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AJAX World - The Rise of RIAs and Reshaping User Expectations

Today's online experiences often fall short of user expectations

As a result, developers can build applications previously inaccessible to them due to technology or learning-curve barriers; they can create desktop applications with ease using the tools that have been successful for building Web applications. In addition, with Apollo, updating desktop applications will be as simple as it is now to update Web applications.

Apollo will provide a set of APIs that can facilitate different capabilities, such as system file access, windowing, background processing, and system tray/toast notifications. These APIs will be accessible within JavaScript and ActionScript (both ECMAScript standard languages) for use by applications running on Apollo. Developers won't have to worry about the underlying implementation for each operating system because capabilities will be abstracted. The Apollo runtime will take care of integration with the desktop across all supported operating systems. For Web developers and companies, the advantages are clear, with both groups having the opportunity to bring new classes of applications and services to users.

Because the business logic is in the client, users can repeatedly manipulate content without reconnecting to the server. Communication with servers happens only as needed, such as when users save their work. In addition, developers can build RIAs that support automatic synchronization of data between servers and client-side objects. As back-end content is updated, changes are reflected automatically on users' devices.

Committed to Standards and Ease of Development
Adobe understands that RIAs can be composed of many technologies and works with leading organizations, such as ECMA and the OpenAjax Alliance, to ensure that standards are extended to meet RIA needs.

For example, Adobe Flex and open AJAX technologies complement each other well. The company's FABridge - a small, unobtrusive library of code that can be inserted into a Flex application, a Flex component, or an empty SWF file to expose it to scripting in the browser - helps integrate rich Flex components with AJAX applications. The FABridge is freely available to the community under an open source license. Spry, also free, is a client-side framework for AJAX development that is server and design-tool agnostic, allowing Web developers to incorporate XML data into their HTML documents using HTML, CSS, and a minimal amount of JavaScript, without needing to refresh the entire page.

More Open, Responsive Development
Successful RIA development depends on the flexibility to meet a wide range of application requirements, whether it is simply extending capabilities in existing Web applications or creating full client-side applications running in browsers. Of course, it is important to consider where RIAs should run - in a browser, on the desktop, or a combination of both. What is clear is that any approach should be as open as possible and have the ability to create RIAs for any platform.

That is one of the main reasons Adobe integrates AJAX with Flash and Flex. Developers can start with AJAX techniques and then use the open source Flex-AJAX bridge to take RIAs to the next level, streamlining the integration of Flash and Flex-based components - as well as vector graphics, audio, video, and charting - into AJAX-style applications. As user requirements expand, developers can respond with more dynamic applications developed in Flex and delivered in the upcoming Apollo runtime, which will allow developers to take their browser-based RIAs to the desktop.

Much like the familiarity of today's Web applications, RIAs will become increasingly common. Developers will be asked to build more sophisticated applications, and users will regularly access services filled with real-time updates, data manipulation, quality presentation and printing, blended video and documents, and other capabilities once limited to costly desktop applications. Already, the impact of RIAs are evident on Web sites and corporate intranets worldwide, with even the simplest RIAs helping to reshape users' expectations and experiences of what is possible with Web services.

More Stories By Luis Polanco

Luis Polanco is senior product manager, Platform Business Unit, Adobe Systems.

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