Rich Internet Applications

David Temkin writes in the context of Gmail’s interface:

What’s received less attention is that Gmail is effectively what we at Laszlo would call a rich Internet application (RIA). By this I mean that a lot of logic and interaction is client-based, and it is not an ordinary page-based Web application, where each click generates a server return-trip. It does not look like an application — in fact, it looks like a simple Web page — but is application-like in many regards, featuring keyboard navigation, instant response to certain actions, etc.

It also shares a number of undesirable properties with other RIAs — a significant initial download (400K+ of JavaScript according to our measurements), very limited browser compatibility, limits on accessibility relative to static HTML, etc.

It’s interesting to think of RIAs as belonging to three different categories, each analogous to an operating system:

  • Unix-style RIA: Gmail is a great example of this. It’s essentially text-only, with keyboard equivalents. It’s reminiscent of Pine or vi, particularly with regard to how keyboard shortcuts work. The emphasis is on speed, not friendliness — it’s best for geeks and most likely designed by geeks (and I mean that in a nice way).

  • Windows-style RIA: Oddpost, another rich Web mail service, is a perfect example of this — a Windows-style UI delivered into a Web browser. This can be done with DHTML heroics (as is Oddpost), or with Java. Here’s a comparable example built with Laszlo. The look and feel of these applications is essentially a duplicate of the “classic” Windows desktop look and feel. Users new to these applications can lean on their familiarity with Outlook and similar applications, but they don’t reflect what we’ve learned on the Web about UI — very little linking, very little contextual “content” or media.

  • Mac-style RIA: Here I’m talking about the visually differentiated, smooth/animated interaction often associated with Mac OS X (or with Flash), but used in the context of a Web application. These applications as a category represent the attempt to blend the best of the Web with the best of applications. Most of Laszlo’s deployments and demos fall into this category.

  • Published by

    Rajesh Jain

    An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.