Rich Internet application predictions for 2008

2007 was a great year for rich Internet applications. The combination of Microsoft and Adobe in the space took it to the next level.

2007 was a great year for rich Internet applications. The combination of Microsoft and Adobe in the space took it to the next level. More bloggers started talking about it and the definition of what an RIA even started to expand with things like AIR and Prism bringing RIAs to the desktop. We also saw a lot of traction in the enterprise space with companies like Oracle and SAP looking to augment their user experience with rich Internet applications. 2008 is going to be even better and here's why (hopefully I'll do better than my 2007 predictions):

1. Silverlight will get to 200 million installs by the end of June, but it won't be for 2.0. The stated penetration goal of Silverlight is to get 200 million installs by June. I think they'll hit that number. Partnerships like Netflix, the Olympics and Jackass are great moves and will push them over the edge. On the downside I think you'll see a 60-40 split on those installs with 60% of them being the better Silverlight 2.0 runtime and the other 40% being stuck in 1.0 land.

2. AIR changes how people think of the web. Big claim, and obviously as an Adobe evangelist I'm biased, but I love AIR. The 1.0 release of AIR will be cool, people are already starting to check it out and I think people are thinking differently about how to create applications. But I'm most excited about two things on the AIR platform; Linux and version 2.0. If 2008 will finally be the year of Linux on the desktop then AIR is going to help. With a 2.0 release of AIR (I doubt this will be before the end of the year) we should start having things like being able to leverage native code and access devices. Those are going to take the platform to the next level.

3. The browser rides tall with the help of plugins. I talk a lot about the desktop but the browser world continues to innovate. Silverlight and Flash Player in a heated competition is only going to move that forward. We'll release Flex 3 this year and Silverlight 2.0 should ship this year which means browsers everywhere have the runtimes and programming models people need to create great rich Internet applications. I think this is the year we see browser vendors (even Mozilla) work closely with the creator of runtimes to take advantage of the new features so they can focus on making browsers faster and more stable instead of full of new features.

4. Collaboration becomes a big battle in the RIA space. The battle for creating the best collaboration experience is going to be fought by a number of big companies including Google, Microsoft, Adobe and a number of smaller but important players like Zoho. Web workers are going to be more important this year and they want solutions that help them work. We're seeing some of that with Google Docs and Spreadsheets, we've got Adobe Connect as well as Share and Buzzword and Microsoft's Office Live. That's a great first step but this year companies are going to focus more on audio, video, real time data, exchanging smart documents and data visualization. That will help drive both adoption of RIA technologies and the features of RIA platforms.

5. Ajax gets closer to the rich Internet application platforms. I think a lot of people in the Ajax community didn't see the value of incorporating things like Flash or Silverlight into their applications other than for a small video or for charts. Towards the end of this year I think that attitude changed. RIA companies are going to make it easier for Ajax developers to take bits and pieces of their platforms and Ajax developers are going to respond. We'll see a lot more "hybrid-RIAs" where developers use a combination of technologies. That will be another reason for the browser vendors to play nicely with plugins.

6. The designer/developer workflow gets a quality overhaul. Helping designers and developers work together on the same project is a hard problem. But this year we'll make big strides. The interactive designer community will get involved and help hash out some of the biggest problems. Thermo will be a huge step forward and will push Microsoft to do more with Blend. We won't be perfect by the end but we'll be engaging new communities and we'll have a lot of material to draw from to help really solve the problem in 2009.

7. The days of smaller RIA technologies are numbered. I hate to say it but I think technologies like OpenLaszlo and Curl will continue to gain traction in some niches but won't see widespread adoption. Those companies will still bring revenue but Microsoft and Adobe are pushing too hard and putting too many features into their runtimes for the smaller companies to keep up.

8. Apple makes a land grab for rich Internet applications but no one realizes it. This may have already happened but by the end of the year people will be talking about Apple's RIA strategy. They've got Safari/WebKit, they've got the iPhone and they've set the bar when it comes to experience. They don't have as many developers but that's starting to change so the only thing they need is an RIA tool that competes with Flash. I think that tool has to be coming this year and when it does people will start to talk about Apple and RIAs. They already have a great platform they just need to let people create on top of it.

9. Real time data becomes an important selling point for RIAs. I really hope this is the year of real time. I mentioned the collaboration angle above but I also think that the entire web is going to move in a more real time direction. Instead of sites that use the polling method to get data we'll see them start to use messaging to send data to the clients. This will have an impact on social networking, gaming, collaboration, finance, and every Web 2.0 startup. It's going to be a competitive advantage by the end of the year and if you don't have it you'll be out of luck. We've got BlazeDS an open source project that enables some of that functionality, LiveCycle DS, our big suite and Microsoft has Windows Communication Foundation which is one of the top selling O'Reilly books of last year. We're close.

10. There will be a fight for HD video on the web. Online video exploded last year and with the Blu-Ray/HD-DVD fight looking like there will be a winner people will turn towards the next generation of distributing media - the web. The web won't overtake those mediums overnight but the groundwork will be laid this year. I think penetration and runtime quality will be big factors as people want flexibility in how they consume media. Both Adobe and Microsoft will make an HD push with their runtimes as consumer demand goes up. You'll also see these technologies more easily incorporated downloaded files so they won't be used only online. Both have been able to do that for a while but recently with AMP we've seen more focus in that direction.

11. (Bonus!) Google. I have no clue what Google will do. They're going to be under more pressure to incorporate some aspects of RIAs such as richer collaboration, real time data and multimedia experiences. Do they push HTML 5 harder? Do they partner with Adobe or Microsoft? Apple? Google Gears will continue to get traction but I don't think we'll see widespread adoption even when they finally incorporate it into GMail. They've also got the Google Desktop which could play in their strategy at some point. Google is a big question mark for me.


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