Rich Internet Applications and Frameworks

July 26, 2010

Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) are web applications that although they behave like common desktop applications, they are usually hosted on cloud servers and delivered through the Internet. Thanks to Ajax, a method that web applications use to make server requests using JavaScript without having to reload the web page, they behave in a very similar way to a desktop application, in terms of user interactivity and responsiveness.

Adobe Flash, Java and Microsoft Silverlight are currently the three top platforms for Rich Internet Applications, with penetration rates of around 99%, 80% and 45% respectively. Although new web standards such as HTML5 have emerged and the compliance of web browsers with those standards has somewhat improved, the need for plug-in based RIAs has not diminished, even with the emergence of JavaScript-based desktop-like widget sets that provide alternative solutions for mobile web browsing.

Among some of the features we find in Rich Internet Applications are:
* Searchability: Although RIAs present indexing challenges to search engines, Flash content is starting now to be at least partially indexable.
* Complexity of advanced solutions typically reduces in RIAs compared to traditional application software
* Consistency of user interface and experience becomes controllable across operating systems
* Installation and maintenance of plug-ins, sandboxes or virtual machines, though required, make applications smaller than their predecessors and typically allow automated updates.
* Offline use is also possible by retaining state locally on the client machine
* Security can improve over that of application software through use of sandboxes and automatic updates
* Performance can improve by using a wider range of controls to improve users’ interaction with the interface, allowing efficient interactions, better error-management, feedback and overall user experience.
* Richness by way of features not supported natively by the web browser, such as video capture, drag and drop, using a slider to change data, calculations performed by the client, etc.

Rich Internet Applications are being used for mobile applications, as well as in online gaming and applications which require access to video capture, although their possibilities are endless. However, RIAs are much more difficult to design than either websites or desktop applications. The richer interaction requires a better understanding of users and of human-computer interaction as well as a technological prowess that although is not quite readily available in today’s market, it will undoubtedly be in the no-so-distant future.