Ajax vs RIA - Ajax still rules

Ajax vs RIA - Ajax still rules

Summary: 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.

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TOPICS: Apps
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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).

In terms of platform independence, the browser is a universal Web client and Ajax is the most popular method of creating interactive apps in the browser. This also means there are a lot more Ajax resources available, including next-generation toolsets such as Morfik and Google Web Toolkit (GWT) - which enable you to convert code into Javascript. Let's not forget too that Web users are by now very used to Ajax, because it conforms to their expectations of a browser experience - so there is the usability factor to consider.

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.

Topic: Apps

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12 comments
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  • Eclipse

    Eclipse has about a 3 year head start on WPF with the 'Rich Client Platform'.

    Vendors like:

    o IBM
    o Adobe
    o Borland

    are all pouring R&D dollars into new applications which are 'rich' internet-based.

    Ajax has its place but it isn't going to replace Java.

    My 2 cents worth.
    (Sun Java NetBeans programmers, chime-in!)
    ;)
    D T Schmitz
  • I believe AJAX will be with us for a while

    I believe AJAX will be with us for a while, and that it will take some time before RIAs start trickling out with some seriousness. I believe even long after RIAs become popular, AJAX apps will be around offering at least minimal services from companies that also provide RIAs. In other words, along with offering basic services through their web sites, many companies will also offer RIAs as a means for their users to access richer services the companies offer.
    P. Douglas
  • what a hypa thon

    I've been writing web applications and stand alone software for about 10 years. As I've watched the technologies come and go, never have I seen such hype mongering by the IT media. How can someone write an article about AJAX and RIA without first trying to define for the readers sake what they are? Sure this is a technically oriented web site and a baby steps description is unnecessary but if there is a difference between "AJAX" web applications and "RIA" it would make sense to let the reader know what they are. From what I've discovered there is essentially no difference between the two. I think this is why no one ever tries to define a difference in their so called expert articles. Skilled software engineers see all these various "technologies" (I just call them languages) as tools, we use the appropriate tool to provide the functionality and performance we need at whichever tier of whatever application of whatever platform we are working on. I don't spend much time reading these media rags as well..I am too busy working to stay up on the hyping going on, but I realize in going over these blogs written by so called experts that most of them don't have a clue what they are talking about. As far as AJAX and RIA I've been creating similar applications (as far as I can tell from the few writings from dogma that I've read) for at least 7 years, long before the media and exploitive companies saw the hype opportunity involved and jumped on the bandwagon.

    I am still waiting on that point by point description of the differences between "RIA" and "AJAX", though I know I won't be at all surprised at what the conclusion is.
    sent2null
    • Valid Point

      Very valid point sent2null, a definition is essential as a starting point for the conversation. I'll see if I can put something together for you.
      ryanstewart
    • You are right.

      Ajax and RIA, as I see it, are exactly the same thing. RIA draws an interface, talks to the backend with XML (or something else) asynchronously. Ajax stuff does the same thing.

      Ajax uses the browser's Java script to render the interface. RIA uses something native, or even Java applets, or something similar.

      The difference is in what Java script can do versus these more native approaches. For all practical purposes, and direct integration with the web interface Ajax is certainly a good contender, and it definately will not go away. It might easily beat the 'RIA' as far as I see.

      The thing about RIA is that the solutions are often proprietary. It breaks the web and interoperability that made web so popular. This is true with Vista, as the same stuff does not run on Linux or browser X; it needs a certain operating system, proprietary vendor, certain proprietary API, and along those lines, it will never be that popular. This is especially true because the space is already filled up to the rim with other contenders that are more compatible.
      tero_t_vaananen@...
      • Proprietary does not "break the web"

        Proprietary does not "break the web"--why would you say this? Without proprietary technologies, we'd still have committees debating (until 2022 or later) how to update HTML to do what we're doing with RIAs do today. Oh wait--we DO still have committees debating on how to update HTML (HTML5) to include the basic features of Silverlight version 1.0 (which is going to be version 4 soon, and Flex 4 is even more mature)!

        If Flex integrating with web services, Java, .NET, PHP, Coldfusion, even slow XML/AJAX junk, the new AIR runtime, Eclipse, Mozilla, Linux, etc, with allegedly over 1 million designers and developers is "breaking the Internet"--time to start smashing that thing up some more!
        Shin Chan
    • Yes, there is a difference

      "Users need to install a software framework using the computer's operating system before launching the application, which typically downloads, updates, verifies and executes the RIA. This is the main differentiator from Javascript-based alternatives like Ajax, which use built-in browser functionality to implement comparable interfaces. While some consider such interfaces to be RIAs, some consider them competitors to RIAs and others, including Gartner, treat them as similar but separate technologies."
      Shin Chan
  • Guess what?

    Well, now it's 2008 and Adobe Flex had proven to be a more mature and superior RIA solution.

    All four of your "Ajax features" are supported by Flex, and supported oh, about 1,000 times BETTER since it's not hack technology. If you were to claim otherwise today, saying otherwise would be big comedy to a Flex developer!

    Oh well, Ajax had a good run on RIAs. Hahaha... the only thing it should be used for is quirky minor special effects on webpages, for crap like updating the scores for football games in real time. Anything much more complicated, you're better off using Flex - and this is speaking from experience. Sorry guys.
    Shin Chan
    • I'm a Believer in RIA

      I've been doing AJAX for many years and belive RIA platform rarely hit the limitations of AJAX and will be the next platform of choice for most serious web applications. As tools advance and skillsets catch up, platforms like FLEX and Microsoft Silverlight provide really compelling reason for bailing on AJAX. SEO, for both is one MAJOR hurdle that neither have really overcome.

      Although FLEX is more mature, IMHO, Microsoft will ultimately win this battle and prevail as the RIA platform. I'm sure Adobe guys are saying PSHHHHHHfffa HA! right now, but after investigating and developing in both I think Silverlight wins. Adobe is king in the space currently granted, but for just entering second iteration...Silverlight is surprisingly powerful.

      Finally by Microsoft using the underlying .NET framework as the platforms foundation it gets millions of developers into the mix immediately. This will be the BIG issue facing Adobe in the coming year. By rolling out Silverlight bits in Windows update steal the browser integration/adoption issue as well. This will bite hard and deep into Adobe marketshare.
      Developer22
      • AJAX sucks

        Dunno if Silverlight or Flex will end up on top. Certainly Flex is still winning the race by a long shot if you base it on developer community participation (not to mention Flash Player vs Silverlight adoption rate), but as long as it's true RIA technology (both meet this requirement) I'll be happy.

        The IT community cannot allow some legacy, over-hyped, buzzword compliant, expensive/inefficient technology being hacked to do new things (AJAX/DHTML/DOM) to spread like a virus any longer.

        (Perfect example of the shortcomings of this legacy JavaScript dependent trash - I just had a problem seeing the last line of this text dialog after adding a few newlines--probably some minor browser-specific bug!)
        Shin Chan
  • RE: Ajax vs RIA - Ajax still rules

    i interest with ajax specific with jQuery :
    http://www.ajax-tutorial.net/ajax-link-reference/jquery-
    javascript-library/
    zmoerf
  • RE: Ajax vs RIA - Ajax still rules

    Wow! What a load of bull!

    So, "user experience, platform independence" - advantages of AJAX??? You mean to say DHTML and browser dependent (even WORSE than platform dependent!) DOM trash are better than virtual machine (read: platform independent) JIT-compiled native OS code? RIAs are more browser and platform independent than AJAX/DHTML junk-- I've seen AJAX DOM dependent sites break not only from browser to browser, but with browser VERSIONS. On user experience, I'm not even going to dignify that claim with a response.

    The ONLY advantage AJAX/DHTML/DOM junk has over RIAs like Flex or Silverlight is major corporate investment from near-monopoly IT companies. Hardly enough to make AJAX the end-all solution. (HTML5 is a joke btw, maybe in 2022 they'll finally catch up to Silverlight 1.0's feature set-- LOL!)
    Shin Chan