Rich Browser Client Apps

Phil Wainewright discusses web-based rich client technology in the context of his prediction that “in ten years’ time, applications will run in rich browser clients, Windows will have settled into its legacy platform niche … and Microsoft will be working hard to re-establish the market position of Office having relaunched it as a web-based application.”

A lot can happen in ten years, and a lot is already being tried out in the realms of web-based rich client technology:

* IBM is working on Workplace Client Technology.
* There’s Macromedia’s work on its Flex architecture.
* DreamFactory is proving popular among leading-edge adopters of online applications.
* And BEA’s Adam Bosworth has written at length in his blog about what he’d like to see achieved with the company’s Project Alchemy.

Nobody involved in these and other similar initiatives is fooling themselves that they can do everything that’s required in the browser as we know it today. But they do believe that they can get there by building on today’s browser technology as a foundation, which is a route Microsoft explicitly rejected when it halted work on DHTML.

The other element here is the ‘good enough’ factor. Yes, Barry is right that individual creative activities like rich document editing and photo retouching need to execute locally. People who are seriously into those activities will want the appropriate base-level capabilities built into their client devices, in the same way that some people buy expensive digital cameras or invest in specialist publishing software. But the mainstream market is for simple, easy-to-use, cost-effective, multi-purpose (dare I say it, lowest-common-denominator?) client devices, because what matters most is being able to tap into network resources, and Microsoft is making the mistake of failing to prioritize that network readinesss.

Think sever-centric computing and low-cost thin clients. We can make these decisions in emerging markets like India because we still don’t have a large enough legacy that will prevent us from changing. Only 1% of the potential users actually use a computet today, so we have an opportunity to get the architecture right – one that is both affordable and manageable.

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Rajesh Jain

An Entrepreneur based in Mumbai, India.