Recently a journalist asked me whether the current Web 2.0 bubble will burst eventually. He wondered whether the underlying AJAX technology was mature enough. Citing AJAX’s notorious security issues and soaring cost for development, he suspected that enterprises would soon give up Web 2.0 style applications, frustrated by intractable bugs and browser incompatibilities.
I answered that Web 2.0 is about usability, not AJAX or a particular technology. Having experienced Google’s killer applications, users will no longer accept old-fashioned “fill-in-form-push-button-and-wait” user interfaces. They want Web applications to behave like desktop applications, allowing them to work efficiently on their tasks. But we are currently at the beginning of the road not at its end, meaning that technology and its usage will evolve.
The first Web 2.0 applications were “consumer” applications like Flickr, YouTube, and gmail. These applications try to reach as many users as possible, which justifies the cost of tackling immature AJAX technology and browser incompatibilities. However, enterprise applications have different requirements: they are executed in a corporate context or B2B scenario. Development cost, ease of maintenance and security are more important than unlimited browser compatibility. This shift of requirements alters the equation for the best technology option. Client technologies that need a controlled run-time environment, like Java and Flash, become viable alternatives to AJAX. In fact, the choice of technology is widened to the complete range of RIA, i.e. Rich Internet Application technology.
So, companies should begin to evaluate how they can benefit from RIA for their enterprise or B2B applications. They have learned that pure HTML-based applications are expensive in at least two aspects:
- Employees waste a lot of time using their tedious, non-responsive GUIs.
- In order to overcome the most awkward deficiencies of HTML GUIs, developers produce a lot of non-intuitive code that boosts maintenance costs.
Enterprise Web 2.0, i.e. leveraging RIA technology for a broad range of enterprise applications, is the next challenging step to take for software companies and IT departments. The good news is that there are a lot of solutions available today. The bad news is that you will soon feel in a jungle when you need to decide what option to choose. While many approaches are viable and mature, others are in their infancy compared to the standards set by desktop applications and server applications, respectively. The crucial point is to come up with a choice that is not only viable, but takes advantage of the essential characteristic that earmarks technology innovations: their potential for true killer applications that boost your business opportunities way beyond that of your competition. The figure below offers a high level template to guide you through the relevant decisions.
Decision tree showing the various Rich Internet Application options.
Marc’s Javalobby article explains this decision tree. For German readers, this Entwickler article might also be an interesting source. If you have decided to choose an AJAX-based approach for your application, then http://dev2dev.bea.com/pub/a/2006/11/exploring-ajax.html might help you to clear up your mind about existing AJAX options.
But this is only the starting point. This blog will keep you up-to-date on the latest trends and techniques for Enterprise Web 2.0 applications. You will find showcases, tips and tricks, assessments of products and libraries, expert opinions and much more. I hope you will enjoy it and it will give you a lot for your business.
I am looking forward to enter this exciting new era of Web applications together with you.
Hans-Dirk Walter, CEO