Why Rich Internet Applications are important for the browser

Rich Internet Applications span all kinds of software deployment models. I had a fun conversation with Ted Leung tonight and he made me realize that one of the huge selling points behind real RIA technologies is that they enable *actual* applications in a browser. Ajax just doesn't cut it, which is why the RIA evolution is so important.

At Ignite Seattle this evening I hung out with Ted Leung for a while and we chatted about Rich Internet Applications (RIAs). Coming from the open source world, he always has a very interesting take on the RIA world and I always learn a ton from him. In this case, he mentioned something off hand that really resonated with me: If we're going to deliver applications in the browser, then we need something better. For him, and for a lot of people, that's where Rich Internet Applications really shine.

There has been a tremendous amount of attention on getting "back to the desktop" with technologies like Apollo and Windows Presentation Foundation that enable some very rich, design-friendly experiences outside the browser. But there is still a very large contingent out there that thinks the browser will be the best way to deliver applications. But if that is the case, then we have to have a model that enables the browser to actually do that. Trying to build real applications using JavaScript that requires a tedious development cycle and a lot of per-browser workarounds just isn't going to cut it. From Ted's point of view, that is what makes the idea of open source Flash so compelling (and important). We get all the richness and robustness of Flash, but in a platform that anyone can contribute to and help grow.

This isn't a post about open source, but the conversation did leave me thinking. Mozilla has started to really expand on what the "browser" is, and they're pushing hard in the direction of making it a viable application platform. Even companies like Dekoh are using Java to help developers create applications inside the browser. But to me, Flash is still light-years ahead. The only perceived knock is that it isn't as open as the other technologies. But we're seeing innovation in the rich, browser based application space. "WPF/E" is the most notable one, and I'm excited to see what Microsoft's vision for the browser based application is at MIX. (Steve Borsch has some interesting thoughts here)

Part of the appeal of Rich Internet Applications is that they are about delivering the next generation of software. They're about supporting the convergence of the web and the desktop and giving developers the freedom to choose the best platform for their needs. In some cases, having access to the desktop will be the requirement. In other cases, browser based applications will be perfect. RIAs span both categories. In the end, it's about the experience, the richness, and the power of building real software. RIAs provide a way to do that that hasn't existed before, and that's why they're so exiting. They change the game in so many ways.


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