Let Rich Internet Apps In Through the Back Door - InformationWeek
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Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
10/4/2007
09:35 AM
Nelson King
Nelson King
Commentary
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Let Rich Internet Apps In Through the Back Door

RIAs can be done in bits and pieces; a little Ajax here, a mashup there... The stuff of Rich Internet Applications - sophisticated user interfaces, multimedia, graphics - is more fun to program than, say, transaction algorithms. It's the kind of programming that will come in the back door no matter what. The wise IT manager will recognize the enthusiasm and promote it wherever it can be useful.

Every time there's a new technology, trend or technique in the computer industry, thousands of minds engage with the important questions of IF or WHEN to get into it and the well-known "technology cycle of adoption." I usually characterize the cycle like this: First adopters, early adopters, early majority, late majority, laggards, Luddites. The dynamics are fairly well understood; those who start early may have a competitive advantage but also run a higher risk of failure. Later adopters get more stable technology and better perspective, but may have little or no competitive advantage. Each organization gets to pick its strategy on a continuum from gung-ho to do-nothing.

This is the situation with Rich Internet Applications and the new software development ideas that go with it; and beyond that are the many facets of the so-called Web 2.0. I hear theme and variation on the IF and WHEN questions from IT people all the time. Even those shops that are already doing RIA development continue to re-visit the questions.Like so much in IT, RIA is both something old and something new. The idea of better software usability is ancient, although it took the personal computer revolution to kick it into high gear. The Internet was just another means of communication, but with the Web it quickly evolved into the engine of progressive computing. Still, there's much room for improvement. Traditional Web applications, based on page-oriented HTML were/are, in a nutshell, clunky. This is where RIA and associated tools and techniques (for example, Ajax) came in. Now the industry is rushing pell-mell to embrace better user interfaces for Web applications and incorporate the presentation power of graphics and streaming multimedia. I'm assuming nearly everybody in IT management knows something about this, and to one degree or another is facing the IF and WHEN questions. Here are a few observations:

- RIA development does not require the kind of systematic approach that's almost de rigueur for Web Services and SOA. It's usually better to fit the new programming techniques into a solid framework, and many will argue that SOA should be that framework. All I'm saying is that RIA projects can be and will be done without fitting them into an architecture. - RIA can be done in bits and pieces; a little AJAX here, a mashup there. I'm not saying this is the only way to get into Web 2.0 and RIA, but if left to their own devices, programmers will begin to incorporate rich elements. The stuff of Rich Internet Applications - sophisticated user interfaces, multimedia, graphics - is more fun to program than, say, transaction algorithms. It's the kind of programming that will come in the back door no matter what. The wise IT manager will recognize the enthusiasm and promote it into projects that are useful for the organization.

- RIAs will often work side by side with older programs rather than replacing them. In short, this is a powerful but evolutionary change.

- There is a difference between early adoption for the purpose of gaining experience, and early adoption to put something in front of the public. I've had the opportunity recently to interview some prime movers for Web 2.0 and RIA tools at companies such as Adobe and IBM. One thing that surprised me was how often they mentioned, to paraphrase, acquiring a taste for one's own dog food. To me this meant using their own tools and concepts in-house as a vital part of becoming familiar with RIA and Web 2.0. Even under severe competitive pressure, they use this approach to experience what it's like to be the first among first adopters. Not a bad strategy for any IT shop that may want to learn more about this particular technology adoption cycle.

Nelson King has been a software developer for more than twenty-five years. Further complications include being a computer-industry analyst, product reviewer and author (of nine books on database programming). He's been writing for Intelligent Enterprise (and its precursors) for more than ten years. Write him at nelsonking@earthlink.netRIAs can be done in bits and pieces; a little Ajax here, a mashup there... The stuff of Rich Internet Applications - sophisticated user interfaces, multimedia, graphics - is more fun to program than, say, transaction algorithms. It's the kind of programming that will come in the back door no matter what. The wise IT manager will recognize the enthusiasm and promote it wherever it can be useful.

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