Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
6/26/2007
09:47 AM
Nelson King
Nelson King
Commentary
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Squinting at the Future of Rich Internet Apps

Whatever you think a Rich Internet Application is today, it won't be like that a few years from now. It's predictable that someday RIAs (or whatever they'll be called) will be a much more sophisticated amalgam of networked media, data, and programming. If I may bend a term used by composer Richard Wagner, RIAs will be like a Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he meant a work of art (opera) that unites many works of art (drama, music, scenic design)...

What is a Rich Internet Application? The Wikipedia entry says: "Rich Internet Applications (RIA) are Web applications that have the features and functionality of traditional desktop applications. RIAs typically transfer the processing necessary for the user interface to the Web client but keep the bulk of the data (i.e. maintaining the state of the program, the data etc.) back on the application server. RIAs typically: run in a Web browser, or do not require software installation; run locally in a secure environment called a sandbox; and can be 'occasionally connected'."Whatever you think a Rich Internet Application is today, it won't be like that a few years from now. It's predictable that someday RIAs (or whatever they'll be called by then) will be a much more sophisticated amalgam of networked media, data, and programming. If I may bend a term used by composer Richard Wagner, RIAs will be like a Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he meant a work of art (opera) that unites many works of art (drama, music, scenic design); or in this case, applications developed by blending many components: graphics, animation, streaming media (video, sound), database content, text, user interface elements, business logic, and so forth.

As a matter of technology and technique we have a long way to go before we achieve easy and seamless integration for all of this; but I feel very strongly that this is where we're heading. The motivations behind making Web applications have "the features and functionality of desktop applications" will not stop with achieving that goal. Web technologies and Web capabilities (such as those being explored in Web 2.0 applications) bring something new to applications. Networking users adds another dimension, of course, but the ways in which the Web enables networking are unique, if only in scale. The desire to give the user a better, more efficient experience will drive developers to create RIAs that do more than traditional desktop applications. For example, even routine business applications, those requiring "basic" forms and reports, will be incorporated into rich frameworks that employ graphics, animation, video, sound, and sophisticated interactive techniques.

However, for the time being, applications and developers tend to specialize. For example, we usually develop video applications or video components of larger applications separately. The same is generally true for the use of sound, interactivity, data presentation, business rules…and so forth. Perhaps we'll always need specialists in these areas, but what's missing is the ability to orchestrate (there's that Wagner thing again) all the elements within an application. It will be interesting to watch the evolution of RIA development environments as they tackle the wider possibilities of rich web-enabled applications-because that is where the future and profitable opportunity lies.Whatever you think a Rich Internet Application is today, it won't be like that a few years from now. It's predictable that someday RIAs (or whatever they'll be called) will be a much more sophisticated amalgam of networked media, data, and programming. If I may bend a term used by composer Richard Wagner, RIAs will be like a Gesamtkunstwerk, by which he meant a work of art (opera) that unites many works of art (drama, music, scenic design)...

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