Looking at the strategy of Rich Internet Applications

There are a couple of great posts here on ZDNet that I wanted to draw attention to and talk a little bit about. The first is Richard MacManus' "Why Google apps will stay inside the browser".

There are a couple of great posts here on ZDNet that I wanted to draw attention to and talk a little bit about. The first is Richard MacManus' "Why Google apps will stay inside the browser". I am really looking forward to some back and forth with Richard as the web application space continues to grow. I think it's going to make for some great stuff.

You should head over and read Richard's post, but he makes some interesting points about the browser. He notes that the browser is the ultimate desktop app and the importance of open source and standards to the web. They are very good points, and I think are good examples of where the lines will be drawn. Are companies willing to go with proprietary technologies from Adobe or Microsoft, or do they not want to be locked in? I think open source in many ways is a detriment because there isn't any accountability. My post on Apocalypse 2.0 spells this out pretty well. But Richard's first point is the most important - the browser is the lowest common denominator web platform.

I love the idea of the web as a platform, I always have and always will. But as I've seen web applications grow, I've realized the browser is holding them back. It was never meant to be a medium for applications, and it shows. As the browsers become even more fragmented, the need for a cross platform solution, even if it's proprietary, gains prominence. As developers mature in the kind of experiences they want to deliver on the web, they'll find the browser limiting and need to look for other solutions. This is the problem I think Google is going to have. Will they make the leap?

John Carroll's post, the other that I liked, talked a bit about this. He has a great quote:

It's not so much that you can't do some crazy things with HTML, CSS and Javascript. The problem is that doing so is a royal pain in the ass. There has to be a better way than trying to clone the functionality of desktop applications using web technologies that clearly weren't designed to be used in that fashion.


The web does such a good job of the simple, basic stuff which we're accustomed to using it for that we spend a lot of time and energy trying to make it do things it doesn't. As John notes, one of the reasons Google did so well at search was because they made it simple. But web applications aren't simple, and they aren't getting any simpler as time passes.

Consumers like the web, it makes their lives easier. But they are familiar with the desktop, they know how it works and they have come to expect that level of interactivity. For applications to succeed, they need to wrap the web around a desktop experience. With Rich Internet Applications, that is possible, and that's why they are so powerful. The blend of both worlds is something that consumers can very much relate to. RIAs are more than just webified desktop apps, because technologies like Adobe Flex or Microsoft XBAP mean you can run them entirely in the browser, over the web, but for a very different experience. When you need to take advantage of the desktop, you can blend those two technologies with Adobe's Apollo project or the full Windows Presentation Foundation from Microsoft.

So the question boils down to whether or not developers will adopt the new platforms and whether companies will be willing to lock themselves into a proprietary format. This is one of the reasons we will see RIA adoption in the enterprise first - lock in is a non-issue. But in the end, the platforms are going to be too compelling to avoid and the browser too limiting to express the creativity of the smart people building Web 2.0 today. At least that's my humble opinion - but it will be fun to see how it all plays out.