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What Are Rich Internet Applications (RIAs)?

Jun 27, 2008
Rich Internet Applications (abbreviated to RIAs) are pieces of software, which you access in your web browser, that closely mimic the behavior and functionality of desktop applications. A good example that most people are familiar with is Gmail, the email service by Google that behaves a lot like the email software installed on your computer.

In the early days of the Internet there were static pages of text and images connected together through hypertext links. To interact with a web site users normally clicked on something and waited for a new page to load. While hypertext links are still valuable, modern web browsers provide many ways for users to interact with web sites.

Today, there are word processors, spreadsheets, online games, and all kinds of other applications developed as RIAs. The advantage of RIA technology is that people can connect to a web site, use the software they need, and not have to install anything on their own computer. RIA technology also provides a consistent experience for people who use Macs, PCs and other systems.

There has been a real explosion of RIA technology on the web in recent years as consumers demand more functionality. Businesses are able to provide increased service levels to customers at a relatively low cost. RIA technology can provide a real win-win scenario.

Not so long ago, it was inconceivable for people to even think about accessing their bank accounts from a computer in their home, now we expect it. If a bank didn't offer online services, they would lose a lot of customers. We now expect a lot more interaction a lot faster than in the early days of the web.

Some RIA technologies include things such as Adobe Flash, Adobe Flex, Microsoft Silverlight, Ajax, and JavaFX. However, unless you are a software developer, you almost never have to worry about the choice of technology. Sometimes users may have to install a plugin (such as the Flash Player or Silverlight plugin), and other times the RIA will work with technology already built into the web browser.

Today, many companies rely on RIA technology to provide a competitive advantage. Youtube is one example of a site, providing a unique service and built with RIA technology (Adobe Flash and Ajax). You'll also find traditional web sites, like Amazon.com, sprinkling RIA technology liberally throughout their site.

Today, there is a growing RIA community that consists of software developers, business people who need to leverage the technology to compete, and end-users who want the most from their Internet experiences. It's an exciting time to be on the Internet with new fun and useful applications being launched every day.
About the Author
John Moore is a Web 2.0 expert who creates Rich Internet Applications. He has created the web's first RIA community at http://www.riaspot.com
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