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Could IE8 derail Rich Internet Applications?

17. March 2008 by thebeebs 2 Comments

I’ve been stuck on RIA’s now for a few days and after reading Sebastien Arbogast blog What Does it Take to Be a Good RIA Platform? It got me thinking, all of the points he raised can be answered by existing AJAX technology and with AJAX support improving at the Browser Level are RIA's really bringing anything valuable to the Internet?

I remember being told back in 2000 that an a few year all websites will be flash based… Quite obviously they were wrong infact people disliked full flash website's because they often broke key functionality:

  • You can’t cut and paste
  • You can’t link back to your exact point with a URL
  • If you refresh you back to the start of the application
  • SEO problems
  • If you press stop you may not end execution
  • Back and forward buttons are broken.

Of course all these tiny problems can be addressed, but none are fixed out of the box and many developers neglect to deal with them. This means users are often confused by what’s happening in an RIA and what they expect to happen on a website. This is the case in Flex and Silverlight.

So back to the 5 points of good RIA – lets take a look and see how many Ajax answers:

  1. the runtime has to be as widespread and portable as possible:  - AJAX is available on more browsers than flash or silverlght
  2. behind the fancy stuff, the code has to be simple, clean and state-of-the-art: Ajax is now a breeze to code. Visual studio 2008 has intellisense and full step by step debugging of JavaScript. There are even engines which can now convert C# code into JavaScript . Even PHP/Ajax debugging is made easier in the latest version of Microsoft Expression. Fact is it’s never been easier to write an Ajax application.
  3. it has to be supported by a wide variety of development tools: It can be produced and consumed on all systems and published on all servers, its about as supported as an Internet technology can be.
  4. RIA is all about the presentation layer, so it has to be connected to some backend to be useful, and the more backends it supports the better: Connecting Ajax to a backend is in many ways easier than Flex and silverlight.
  5. it has to be deployable on any platform: Of course it is.

You may be thinking; Well what difference does IE 8 make? LOTS, if you take a look at the browser it’s fixed a great deal of issues that relate to Ajax development.

  • Browser back button is now fixed.
  • An event has been in place to tell you when a connection to the Internet has been lost so you can switch to offline database storage.
  • IE8 is a fully standard compliant browser so developers won’t have to worry about different browser interpretations.

A real difference is the visual effects and smoothness of a RIA, but to be honest I think http://www.mindmeister.com/ is probably better than the user experience of http://www.musicovery.com/

The other benefit of RIA is speed because RIA's are compiled and aren't performing all that costly server client communication, but with all that said, facebook seems plenty responsive to me.

I still think it’ll be a longtime yet before we see RIA take over AJAX in popularity. Over the next year I think the trend will be mixed applications (AJAX and silverlight interacting together) rather than stand alone RIA's.

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