QueTwo's Blog

thouoghts on telecommunications, programming, education and technology

The RIA Landscape (and which platform to choose for a new project)

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I recently got an email from a co-worker which said:

“I recently got tasked with creating a new way that students can track their time.  The Dean demanded that it would be ‘cool enough to use every day,’ although I don’t really know what that means.  I’m pretty sure he’s talking about that RIA thing you spoke to us on.  Any help?”

While a form to simply input the student’s time doesn’t really necessitate a full-blown RIA, this email does lead to the discussion of where one would or should use all these new technologies that are popping up all over the place.

I think this will be a two-part blog entry — I will focus on the technical specs/requirements in this posting, and the use-cases in the next.

On to the data-sheet!  If you feel that I’ve missed some key points, please comment!

  AJAX / HTML  Microsoft .NET Runtime Silverlight Flash/Flex Player Adobe Integrated Runtime (AIR)
Supports Windows 9x/NT YES Partial NO YES YES
Supports Windows XP/Vista YES YES YES YES YES
Supports MacOS X (Intel) YES NO YES YES YES
Supports Other Mac OS Platforms YES NO NO YES NO
Supports Linux YES YES ** Future ** YES Future
Development Platforms ALL Windows XP/Vista Windows XP/Vista Windows / Mac OSX/ Linux Windows / Mac OSX / Linux
Offline Support Some, Using Google Gears Yes, using MS-SQL Express NO NO YES
Video Support NO YES YES YES YES
Programming Languages Supported HTML, JavaScript Any language that can compile to .NET CLR C#, VB ActionScript ActionScript, HTML, JavaScript
Direct Printer Support NO YES NO YES YES
Direct File System Support NO YES NO NO YES
Direct “Registry” Support NO YES NO NO NO
Can Execute Other Applications NO YES NO NO NO
Direct TCP/IP Socket Connections NO YES NO YES YES
Security Restrictions Sandboxed Very Well No Sandbox Sandboxed Sandboxed Some Sandbox, with notifications to end user
Icon on desktop NO YES NO NO YES
Ability to add system tray / dock notifications NO YES NO NO YES
Ability to run in background NO YES NO NO YES
Runtime / Platform Download None, included in Browser of choice 22.4 MB (version 2.0) 2.5 MB 1MB 11 MB
HTML Engine Uses browser’s engine Internet Explorer NONE NONE Webkit (Safari)
Learning Curve Ranking 1 – Easiest 4 5 – Hardest 2 3

** These solutions are being developed by 3rd parties, usually open-source groups.  They are NOT based on the Microsoft developed runtime, but they are blessed by them.  There are known compatibility issues.

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3 responses to “The RIA Landscape (and which platform to choose for a new project)

  1. Brian Swartzfager March 6, 2008 at 2:40 pm

    While the chart is a handy reference, don’t you think some of these technical abilities of the different RIA technologies may be irrelevant for this project?

    To put it another way: wouldn’t it make more sense to define exactly how the students want to “track their time” and what that means to them (the students, not the dean), then figure out what the technical requirements are for providing those desired features? Maybe you already know more about the requirements than what you conveyed in this post.

    I design applications and portlets geared towards students as well, and if you don’t have quality input from the students about what it is that they want to do, your chances of coming up with with an application that they’ll use because they want to rather than because they need to are pretty slim.

    Just my two cents.

  2. quetwo March 6, 2008 at 9:56 pm

    I fully agree with you. In my position, I was not actually writing the app (or, really having anything to do with it). The question came from a developer in another unit who was taking care of the project (who has just joined my User Group).

    Normally, I would do the usual interviews, station reviews, etc. and then decide what would be the best workflow. I am assuming this person has done these steps and is looking for the best fit for their requirements. But then again, I can only assume 🙂 An RIA is not always the best fit for something that would make sense to be in just web form.

  3. barry.b March 9, 2008 at 11:57 am

    sometimes it’s a fundamental aspect that’s the deciding factor:

    a system used for grading student work
    – it had to have access to the network file system to work with large video files (>100Mb) = .NET client top, Java with Swing or AIR
    – it had to work on work on Macs and PC’s = AIR or Java…
    – it had to be lightweight and easy to install = AIR

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