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The Future of Rich Internet Applications 187

Can't Get Enough Ajax writes "While Ajax continues to get most of the attention these days in the space of rich Internet apps, the future 'face' of Web applications may consist of a combination of Ajax and plug-in technologies based on the new Flash development platforms or other plug-in models. Why? The challenges of building and maintaining sophisticated software in Javascript and the lack of support for audio and video are just two reasons that any RIA strategy will involve a mixture of Ajax and one or more technologies like Flex, Laszlo, or others. But while there are significant advantages to the new RIA technologies, there are also important trade-offs including breaking the model of the Web, lack of HTML support, and more. ZDNet's Dion Hinchcliffe has a round-up of the latest generation of RIA technologies, pros and cons of each, and why there is likely a 'war' brewing among them."
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The Future of Rich Internet Applications

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  • Re:Flash failed (Score:4, Informative)

    by kylner ( 639495 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @02:17PM (#16090257) Homepage

    Try Flex Builder 2. It's a much better Flash IDE for application development than Flash 8 is.

    Flash 8 strikes me as more for content and multimedia development. Flex, on the other hand, is geared towards web developers for web applications.

    We've started using it here at work for some smaller scale applications and really enjoy working in it. It's consistent, stable, and you can put together some really kick ass apps with it.

  • by siamesepurr771 ( 959086 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @02:47PM (#16090504)
    AJAX is free, easy to use, and people are using it now.

    Flex is free (the compiler), ease of use is a subjective measure, and people are using Flex now too.

    That Adobe flex uses coldfusion, we stopped using that and migrated to Tomcat.

    Negative. Flex has no reliance on ColdFusion. There are numerous ways for Flex (front-end) to talk to the server (back-end), ColdFusion being ONE of the ways. It can also talk to Java via Tomcat. For that matter, I can run ColdFusion ON Tomcat.

    Note that I've never written a Flex app - I state facts, not biases.
  • by rtilghman ( 736281 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @02:49PM (#16090518)
    A quick response/overview from someone who is actually working with more or less all of these technologies.

    The AJAX vs. Proprietary Debate
    Isn't really a debate, which the article kind of notes but doesn't really state. AJAX doesn't compete directly with any of these tools... Asynchronous Javascript and XML is a data delivery mechanism, NOT a presentation layer (if I hear one more person use AJAX to refer to DHTML I'm gonna scream). Flex, Lazlo, Nexaweb, etc. have aspects that compete with AJAX (Real-time Push in Flex/Flash being one that competes and bests AJAX), but drawing them in parallel is misleading. With SVG more or less dead in the water (yeah, AdobeMacromedia doesn't have much of an interest in further developing an OSS competitor to Flex) and no SVG support for IE 7.0, there is no viable presentation component for AJAX to make this argument viable.

    What the article gets right is that future application solutions are a combo approach that leverage a number of different technologies. For example, portals leverage AJAX/DHTML where possible to reduce page refreshes and increase basic interactive behavior (maybe with a framework to do the heavy lifting, though that has its own drawbacks) and something like Flex to supply visualization tools and whiz-bang interactive components on a more selection "superportlet" basis.

    Cost Effectiveness of Proprietary Solutions
    This is right on the money and a BIG reason to favor things like Flex. You'll actually spend more money developing and debugging tools in javascript and html than you will implementing with a robust end to end solution like Flex. From a UE perspective you're married to certain interactive behaviors the components you leverage (Flex isn't very good at exposing the underpinnings, read "Gold Support" here), but you get the benefit of tested methods and basic patterns that are generally at least "acceptable" from a usability perspective.

    Java for Visualization
    God help us all. I went there once on a trip... lost my granny, my dog got run over, and I came back with only 8 fingers.

    Plug-in Limitations of Approach
    Here we're mostly talking about Flash/Flex. I did an analysis not too long ago when I led a project doing a Flex 1.5 implementation (which sucked btw... don't even consider 1.5, not that Adobe would sell you on it anyway). What it comes down to is that Flash 9.0, which is the latest plug-in required to drive Flex 2.0, is at the beginning of its adoption, making this argument somewhat ligitimate. However, typical adoption patterns are a STEEP yield curve... you get to around 80%-85% within a year, get the next 10%-15% shortly thereafter (4-6 months), and pin down the final %5 over the next 5 years. Flickr has a good graphic to illustrate this. []

    The Flash 9.0 plug-in came out a couple months ago. What this means is that if you were to start developing an application now you'd likely launch with 80% adoption. So is it REALLY an issue right now? No, not unless you're developing a very targeted application on a very short timline. Additionally its worth noting that the generally plug-in updating architecture has improved dramatically after 6.0, so most users are now able to seamlessly update their players when prompted.

    Basically I would say this is a legitimate concern if you're audience profile/segmentation indicates very old hardware/software with virtually no technically ability (and I mean NONE here, even more than a web neophyte) then you may need to reconsider your approach.

    Application Accessibility
    This subject is left only partially discussed, and its the real 800lb gorilla in the room. Last week a US court handed down a decision against (it was on Slashdot). The gist is that Target was found to be inviolation of the ADA for their use of non-accessible content formats in their web site. This was the first t
  • by drgonzo59 ( 747139 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @03:48PM (#16091083)
    Java's WebStart solves this exact problem. We are not talking about Applets. These are more like full Java applications that the user can launch just by clicking on a link in the browser. The applications then load along with any necessary libraries and are cached on the users' computer. Optionally the user can even include it in the Start/Gnome/KDE menu.

    I wrote a quantum computing 3D visualization program in Java3D. The user can just click on the link in the browser and Java3D native libraries will be automatically downloaded and installed on the users' machine (of course after asking the user for permissions to do it) after that my application can use the native OpenGL drivers for fast 3D graphics. So it is both an Internet application (although it presently doesn't talk to a server in real time but it would also be possible) and it takes advantage of the fast native OpenGL graphics and the rich Swing GUI.

  • by jrumney ( 197329 ) on Tuesday September 12, 2006 @05:23PM (#16092033)

    There are cross-platform thin-client network solutions like VNC or Nomachine's NX. They do exactly what the web x.0 wants to do, they do it fast and they do it without all the bloat and packing/unpacking of (essentially very simple) data.

    You've got it backwards. VNC and the like send bitmaps across the wire. Bitmaps, even with compression, are more bloated and take more packing and unpacking than simple data. Other reasons to prefer AJAX, Flex [], Laszlo [], Altio [], Nexaweb [] or other similar frameworks rather than terminal server type products are:

    • Responsiveness - each mouse click or keystroke and pixel draw does not have to travel the network.
    • Scalability - the client is doing all the UI work, the server only needs to handle serving and saving the data
    • Ubiquity - web browsers are everywhere, Flash and Java plugins are nearly everywhere. VNC clients are confined to the IT department's desktops.
    • Firewalls - most firewalls will let you through on port 80. Many companies clamp down on port 5301 (or whatever)

    Also, the article gets it wrong when it states that these frameworks have suddenly started appearing in the last year since AJAX became popular. Aside from Flex, the products I've named above date back to around 2000. They're becoming more visible now that people are starting to see the possibilities of RIAs, but the 6+ year history behind some of these products means they're already stable, quality frameworks with good developer support.

System checkpoint complete.