Common misconceptions about Rich Internet Applications

Ryan Stewart blogs about Why do tech journalists get Rich Internet Applications so wrong.

I don’t agree with everything he says, especially this one:

AIR is a difficult thing to grasp because running web apps on the desktop hasn’t been done before.

I suppose there might be a way to define “web apps” that excludes everything prior to AIR, but it would be difficult. I’m composing this blog post in Windows Live Writer – I consider this to be a desktop web app, especially the latest version which synchronizes the local copy of a post with what is on the web. Many of the widgets and gadgets in Vista or Yahoo! Widgets or the Mac Dashboard are web apps. Apple’s iTunes is a hybrid web/desktop application; it includes an online store that runs outside the browser. Any Java or .NET application which retrieves data from the internet via web services is a web app. Even running HTML applications on the desktop has been done before, for example with Microsoft’s HTML Application model. If you exclude anything that is not cross-platform then the list is shorter – but you still have Java and Mono; iTunes is cross-platform; and even AIR won’t do Linux in its first release.

That said, I agree that there is a far amount of confusion out there. Half the problem is that the terms are overloaded. As I understand it, Adobe’s use of the term Rich Internet Applications includes almost any web application beyond HTML, whether or not it is running in the browser – though usually what Adobe really means is “any application that uses the Flash runtime”.

I often see Silverlight and AIR treated as close competitors, yet Silverlight is for browser applications, and AIR is for desktop applications.

Some assume that Silverlight is Windows-only, but it is not, it runs on Intel Mac and Mono is doing amazing work with Moonlight – Silverlight for Linux.

Another wrong assumption is that because AIR applications run on the desktop, they can do anything a native code desktop application can do. In reality they have no access to native code libraries.

Adobe had us all thinking that it was somehow adopting Google’s Gears – I was fooled by this – but it is not at all; it just happens to have the same open source database engine in its own project.

So the other reason tech journalists “get it wrong” is because the whole “beyond HTML” story is complex and hard to put across in a few words. That is what we are meant to be good at, but there is always a danger of over-simplifying to the point of inaccuracy.

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