Businesses have seen their use of IT change and the way that IT is implemented within their businesses, just as much as hardware and software has moved on. However, have we changed that much in the terms of how we choose to access and process content and data? Well, we have, and we haven’t…..
At first there was the mainframe, basically a central machine, and users accessed applications and data via “dumb” remote terminals. This has a number of draw backs, which meant implementations moved to having applications, and a lot of data at times, sitting on our PCs. This too had draw backs, and we moved to the client server model, where client PCs accessed data from the central server…..There are number of “flavours” of this too, utilising virtual servers, citrix type implementations etc etc. However, with the invention of the internet, many businesses started to have applications delivered to users via the web. This could be seen as the birth of internet applications….
Early web based applications were, well clunky. However things have moved on a lot, utilising technologies such as .NET, AJAX and Web Services. Organisations have started to use more web based applications (though delivered through intranets), simply because a lot of administration is removed from the IT department. However, this is a step back towards the “mainframe” model in many ways, with applications not actually being installed on the PC and most of the processing (if not all) being done by the server…..
Cloud computing and SaaS (Software as a Service)
On top of this client server, intranet and web application type environment, we now have cloud computing. Cloud computing is basically utilising an outsourced company’s hardware and underlying software components as your server. SaaS (Software as a Service) allows applications and software to be paid for and used, based on the amount of usage it gets. This is possible, as the application is basically a website or, a RIA….Think Hotmail for example…..
RIAs are basically website applications that are rich in their functionality and in some cases, usability. Many will give examples that use video, however, at heart it’s simply websites that do / carry out actual functions…
RIAs have a number of benefits, if implemented internally via an intranet or in a cloud computing based environment. They deliver many of the benefits of the mainframe model, however, they are therefore exposed to the same problems as the mainframe model was. That is ofcourse, if you think of RIA as applications that run in the web browser…But this is where things can get a little complicated…
HTML and the web architecture
The web architecture is basically that content is stored on the server, it is then delivered to the end user for display via a web browser. All the processing and content delivery is down to the server. This means it has many of the problems associated with the mainframe (though Google and Apple will claim it doesn’t….)….
The future for RIAs?
Just like IT moved away from the mainframe model, RIAs will move away from the traditional architecture of the web and HTML, even once HTML 5 is available. The reason being is simple, we need to be able to utilise data, applications and processing power of the actual PC, removing the load from the server. In addition, we need to be able to provide users with an end user experience that is just as good as what a user has come to expect from desktop based applications (websites just don’t compete).
So in today’s web architecture, how is this possible…Well by utilising a “plug-in” such as Flash or Silverlight, the application is effectively running as a desktop type application on the client PC. It has almost all the same benefits associated with a “thick client” application (especially if you are utilising Silverlight and its out of browser web capabilities) and all the benefits of the web architecture (reduced administration at the client PC level, ease of application updates etc).
HTML 5 alas will utilise some processing power of the client PC, however it will be very limited and the processing will be carried out by the actual browser itself. This means there could be any number of issues with cross platform and cross browser behaviour, especially since different browsers still interpret HTML 4 differently (providing different results to end users)….
What does this mean for Business?
It means business has another model in which to move to. With RIAs being developed in Silverlight, organisations can have applications and IT that combines all the benefits of the internet architecture, with all the benefits of the traditional client server architecture…Effectively the best of both worlds…
It seems that businesses are already engaging with RIAs and turning to Silverlight and Flash to deliver these next generation RIAs. The number of businesses implementing RIAs rose to 34% in 2009, up from 26% in 2008. This way of implementing IT will only grow, be it internally via intranet based solutions, or via cloud computing and SaaS….
So if you are looking at new applications and software for your organisation, then think RIAs, does the vendor provide RIAs? If not, then perhaps you should be looking elsewhere….