Rich Internet Applications

Rich Internet Applications (RIA's) offer a new kind of web experience that is engaging, interactive, lightweight, and flexible. They offer the flexibility and ease of use of an intelligent desktop application, whilst continuing to maintain the broad reach of traditional web applications.

RIA's typically enable enterprises to create personalized, multimedia-rich applications that dramatically enhance the user experience, increase customer satisfaction and make users more productive. This has become possible due to the improvement in broadband technologies and also the increasing adoption of Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) techniques.

In the traditional model, web pages are delivered to the client in one of two ways: the User either clicks a link, or submits a form to initiate an HTTP request. The User then has to wait for the web server to respond with a new page, or an existing page refresh. This approach is known as 'web-flow', as the User literally goes from one screen to another to complete a task.

The Ajax model uses asynchronous communication, through the XHR object (XML HTTP Request) native to modern web browsers and is far more responsive as a result. RIA designers are able to attach data updates to a multitude of screen events (through JavaScript) including mouseover, drag and drop and keyboard keys. The data updates occur in the background so the User no longer has to wait to continue interacting with the Application.

There are many examples of RIA's on the web with Google taking the lead through applications such as Google Maps and Gmail. Other popular applications include Flickr and Basecamp.