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"RIA" vs "Rich Client Platform": The Term Is Now Up for Debate

"RIA" is slowly fading in terms of its definition

Scott Barnes' Blog

'RIA' is slowly fading in terms of its definition. When I first started the RIA Evangelism role in Microsoft, I had this nagging feeling that the term RIA was just all over the place. Depending on which technology you are backing and which stream of alliance you uphold, the truth is the term was destined to be abused before it really took off.

I even tried to provoke conversation around it, by waving a big red flag and saying "Microsoft is about to use Rich Interactive not Rich Internet Application, debate me on it". Oh they debated me on it and lots of it, as the end conclusion was simply folks didn't care what the definition was, so long as we all understood Macromedia owned it in 2002. Such logic baffles me to this day.

I started to see some Adobe Staffers in many respects abuse the very term they acquired, by mixing the pool with Rich Branded Experiences against RIA, and if it had Flash - well it was RIA. I challenged many of them on that, and the result ended in personal character warfare.

After all these blog battles, arguments, debates and so on, the term is becoming lost in the struggle over which technology is better than the other. The true essence of what I thought RIA stood for has now become a buzz word, much like the "Web 2.0" or "Social Networking". That's sad, not because I am attached to the term, but simply because it's a much easier way for customers to frame the conversation with other customers, and not have to spend time educating them.

image Ryan Stewart, has recently tried his best to define the term RIA, but has failed. It's not that Ryan doesn't get it, but simply - who is he to define the term? (In that it's not about Ryan, but who is he to define it? debate that first and then follow up with a merit debate on the semantics of the term).

Some folks loyal to the Adobe cause will support him, others whom aren't will argue the point with him (have already). In the end, the term is now up for debate, with no single winner or owner but simply open for mob rule.

The team with the biggest horde will own the definition - for a while, that is until someone or something with large amount of credibility and marketing power will change the landscape once again.

Can you sit here and honestly blame Microsoft in many respects for leaning more towards the term Rich Client Platform vs RIA, sure it doesn't start the conversation with the right framing - as most regard RIA has holy and all that is good ( DO NOT TOUCH stickers are ready to put around it's term). Yet, Rich Client Platform is simply a way for us internally to define what it is we are setting out to do. To build a Rich Client Platform.

Welcome to the Internet, where a terms definitions is as good as those who lobby for it inside wikipedia. Mob rules.

More Stories By Scott Barnes

Scott Barnes is Product Manager for the Rich Client Platform team at Microsoft, with a focus on Silverlight. Originally from the small outback town of Cunnamulla in Australia, Barnes was Microsoft's first RIA Evangelist, focused primarily on the Web space. He blogs at http://blogs.msdn.com/msmossyblog/.

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Most Recent Comments
Richard Monson-Haefel 05/21/08 12:34:45 PM EDT

I've been using a definition for RIA since I first wrote about as an independent analyst for Burton Group in 1995.

A RIA is:

(a) Browser bound; executes inside a browser
(b) Is programmable by developers
(c) Provides the ability to do network communications with remote nodes
(d) Focuses on providing a framework for GUI.

This eliminates something like an audio player or Quicktime but includes programmable platforms like Flash/Flex, Silverlight, Ajax, Mozilla XULrunner (or whatever its called) and Curl browser applets.

It also, because applications are not bound to the browser, eliminates Adobe AIR and Curl desktop applets and applications. These platforms, which grew out of RIA technologies, are "Fit Clients" or something else.

Microsoft has a history of not adopting terms used by other vendors. For example, Microsoft uses "Software and Services" rather than "Software as a Service" (SaaS), or not using SOA, or using "Mesh" instead of "Cloud". That's nothing new and I don't fault them for it - their avoidance of SOA as a terms seems pretty smart to me. That said, I think Rich Clint Platform is more confusing than enlightening. Does that include Flash? What about WPF? Is Java SE (not the browser plugin) a RCP?

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