Web development gaining importance

Such software and services enter the realm of top 10 priorities of CIOs in Asia, ZDNet Asia survey finds.
Written by Sol E. Solomon, Contributor

CIOs in Asia are now looking more closely at Web software and services development, according to the ZDNet Asia IT Priorities Survey 2008/09.

For the first time this year, Web software and services development made it to the top 10 list in the latest installment of the annual online survey, which polled 722 IT decision makers in August.

Among the key technologies identified in this category were Adobe AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime), Microsoft's Silverlight and the AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) technique used in Web application development.

Tony Cripps, principal analyst at research firm Ovum, said both Adobe and Microsoft offer reputable developer tools and support, and are acknowledged market leaders in this area.

Cripps said in an e-mail interview: "One of Adobe's strengths is its support both for key Web standards and for its own proprietary technologies, many of which closely parallel those standards, but which have moved functionality further on." It is possible to combine both Adobe and standards-based technologies in an AIR application, he added.

Patrick Chan, IDC's Asia-Pacific chief technology advisor of Asia-Pacific emerging technologies research, said AIR is unique in that it packages Web-enabling and rich Internet application (RIA) technologies. This allows the tool to run outside the browser, on the user's local desktop, Chan said in an e-mail interview, noting that this feature may appeal to businesses looking to break free of browser and Web constraints.

Since AIR applications can locally access files, this functionality could prove to be a benefit as well as a disadvantage, depending on how security is governed, he said. "AIR apps are treated as native apps, and personal firewalls and policies can be applied to block AIR applications," he added.

AIR has already begun to gain some support from application vendors such as Business Objects and Model Metrics, that are leveraging the technology in their tools.

Companies in the region that are considering rolling out RIA technologies have to look at their in-house developers' knowledge of these applications, advised Chan.

Boosted by ecosystem
"Silverlight aligns well with developers having experience using Visual Studio tools and .Net, while AIR aligns well with Flex and Flash development skills," the IDC analyst said.

The ecosystem of toolsets around Silverlight, such as Microsoft's .Net platform, and those for AIR such as Flex Builder and Adobe Creative Suite, are also important elements to be considered, he added.

Cripps said Silverlight is likely to be popular in the .Net camp because both are Microsoft technologies, "but there's no clear-cut reason why AIR or AJAX should prove more popular with the Java camp". "If anything, AJAX and AIR will prove more popular with the existing Adobe camp", he said.

The extent of reach--or the number of PCs today, as well as the number of other future devices that support the Web technologies--will be a key decider on how widely used each technology becomes, said Cripps. But, he added that it is likely all will find widespread use, where individual devices will feature support for two or more of these Web platforms.

"Adobe also has a considerable headstart over Microsoft in industry adoption of key technologies such as Flash, although Microsoft is seemingly doing good business with Silverlight, which has already been adopted by some major media companies, for instance, ITV in the United Kingdom," he said. "Some reports have suggested that Silverlight offers very good performance for streaming video, which may be one of the reasons for this."

Chan said recent projects leveraging Silverlight include NBC's Beijing Olympics coverage, the U.S. Democratic National Convention and the Singapore's official Formula 1 Web site.

Currently, both Silverlight and AIR offer support beyond Windows. However, the IDC analyst noted, much work still remains for Silverlight in terms of education and continued support to open source communities and developers.

Both Silverlight and AIR can also integrate AJAX technologies and libraries for cross-platform capabilities, he added.

Cripps said AJAX has the potential to work in any "full" Web browser, regardless of the operating system or, in theory, device type.

"Silverlight, for the time being, is a browser plug-in for Internet Explorer on the desktop, but Microsoft already has the support of Nokia to put it on mobile phones, either as a plug-in or as a standalone environment--the latter in a similar way to AIR," he said.

According to Cripps, standalone runtimes have performance advantages in performance-constrained environments such as mobile phones. Browser plug-ins result in an additional overhead--created by the browser itself--and, are therefore, more appropriate for more powerful devices, he said.

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