The Future of the Rich Internet

by Simon. Average Reading Time: about 2 minutes.

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.

We are in a period of expanding opportunity for Internet and intranet applications. The growth in adoption and usage of the Internet has acted as a driver behind technology spending, spawned such terms as Service Orientated Architecture (SOA), Software as a Service (SaaS) and Web Services, and enterprise integration trends that seek to combine back-office infrastructures with new front-office applications and the Internet.

Integral to this is the need to communicate better with employees, customers, suppliers, and partners. Intranet applications, including enterprise information portals and employee facing applications, are increasingly depended upon to share information across a company, while outwardly focused extranet applications seek to more tightly bind networks of partners, suppliers and customers and make communication, business transactions and support easier.

A key reason Web applications cannot represent these types of complexity is because of the limitations of HTML pages. The Internet grew up on the notion of a network of loosely coupled, unintelligent clients that communicate with increasingly intelligent servers by sending requests for pages. The emergence of Rich Internet Applications (RIA‘s) has served to blur the distinction between the desktop and the Web and has resulted in smart, powerful and dynamic user interfaces. RIA‘s seek to combine the best of the desktop, Web and communication technologies.

As one would expect, the driving forces behind Rich Internet Applications are the big guns in the technology and Web industry; namely Adobe, Google and Microsoft. Each company has produced their own RIA platforms:

Rich Internet Applications

Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)

AIR is a cross-operating system runtime that allows developers to leverage their existing web development skills Flash, Flex, HTML, Ajax) to build and deploy desktop RIA‘s.

Applications can be built using the following technologies:

  • Flash / Flex / ActionScript
  • HTML / JavaScript / CSS / AJAX
  • Combination of these technologies
  • PDF can be leveraged with any application

Adobe Integrated Runtime can be found at http://labs.adobe.com/technologies/air/

Google Gears

Google Gears is an open source browser extension that lets developers create web applications that can run offline.

Google Gears consists of three modules that address the core challenges in making web applications work offline.

  • LocalServer Cache and serve application resources (HTML, JavaScript, images, etc.) locally
  • Database Store data locally in a fully-searchable relational database
  • WorkerPool Make your web applications more responsive by performing resource-intensive operations asynchronously

Google Gears can be found at http://gears.google.com

Micrsoft Silverlight

Silverlight is a cross-browser, cross-platform plug-in for delivering the next generation of .NET based media experiences and rich interactive applications for the Web. Silverlight offers a flexible programming model that supports AJAX, VB, C#, Python, and Ruby, and integrates with existing Web applications. Silverlight supports fast, cost-effective delivery of high-quality video to all major browsers running on the Mac OS or Windows.

Microsoft Silverlight can be found at http://silverlight.net

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Refactoring the Web with Mozilla Prism

Both Web 2.0 and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) almost always depend up on the browser as a common denominator. It is with the web browser that web-based applications are accessed and run, yet the browser model is rapidly reaching its limitations. Prism is part of an experiment by Mozilla designed to bridge the divide in the user experience between web applications and desktop applications.

Future Directions for Rich Internet Applications

Rich Internet Applications are just the beginning. A key trend taking place throughout the Web industry is the urgency to integrate disparate systems and software tools to reduce costs, increase developer productivity, reduce the need for manual processing and intervention in transactions, and decrease time to market. To achieve these objectives, organisations have endorsed the adoption of standards-based systems combined with the migration to Web Services and Service Orientated Architecture. This has led to a requirement to create a consistent and intuitive interface to applications, data and services. The immediate goal of these efforts is to provide simpler, quicker and more efficient access and processing of information.

Web 2.0 and Beyond with Silverlight and XAML

Microsoft is finally making real efforts to woo the designer community who have traditionally worshipped the Adobe and Mac product ranges. One new product that addresses this previously overlooked community is Silverlight, which uses the XAML technology and is touted as Microsoft’s Flash killer. For anyone who is keen to listen, Microsoft proposes that Silverlight will achieve similar results to Flash, but it does so in an entirely different way and has different aims. So, the big question is, will Microsoft be able to break the dominance of Adobe’s Flash platform, that is available on the PC, Mac and mobile devices alike? I’m sure the jury is out on that one, but it can be said it is an uphill task.

  • So what do you think about these different options Simon? How do you think they compare?


  • As a developer I need to target multiple platforms and as such I find Silverlight an interesting technology. I do however think that the postulations from the Microsoft camp that it’ll be a AIR/Flex/Flash killer is somewhat miss-placed. I don’t really trust Microsoft to produce an acceptable alternative to Flash and it will face an up-hill struggle against a technology that is now so deeply rooted in the developer/designer community.

    Adobe has always been good at creating tools for the designer/developer, hence the reason they are No.1, and now that they have made moves to opensource ActionScript 3.0 and created plugins for Eclipse, it can only serve to bolster the community. Basing Actionscript on ECMAScript is also a great move as standards compliance is key to the adoption and maturity of a technology.

    As regards Google, a lot of great ideas come out of Mountain View, but unless they make bold steps at maturing their technologies and moving things out of beta, I feel their technology will remain simply a play thing.