Why the time is right for the Rich Internet Application

Why the time is right for the Rich Internet Application

Summary: On Monday I counted down 10 reasons to embrace the RIA, and the post generated some good comments. When I talk about RIAs, I often get a few of the same responses as to why my view isn't possible, and I understand where that comes from. But I also think it is misguided, and I want to talk about a few of the big ones and why now is different.

TOPICS: Browser

LightBulb.jpgOn Monday I counted down 10 reasons to embrace the RIA, and the post generated some good comments. When I talk about RIAs, I often get a few of the same responses as to why my view isn't possible, and I understand where that comes from. But I also think it is misguided, and I want to talk about a few of the big ones and why now is different.

Java tried this and failed

Java was once heralded as the great cross-platform solution that would run anywhere. Now it's a shell of its former self residing in a company that seems to have lost all direction. If cross-platform didn't work then, why should it work now? In two words - the web. The web has enabled us with a way to connect all of our devices like never before and changed the way we view content. We manipulate it, and take it with us. Java was simply too early, and the web too young for cross-platform to be meaningful. We don't have that problem now. The web is mature, steaming ahead, and full of even more potential.

I need access to my data even when I'm offline

In the short term, RIAs need to solve what people have called the online/offline problem. The first step is getting over the idea of storing most of our data online. Once that happens, RIAs need to allow people to take the important parts of that data with them even when they aren't connected. But that's the short term. Think about how we accessed the web 5 years ago, and think about 5 years from now. Is it inconceivable that we'll live in a world that really is "always on"? It isn't - especially with the speed of technology.

This is going to cause more problems in the enterprise.

When talking about RIAs in the enterprise I hear quite a bit about how 1) keeping runtimes updated for RIAs is going to be a pain (true) and 2) the thin client model works better and because it is less dependent on the client means IT can manage it better. Point 1 is a problem, but it goes beyond the scope of this post. It involves talking about what runtime should be used, what a runtime footprint should be, and how much lock-in you should allow. Point 2 is narrower. The problem with a typical thin client approach is that it is too restrictive of devices. At the risk of sounding like a therapist, RIAs should blend with the device, creating an experience optimized for the controls and smaller screen, but related to what would be seen on a desktop or a laptop. As the enterprise gets more "on the go" having a familiar experience will help productivity and RIAs can provide that.


Even if you are tired of the Web 2.0 hype, you can't deny that people are flocking to the web in new ways. It's no longer just being used as a place to see content, but to actually interact with it as well. Within this environment, the RIA will gain traction where it wasn't able to before. People are more willing to embrace online storage, devices, and cross-platform, because the web has helped them take the first step. The ideas have always been there, but we're finally at a point that they can see the blinding light of reality.

Topic: Browser

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  • RIA Examples

    Folks, it doesn't take a 'Rocket Scientist' to recognize where things are going--just look at the progress with Eclipse Callipso (3.2) and look at the applications that are RIA-enabled sprouting up around it:

    o IBM's Lotus Notes for Linux
    o Adobe <Labs> Flex 2.0
    o IBM's WorkPlace
    o BIRT
    o Azureus (BitTorrent)

    just to name only a few.

    What is 'beautious' about Eclipse is it's O/S agnostic approach (Java and Rich Client Plugin Architecture).

    [i]We don' need no stinkin' Windows![/i]

    Why, it's revolutionary! ;)
    D T Schmitz
    • Good Idea for a Post


      Great idea for a post. I use Eclipse every day, all the time, and I had overlooked everything that was going on in the wake of the Callisto release. Is Java making a comeback??
  • You are a visionary

    I love your blog man! Have you noticed that your blog has become the world-wide #1 most-visited blog on Adobe's MXNA blog agregator? And so it should be. You typically have the answers before most people have worked out what the question is.
    • Thanks

      Hah - I just aim for the slow MXNA news days ;)

      Thanks for reading!
  • Just a few comments

    I can never work out if the "cross platform" thing is overrated, unrealistic, necessary, or even desired. The "web" certainly created a field we could all play on. I think a big difference between Java and what you talk about, is that MS accepted SOAP as is. Given their legal troubles at the time, they had no choice, but I remember a collective sigh of relief at the time, from the web community, when they said it. Web services aren't cross platform, per say, BUT, it allows us to create open doors to applications created in any language, on any OS - that's the lynch pin to RIA.

    You make a big thing about online/offline in this and other posts. I'm not quite buying it, though, that RIA solves this problem. Lotus Notes handled this issue 10+ years ago. "Offline" means loading an application to your PC - doesn't that negate a benefit of having a web based app in the first place (auto updates to the app, for example). With the current pace of proliferation of WiFi, will we ever be offline in the future? What about cell phone / blackberry access? I guess I just don't see companies caring enough about "off line" to develop solutions, when a Sprint wireless card is a ready made solution. IMHO.

    Tired of Web 2.0? Not at all. But we need to start delivering. Unlike you, I don't think the business world will welcome web 2.0 interfaces (be they Ajax, Flex, etc) with open arms, and neither will the public. There will be a significant period of resistance. People just will not know what to make of it. From us, technical professionals, it will take business savvy, well designed interfaces and persistence to break through the barrier.

    Great Blog - keep it up.

    • Responses

      David, great comments. I'll try to quickly address them, but as you've indirectly noted, these could almost be posts in themselves.

      Cross platform is a loaded term. Why? Because as an Economics major, I don't know that there is any incentive for cross platform at this point in time - but there will be, and if RIAs are going to take hold and stay, they need to be cross platform. I'll address this down the road at a much deeper level and I look forward to your thoughts.

      You're absolutely right about the "offline/online problem" - in a few years, it isn't going to matter one bit, because everything will be online. Google will probably have most of our data stored in Oregon somewhere. I see RIAs helping to make that jump, but to do so they need to help people make the transition between on and offline. It's more than just connecting Outlook to the internet in cached mode, because the problem involves more synchronization and collaboration. The work flow needs to be totally invisible to users.

      As for the business world welcoming web 2.0 interfaces...businesses are still made up of people, and even though those people may act like drones at work, they will appreciate a good user interface for the tools they use daily.

      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. There are a lot of issues in my post, and they need to be drawn out individually.