Get Ready. RIA’s are coming…

Talk to any application developer focusing on “keystrokes” (i.e., the coding of application functionality) — whether they’re a desktop, enterprise or Web app creator — and they’ll go on-n-on about the limitations of the Web browser as an interface and that they have to shoehorn stuff into this now primary front-end to internet-centric application functionality.

Next chat with any creative agency or firm that is focused on “brushstrokes” charged with the responsibility of design and delivery of Web-based user interfaces. You’ll hear their tales of woe about browser and platform incompatibilities, color and gamma differences and that synchronizing their graphical brushstroke creations with the back-end keystroke functionality is an ongoing and enormous challenge.

Enter Rich Internet Applications (RIA’s).

I’m a strong believer that the next generation of applications will be built — and are already being built — upon the platform known as the internet (i.e., that whole Web 2.0 meme). RIA’s will absolutely, positively accelerate and take internet application functionality far beyond today’s relatively simple DHTML/AJAX Web application approach.

One great example of an RIA (though arguably isn’t being positioned as such nor were any of the current RIA-type tools used to create it) is Apple’s iTunes and is useful to look at since it approximates what’s coming with RIA’s. It’s useful as a desktop app for organizing media, but is really useful when connected to the ‘net (downloading album art; buying music, TV and movies; subscribing and downloading podcasts, etc.).

One of my daily reads, Read/Write Web by Richard MacManus, has a short and sweet introduction post about RIA’s that’s worth reading and then go peek at some examples: here, here and here. For me, I’m personally pumped to deliver ebooks that act like self-updating publications (e.g., every time they’re launched they could go look for updated content over the ‘net) and ones that have self-contained media and application functionality (like dynamic slide shows, etc.) within them that could also be self-updating. Transaction functionality within it will be icing-on-the-cake.

Control and flexibility is strongly desired by both the keystrokers and the brushstrokers. Providing tools that synchronize, orchestrate and coordinate efforts is not a trivial challenge, but the payoff is so huge that the giants are chasing it.

AJAX apps (like Gmail) are a simple and limited development paradigm but is one that people are using right now since it’s a quick way to build desktop-like feel into a Web app. All the strategic level technical people I know have informed me that AJAX, while cool, isn’t a scalable, extensible or enabling methodology (and many have said, “AJAX is dead!”).

RIA’s are coming…and fast. Adobe bought Macromedia for a host of strategic reasons (e.g., Flash; richer PDF’s; web conferencing; platform for RIA’s) and Microsoft’s Design Tools division (disclaimer: it’s headed by a guy I’ve known for 20 years and whom I’d crawl through broken glass for, Doug Olson) are both driving toward the goal of delivering the enabling tools to empower creatives and developers so the next generation of RIA’s can be delivered.

The whole RIA paradigm is going to be a battle of the titans and will be interesting to see who wins the war for standards, protocols and approaches. Adobe/Macromedia has their rich history of design, desktop hegemony with enabling creative tools as well as the ubiquity of both PDF and Flash, while Microsoft has deeper technical acumen from desktop to server and will be much better at tools for the keystrokers. Either way it goes, we’ll all be better off with accelerating functionality delivered to our desktop, device or in-browser and the next leap forward will occur.

More information here:

  • Adobe information is here
  • Microsoft’s info is here
  • I also wouldn’t dismiss OpenLaszlo which is now a fully supported, open source RIA development environment part of the Eclipse Foundation.

If you do nothing else, just keep one eye peeled for this small RIA stream flowing. Know that it’s raining like hell up in the mountains and this little stream is guaranteed to become a wall of water rushing toward you within the next 12-18 months. You’ve still got time to figure out how you’ll play (if you’re a keystroker or brushstroker) or what your company could deliver if you’re a strategist.

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3 Comments

  1. JD on EP on September 22, 2006 at 4:14 pm

    Borsch on RIA

    Borsch on RIA: Steve Borsch offers an intro to Rich Internet Applications, written for the technology community at large. He says something here that many don’t admit aloud: “AJAX apps (like Gmail) are a simple and limited development paradigm but is o…



  2. The Universal Desktop on September 25, 2006 at 2:45 am

    Universal Desktop Daily – Monday, September 25, 2006

    I apologize for the lack of UDDs last week. I was in San Francisco Thursday and Friday where I got to have some great conversations with folks at Adobe about their products. I have a lot that I want to cover here about that visit, so check back over th…



  3. Chris Douglass on February 2, 2007 at 10:55 am

    nice article.

    what’s somewhat if not astoundingly perplexing to some of us keystrokers is just how long the RIA concept took to get momentum. as a win32 c++ guy that likes to dig underneath it all, it’s always amazed me how no one seemed to get or see how easy it would be write a disconnected-capable, net-aware desktop app.

    and what about all of the energy, resources, creativity, etc spent putting out all matter of 3d games for several years now? no one thought it would be a good idea to build a toolset for desktop developers that incorporated real 3d into the UI for desktop apps? sure they thought about it but no one did it with any success. strange…

    ah well, to me RIA is just a nice name for desktop apps that are reasonably smart enough to invoke web services and then do everything desktop apps do: run fast, give the user a full experience, and put the power of desktop processing in the right place – in the user interface. oh, i mean user experience….

    this industry is just plain weird sometimes… anyway, keep up the good work.



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