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The Business Value of RIAs: An Informal, Virtual Round Table

It's a "perfect storm" for Rich Internet Applications right now, just add up the factors...

Ted Goddard, the senior architect of the ICEfaces AJAX framework, agreed with Bert Halstead than multiple factors are converging to make this year a Tipping Point for RIAs.

"Developers and managers are now familiar with the usability benefits of AJAX," Goddard said, "so they know what they want. The industry has also matured, giving adopters the confidence to proceed."

Also like Halstead, Goddard's company is seeing very tangible signs: "We're seeing that more and more with organizations standardizing on ICEfaces." The reasons, according to Goddard, are plain:

"With the combination of AJAX Push and Transparent application development, ICEfaces is the best choice for enterprise Java applications - so we're very well positioned in terms of technology. Capitalization for ICEfaces is driven by a standard open source business model (services, support, and training) on top of a rapidly growing user base."
Mention of open source led to asking Judah Phillips from Reed Business Information whether he thought that a usable RIA Interface theme library would perhaps save designers from re-inventing the wheel, as RIAs mushroom across the global technology landscape.

"I'd be a fan of an open source RIA interface theme library," Phillips said. "But I think that companies that want to differentiate their RIAs may end up crafting their own."

That said, Phillips added that for companies that don't have resources, an interface theme library could help promote more quicker adoption and speedier and wider deployments of RIAs.

But the CEO of siteMagix Sam Ellsamann disagreed:

"Having a single reusable RIA interface library is a non-starter because there are too many players with too many different ideas and approaches to this problem. So for now any developer must fully buy into a particular vendor's view of the world and forgo innovations in competing platforms. I don't see any easy solutions to this and suspect that the best we could hope for is to end up with more common design patterns around the key platforms and for vendors to take a more atomic approach to library components that would further the ability to mix and match."
Ellsaman sounded a note of caution too about the contention currently being made by some that RIAs are approaching, or have already reached, enterprise-strength levels of maintainability, reliability, availability, scalability, performance and security.

He expressed his concerns as follows:

"Scalability yes, reliability not quite, performance depending on many factors. Security no. We have a ways to go but the key point will come when the benefits outweigh these limitations. At that point the momentum will pick up and the other issues will get solved."
A sentiment share vigorously by Java Kid Simon Morris, who when asked what the three most burning questions facing RIA developers in 2008 were answered:
"Security! Security! And, erm, Security!!!"
"Sure, you won't lose sensitive data when your laptop gets stolen," Morris continued, "but RIAs introduce new threats. These can be managed successfully if RIAs are written with security in mind. But security is not something which can be retro-fitted. We need a standardized, consistent, easy to use (as hard as possible to shoot oneself in the foot) framework which addresses the issues of software and data living on the Internet."

Last word goes to Appcelerator's Jeff Haynie:
"In order for RIAs to gain serious traction, we believe developers need an integrated platform that supports designing the “look and feel” of the application, supports widgets from multiple libraries (ExtJS, Dojo, Yahoo YUI, etc.), enables them to add dynamic behavior (event handling and DOM manipulation) through the integration of various JS libraries, and provides them with the tools they need to integrate with or develop new services on the fly. This is what the Appcelerator Platform is all about, and we believe others will follow similar models to increase the speed and flexibility of developing SOA-ready RIAs for the enterprise."
Appcelerator’s competitive advantage, says Haynie, will be its commitment to open source, open standards and openness to change. "We’re not building a proprietary solution that will be limiting for some users – we want Appcelerator to be the epicenter where all technologies and knowledge can be aggregated for the greater good – enabling all developers and organizations to build next-generation RIAs that seamlessly integrate with and extend the value of their SOAs," he adds.

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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