With the floodgates starting to open on Adobe's Apollo project and an interesting discussion of Om Malik's Business 2.0 article on the future of free web applications, I think it's important to talk about the two branches of Rich Internet Applications and what makes each one important.
At the core, Rich Internet Technologies are all about the web. With the explosion of Ajax and DHTML, we saw how much better the web experience could be. Web Rich Internet Applications may run outside of the browser on separate runtimes, but they are still web applications. You can't take them offline, you need to be connected to them at all time, and they enable you to work from any computer. The best platforms for web Rich Internet Development are cross-platform just like the web. Web RIAs can provide a richer user experience with multimedia and real-time collaboration and enhance the web model. This is exactly what makes Rich Internet Applications powerful and continue to help them make great strides in the web application space.
But with Apollo and Windows Presentation Foundation, the idea of a webified desktop application is starting to take shape. What is so powerful about these implementations is that for the most part they continue to leverage web technologies but run in a security sandbox on the desktop and allow for content synchronization, file system access, and downloadable content. A lot of people seem to think that these webified desktop applications are useless and are going to be quickly dismissed as soon as the world is covered in wi-fi.
But this is where the real value add of Rich Internet Applications becomes clear. To say that free web applications are going to rule the world is to miss the power of the desktop and specifically building web applications for the desktop. One of the most exciting propositions of web 2.0 is how much we can do with web technologies. By providing that developer talent a hook into the desktop, we're going to see a renewed interest in desktop development. Everyone loves the web, but part of the reason that it is so popular is because it's so easy to develop for. Desktop Rich Internet Applications allow you to use those technologies to deploy full-fledged desktop applications.
As a business, Desktop Rich Internet Application solutions allow you to make good use of your investment in web technologies to expand your brand and your presence onto the desktop. The link to the desktop gives you the ability to interact with your users whether or not they are online. You can develop a branded MP3 player, build a rich office suite that is available as a web application or a desktop client (with data synch between both applications so that your changes are always saved) or build a desktop application that talks to your Bluetooth enabled devices.
All of this ties back to a very rich, engaging user experience that RIAs provide. You enable users to take advantage of the web while giving them the freedom take their data with them offline. All of this is capable with the web technologies that have made application development fun again and spurred so much innovation in technology. Once those two worlds come together, and once web developers realize how much potential lies in delivering the web to the desktop, we'll see some amazing things.