Rich Internet Applications

Most of the time, my work involves mostly run-of-the-mill information management systems. Lately however, I’ve been asked to look into some new tech, and that got me interested in what’s called Rich Internet Applications (RIAs for short). The primary platform for RIAs is Flash, which apparently is already owned by Adobe and Macromedia is no more. Yeah, I never really paid attention to Flash, like most people I assumed it was only for making amusing movies and annoying ads. Also, Flash has always been a tool oriented towards people who are more design-oriented, not engineers or programmers like me. I mean, I load up Flash 8 and I have no idea how to do anything.

Lately however, Adobe has released a product called Flex, which is basically a programming API for generating SWF files using XML and the Flash scripting language, ActionScript. It’s pretty cool, and I’ve seen a few really nice demos of web applications done using Flash, some of which I highlighted in

recent links

. I’ve tried out Flex for a few days, and really it is SO AWESOME. There are some UI stuff that you can do that would be ridiculously difficult with traditional HTML/Javascript and those things are so easy using Flex. (Just one caveat: some of the demos I’ve seen so far are quite the resource hogs…)

The real power of Flex is the fact that it generates files that run on Flash Player, one of the most ubiquitous platforms on the web. I’m betting that Flash Player has a larger install base than Internet Explorer. So it’s really hard to compete with Flash as a web platform.

That doesn’t stop people from trying however. Lately, Microsoft announced

Silverlight

, a .NET-based RIA SDK of some sort. The screenshots seem to denote that it can do really cool things as well. Gee, it would be nice if I could experience it directly, but here’s what I got when I tried to install the runtime:


Problem installing Microsoft Silverlight

Gee, way to challenge Flash: make it difficult to install the runtime. I’m not even sure if I really don’t have Admin privileges on this machine, and you know what? I don’t care about Silverlight enough to find out. With Flash Player, sometimes people don’t even

know

it’s being installed.

Before Flex existed, the ability to create Flash-based webapps was mostly limited to developers who were patient enough to understand the Flash authoring tool. Flex opens up that platform to any developer with decent programming knowledge. Will this change the face of the internets? We’ll see…

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