

    2) Usability (which is much more than UI) needs new means to fullfil end user needs. Device categories (PC, cell phones and convergence devices like iPhone etc) will require exceptional usability in a relatively limited screen (real estate) size. You need UI for one hand, two hands, two fingers etc.. in a day light, night, car and simultaneously you are accessing network services. That will simply require rich "browsing" environemnt, which is not necessary called anymore browsing.
  • Not necessarily...

    There is no denying, and I don't think anyone can argue, that for most (consumers at least) what they do online clearly outweighs what they might do offline.

    So why not take a slightly different tack to the current propositions of trying to build a new platform on top of the web browser or trying to develop aggregate online/offline solutions using 'cool' technologies by simply giving users an easy way to complement their online and offline activity in a way that doesn't try and brush aside the millions of man hours and $ organisations, individuals and whole communities have put into giving us our own Windows, Apple and Linux computers?

    Its both possible and done.

    Ok, at this point I will declare my self interest here seeing as we have just developed and launched an RIA in the form of an online desktop service that lives outside the browser and OS independent (desktopondemand.com).

    But in declaring my own position here I also want to assert that for all the focus on RIA's being developed on top of the ubiquitous web browser and using 'in fashion' frameworks there are real and practical alternatives in the form of other more mature technologies.

    We may have only just (a week ago) launched our service but already the hundreds of users using it, writing about it and referring others to it shows just how well validated our approach has been. Very early days for our approach, I know, but we strongly believe there is much more mileage to be gained from well proven older methodologies.

    Don't get me wrong. I have the utmost respect for Ajax and the like and understand that the Web 2.0 era has been fundamentally driven by them but at the same time we should not forget software and technologies (mostly open source) that got us here and the fact that some of them can still have hell of a lot to offer in helping us reconcile or online/offline needs.

    There is the inevitable danger that as more and more diversity occurs that a lack of framework standardisation will have its own set of problems for us all to deal with as well as the danger posed by a slide toward proprietary technologies such as Apollo.