What are Rich Internet Applications (RIAs)

Rich Internet Applications are changing how we experience the World Wide Web. They are the newest talk in the WWW town. Read through to know more about RIAs - the new hype!
| Thursday, September 11, 2008

Since the invention of the World Wide Web by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau in 1990 and the first web browser by Tim Berners-Lee himself in 1991; the World Wide Web has undergone radical changes in its philosophy and approach. As we see today, most web pages are built using Hyper Text Markup Language or the more familiar name HTML. There are also times when we come across flash or other media content. It is quite obvious that the Internet is covered with zillions of web pages maximum of them designed using HTML or other scripting technologies. So, what is all the talk about Rich Internet Applications, what are they, what is their purpose and what is their future? Read on to know more…

What are Rich Internet Applications (RIAs)

The concept of Rich Internet Applications has been there for some time now. It was first introduced by Macromedia in March 2002. Rich Internet Applications which are also called as Rich Internet Clients (RICs) are basically user interfaces designed for the web. They exist to provide enhanced and improved functionality over traditional HTML user interfaces. They make user experience exciting, engaging and more satisfactory. RIAs are not limited to serving up as pages on the internet put they can also be deployed across desktops.

RIAs are beginning to get wide acceptance in the IT community due to their ability to deliver increased productivity, customer loyalty and Return on Investment (ROI) for organizations. Seeing interactive charts and graphs rather than typical table based presentation is certainly a plus. Obviously, Rich Internet Applications are more than just charts and graphs. They are more about the feeling a user experiences while trying to do something – which can be as simple as a mouse click on button or drag and drop operations. Designing RIAs is trying to understand the feel and the purpose of the user interacting with it.

You may have noticed a lot of websites which are built using Adobe Flash. There are a lot of problems associated with using Flash such as the limitation or difficulty of search engine spiders to crawl flash based content. Developing applications in traditional flash is also a cumbersome task for developers. Most developers who are not designers lack control over many aspects of developing and deploying flash based applications. RIAs provide answers to all these problems. For a start, RIAs can be crawled by search engine spiders as the operating logic in RIAs is code based. Adobe Flex makes use of Action Script and Microsoft Silverlight uses XAML to help build Rich Internet Applications. Adobe Flex and Microsoft Silverlight both are products that can be used to build Rich Applications (be it for internet or not). Explaining Action Script or XAML is beyond the scope of this article.

Technologies Driving Rich Internet Applications

Developments in the field of designing, developing and deploying Rich Internet Applications have taken giant strides. Corporations like Adobe and Microsoft are on the forefront of providing developers with versatile and powerful tools to design and deploy RIAs quickly and efficiently. Sun Microsystems too, has come up with an answer to RIA in the form of its new development tool called Java FX. It is only time which can tell, which technology would gain an upper hand in the RIA arena.
The following are some of the technologies which can be used by designers and developers to build and deploy RIA:

  • Microsoft Silverlight by Microsoft Corporation
  • Adobe Flex by Adobe Systems
  • Java FX
  • Adobe AIR by Adobe Systems
  • Microsoft Expression Suite by Microsoft Corporation
  • AJAX

Future of Rich Internet Applications

Although RIAs hold a promise to deliver to the World Wide Web, it is quite imperative that their applications in the WWW would be limited. This is due to the very nature and foundation ground on which the World Wide Web was built. RIAs won’t be seen everywhere in the near years but just where they need to be seen. People already have got used to seeing chunks of text around the web and a graphical user interface although appealing to them won’t drive them all the time. There may be cases of marginal use of these technologies which would be more acceptable for an end user than a total revamp to RIA.
RIAs are very intriguing, appealing and engaging but they carry their own limitations such as need for a good speed internet connection and installation of the RIA runtime on the client side. Most people throughout the globe struggle for a better internet connection, so chances of them staying on RIA enabled websites is low.

Although RIA possess these limitations, but they still hold true to deliver better user experience and satisfaction. It is for sure that time would come when there would be more acceptance by the end user towards this concept.

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