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Native Web Applications (NWA) vs. Rich Internet Applications (RIA)

Sam Johnston

A rewrite of the Rich Internet Application (RIA) article (snapshot) is my latest contribution to Wikipedia following last year's full rewrite of the Cloud Computing article (which is now finally fairly stable and one of the main authoritative sources on the topic; according to the article statistics I've just done my 500th edit, or one every eight hours on average so it's about as up-to-date as you'll find).

Needless to say I agree wholeheartedly with Mozilla's Mark Finkle in saying RIA is Dead! Long Live Web Applications. There's still some niches (e.g. online gaming, video capture) but with HTML 5 bringing goodies like the VIDEO tag (even if commercial interests prevented standardisation on open standards like Theora) and next-generation browsers (e.g. Google Chrome) treating plugins like second-class citizens, it's only a matter of time before Rich Internet application Frameworks (yes there's a new Wikipedia category too) are relegated to specific use cases and enterprises with controlled client configurations.

Proliferation of mobile and alternative devices (e.g. Netbooks using Linux and/or ARM processors) is making it increasingly difficult for vendors who were already struggling to maintain penetration rates and having wildly successful devices like the iPhone totally off limits can't be helping (especially if Apple branch out into the Netbook space as they almost certainly will this year).

Just quickly on that topic, this will be true whether they enter the market with an embedded device (e.g. iPhone's stripped back OS X on ARM) or go for a full-blown thick client (e.g. OS X on Atom) as either way it would surprise me if the AppStore (with all its restrictions) didn't make an appearance. Unlike Microsoft, while Apple make virtually nothing on software sales to traditional thick clients the AppStore is a license to print money.

The rest of us will be able to enjoy what I call "Native Web Applications" (NWAs for those who insist on TLAs) from the device of our choice with nothing more than a recent, standards-compliant browse like Chrome, Firefox, IE 8 or WebKit. For now I define it as follows:

A Native Web Application (NWA) is a web application which is 100% supported out of the box by recent standards-compliant web browsers

You don't have to use this term if you don't want to (I can't think of a better one), but please make an effort to avoid referring to such applications as 'Rich Internet applications' irrespective of how 'rich' the interface appears. And no, using Ajax (which is based on existing web standards) does not make for an RIA, nor does releasing components of an RIA Framework as open source and/or open standards make for an NWA. It's becoming increasingly important to differentiate and while RIA need not be considered dirty words, the only way to reach everyone will be by going native.

By Sam Johnston, Director, Cloud & IT Services at Equinix
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agreed, RIA is dead Mark Nankman  –  Jan 17, 2009 12:59 PM PDT

Sam, nice post, and thanks for the link to my webkit prediction.
In the summer of last year, I also sort-a predicted the death of the RIA:
http://www.capgemini.com/technology-blog/2008/06/ria_becomes_synonym_for_websit.php
The RIA hype is over because RIA has proven itself. And it has also become unavoidable. User's expect nothing less than a rich, desktop-like UI.

disagree, RIA is not dead Kathleen Erickson  –  Jul 08, 2010 5:37 AM PDT

What Kool-Aid are you drinking and when is the re-write coming?

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