Wednesday, January 17th, 2007

Poll: Is Ajax RIA?

Category: Editorial

Richard McManus is holding a poll on whether Ajax is RIA.

These questions are always a little silly (users do not care about this answer…. they care about the usability of your application) but let’s indulge.

This stemmed from a post by Ryan Stewart who things that Ajax != RIA.

Wikipedia defines RIA as “web applications that have the features and functionality of traditional desktop applications.” You could argue for a long time on what these features are and if your RIA platform has to embrace everyone of them (including the bad ones?). For example, most desktop applications include an install step.

When I took a lot of the poll, Ajax was winning out. With some of the recent Ajax examples, it is hard to say that it isn’t rich. That doesn’t mean to say that it can do everything that Apollo, WPF, XUL and friends can do. It’s different.

Ajax RIA Poll

Posted by Dion Almaer at 8:45 am

3.3 rating from 32 votes


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Well, I believe that combining AJAX-Techniques and some sort of scripting/prgoramming language (PHP, ASP, JSP, etc) can make it to be RIA.

In my opinion, it’s not the programming language, the framework or the server application that makes an application an RIA. It’s more its functionality and the quality that makes an application a real RIA.

My opinon ;)

Comment by Georges — January 17, 2007

Georges hit it spot on. I really think it is QUALITY that people associate desktop apps with over their web based counterparts.

Comment by Mike Benner — January 17, 2007

Depends on which desktop OS you are referring to. I have seen a number of ajax powered things that make me feel like I am using Windows 95 or 98 again. Strange thing is when I have to use Windows XP I often feel like I am using something web based so maybe ajax developers are getting pretty close.

Comment by Twist — January 17, 2007

What’s interesting to me is that people take the time to say, “I don’t know”.

Comment by jazzy — January 17, 2007

I’m sorry, the poll is stupid and Wikipedia’s definition is not right. So that makes the poll even less relevant except that it is getting type of attention from such a great site.

My points:
1. AJAX != RIA b/c it is like comparing an apple to an apple tree. AJAX can’t be an RIA b/c AJAX alone does not make an application. It is only an enabling technology. I would also say that Flash or Active X or Java are not RIAs, but rather technologies that CAN be used to create an RIA.

2. RIA != “desktop in a web browser”. Most RIAs out there today look nothing like desktop applications, and I don’t mean that Google Documents doesn’t look/behave like Office. But rather the pieces that make up “Rich” are many and the ability to emulate desktop behaviors is only a SMALL part of what “rich” means in the context of RIAs.

To this end, I just gave a talk about “What is rich? Why do rich?” last week in Israel and I’ll be giving again next week in Monterey, CA at the Web Application Summit ( The term RIA was created by Macromedia and its intent is to discuss the mixing of rich media with interaction application designs. Some of these are related to desktops, but some are just cinematic effects and the change of the page metaphor, etc.

Comment by David Malouf — January 17, 2007

I’m of the opinion that generally, a web application that utilizes ajax is an RIA. My thinking on this is that most well executed, ajaxified web applications should be able to operate properly even if javascript is turned off, or at least with the ability to perform an XHR disabled. If that’s the case, then it’s a “traditional” web application. Ajax (hopefully) enhances and improves the user experience, but isn’t necessarily the core of the experience. It’s the “Rich” in “Rich Internet Application”.

That being said, I think it’s probably pretty imprecise and further muddies the already somewhat hazy meaning of “Ajax” by saying Ajax==RIA.

Perhaps this is better: WebApp * Ajax == RIA

Comment by Mark Kawakami — January 17, 2007

You can technically mimic a lot with Ajax, that’s for sure, but the discussion should indeed become more nuanced by splitting the question into parts (or at least try to).

1) A desktop application has in fact unlimited bandwidth to transport both the view and the model as compared to a remote application. In this respect a desktop application always has a clear advantage in terms of cost and speed practically. With respect to the user interface, it really depends on the evolution of javascript standards and possible inclusions of well known libraries so that less traffic is needed to show something nice on the browser. With respect to serving data (that is, not from third parties) bandwidth remains a bottleneck.

But But…

2) At the other hand when users have to cooperate through their application by exchanging data for example, a remote application has a clear consistency advantage because there is only one version around (let’s set browser differences aside for the moment). Furthermore, you save enormous costs on installs (why insist on having an install possibility, when it is enough to have a sign-up or even nothing?).
A remote client application gives additional freedom to the user; he/she can run it from any computer.

So how much weight to put on each element…it all depends

Comment by Camiel — January 17, 2007

I agree with the thought that AJAX is a component of a RIA. It is a technology that provides the capability of building Smart Clients where more of the CPU processing, State MGMT (RAM), and workflow are offloaded to the client than in a traditional web application.

Comment by Jeremy — January 17, 2007

I think this Ajaxian article misrepresents what the poll is about. It isn’t whether “Ajax is RIA”; it is asking “Is Ajax a RIA technology?”

Does using Ajax make something RIA? No.
But is Ajax a RIA technology? Definitely.

Comment by Andy Kant — January 17, 2007

Interesting the term wars here. I always look at it from the implicit user promise. From an end user perspective not a developer, what does Ajax mean to them?

From what I know from asking this question to students and customers alike is that it means a richer than normal Web application, a more responsive Web application, a “desktop like” Web application. So in that sense Ajax = RIA since that is the same promise RIAs claimed.

However, to be term correct yes Ajax is just a component of building an RIA.

Unfortunately no amount of debate will likely help clarify and set a winner here since I sincerly believe that term correctness and conventional wisdom of the market are sadly quite often two very different things. Like it or not Ajax has clearly taken on broader meaning just as the dreaded buzzword DHTML did in the past. So be prepared for fun discussions trying to figure out what exactly someone is thinking about when using the term Ajax.

Comment by Thomas Powell — January 17, 2007

I’ve noticed a trend lately that really bothers me; and this poll is included. The question should be re-worded to “Do you consider AJAX to be RIA?”

The purpose of a poll is not to prove whether something is fact or fiction. A poll can only reveal what the opinions of its users are. Just because the majority of people believe something to be true, does not make it so. It’s so trivial and probably shouldn’t bother me, but it seems there are a lot of polls asking these forms of questions lately.

Sorry for the rant.

Comment by Michael — January 17, 2007

Well I fully agreed on Ajax = RIA. You need the instant response for each action without the page refresh. It helps a lot on usability. Then, it will give OS type of look-and-feel.

Comment by — January 17, 2007

RIA = Really Interesting Anagram? Reticulating Inverted Antenna?

Comment by No Idea What RIA means — January 17, 2007

Andy: Exactly.

Comment by Espen Antonsen — January 18, 2007

Well I don’t really agree. In the user experience I agree as we are getting a richer experience and we are able to develop desktop like application but at what price? Giving up security? Giving up OOP languages for semi OOP JavaScript?

I have been architecting and developing enterprise applications since the day AJAX was technology enabled. It definitely sucks when it comes to working on a big project and RIA usually becomes a big project.

That is way I am heading a group of developers that are responsible for Visual WebGui which hides AJAX and exposes the developer with pure .NET WinForms programming including design time. Kind of like GWT and script# only we do not generate code. You can see hewe some quick start videos that gives you an idea what can be done with such a technology.

To sum things up… I think the technology is viable but the road map is wrong… We should look for ways to have the technology working for us kind of like assembly is working for us with out us having to deal with the bits and bites.

Comment by Guy Peled — January 18, 2007

“I’ve noticed a trend lately that really bothers me; and this poll is included. The question should be re-worded to “Do you consider AJAX to be RIA?” The purpose of a poll is not to prove whether something is fact or fiction. A poll can only reveal what the opinions of its users are.”

True. And a Wikipedia article can only reveal what the opinions of its last editors were.

Browsers could always refresh bitmaps without refreshing the page. XmlHttpRequest added the ability to refresh text without refreshing the page. Audio and video are the richer media types which still need to be handled by extensions.

More in the original definition:


Comment by John Dowdell — January 19, 2007

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