Rich Internet Applications – A Background

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about a minute.

Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) combine the best user interface functionality of desktop software applications with the broad reach and low-cost deployment of Web applications and the best of interactive, multimedia communication. The end result is an application which provides a more intuitive, responsive, and effective user experience.

Rich Internet Applications Venn Diagram

More specifically, the best of the desktop environment includes providing an interactive user interface for validation and formatting, fast interface response times with no page refresh, common user interface behaviours such as drag-and-drop and the ability to work online and offline. The best of the Web includes capabilities such as instant deployment, cross-platform availability, the use of progressive download for retrieving content and data, the magazine-like layout of Web pages and leveraging widely adopted Internet standards. The best of communication means incorporating two-way interactive audio and video technologies.

This means that in a RIA environment, the client is capable of doing more than just rendering pages. It is able to perform computations, send and retrieve data in the background asynchronously from the user’s requests, redraw sections of a screen, use audio and video in a tightly integrated manner, and so forth, independently of the server or back end to which it is connected.

An RIA environment provides a strong technical platform that effectively restores the client’s abilities to be more like that of desktop software applications, or a traditional client in a client/server system. It fits into the traditional n-tier development process and integrates into legacy environments to extend existing applications without the need to rework them. And it also can serve as an interactive presentation layer above underlying Web Services. It is able to address various kinds of complexity. It enables development of applications that have complexity requirements, reducing the cost of development and frequently making development of such an application possible in the first place.

Because of their architecture and capabilities, RIAs have the potential to fundamentally change the way companies engage and interact with their Web users, leading to more effective user experiences with top- and bottom-line results.

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Why You Should Consider Rich Internet Applications

While Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) apply across a broad spectrum of industries and uses, one of their well-established merits is to allow a company to reduce the complexity that stands between where they are today with their traditional Web applications and where they want to be in the short to medium term. RIAs are consistently bringing companies closer to their vision of their application, closer to their customers, and closer to the business impact they believed the Web could actually have on their overall business model. This is expressed most clearly in what RIAs have allowed or enabled companies to do, namely provide Software as a Service (SaaS) as part and parcel of a Service Orientated Architecture (SOA).

The Future of the Rich Internet

The Internet has emerged from obscurity to become a dominant platform for application development and is integral to the idea of Software as a Service (SaaS). Unfortunately the demand to build applications of increasing complexity has continued to outpace the ability of traditional Web applications to represent that complexity and expectation. Utilisation of AJAX technologies attempts to reconcile some of the issues, but frequently the result is a frustrating, confusing or disengaging user experience resulting in unhappy customers, lost sales, and increased costs.

The Principles of Rich Internet Applications

The day of the emasculated Web 1.0 where the client-side was functionally poor, where the user interface was akin to the days of the mainframe computer, is rapidly diminishing and the new era of the Web 2.0 has yielded a new way of thinking. The demand for web applications, particularly in the business arena, is increasing at an exponential rate as the benefits of new technologies and paradigms are comprehended by the CTOs, CIOs and decision makers. Web interfaces have significantly restricted the interactive user experiences possible on the Web, and the ability of those Web applications to present increasingly complex information to the user, to date.