Summary of the Report

I was recently invited to evaluate a Butler Group Report on “Rich Web Applications”. I was impressed by the quality of this report, which is very timely for those organisations which may be considering the development or Rich Web Applications (RWA) or Rich Internet Applications (RIA). And higher educational organisations which are involved in software development should, I feel, have a strong interest in this area, whether this is in applications which run within a Web browser (Google Maps providing a good example of a RWA) and Internet applications which do not require a Web browser (Google Earth is a good example of a RIA).

This 267 page report suggests that RIA will provide the default approach to application development in the near future, with this approach currently in the transition from being used by the early adopters through to mainstream acceptance.

Of particular interesting to those actively involved in JISC development strategies, including the JISC E-Framework, is the view that RWA and Web 2.0 ideas are being transferred to Enterprise Web 2.0. Similarly the report’s suggestion that importance of Software as a Service (SaaS) will be boosted by RWA is very closely aligned with the JISC’s Information Environment, and the well-established tradition of providing networked-based services for the academic sector.

The report provides a useful overview of the different approaches to the development of RWA, ranging from Ajax toolkits and widget libraries and use of browser plugins (such as Adobe’s Flash player, Java applets and Microsoft Silverlight) and RIA development environments including Java or .NET.

The report then provides an overview of the main development cheap generic medications online environments, suggesting that the Adobe Flex and Nexaweb platform are early leaders in the field, with Microsoft’s Rich User Experience (which seems to be a generic name which refers to Microsoft’s .NET Framework and Silverlight run-time browser plugin) and Sun’s Visual Web Pack and Netbeans IDE also worthy of consideration.

Implications for the Sector

If the report is correct in its views on the importance of Rich Web Applications (and I suspect it is) then IT Service departments and other groups within our institutions which are involved in serious software development activities will need to make some significant decisions about the technical routes they should adopt. This report should help technical managers who will be involved in such decision-making processes.

But I also feel that others involved in the provision and support of Web services need to have a better understanding of the implications in a growth in use of Rich Web Applications. At present I suspect many well-established institutional Web teams will have a development culture which is based on the notion of the Web as an informational resource, with policies based on the notion of a page-based service.  But Rich Web Applications aren’t based a page metaphor. I suspect that we will find that existing policies and guidelines are likely to be irrelevant – but there may be battles to be fought before an appreciation of the richer Web environment is widely accepted.  And one likely battlefield is likely to be the widely-held belief that JavaScript and/or browser plugins (which are required in order to deploy RWAs)  cannot be deployed on Web sites which seek to be accessible.