Fat Client/Rich Client/Mobile Client

It’s a given that you’d better get online if you want to reach out to your customers. With more and more people having mobile access to the internet, firms need software that can help clients to interact on the move.

Step forward Web-based rich internet applications (RIAs), which are online tools that have many of the features of their desktop counterparts. The use of RIAs date back a decade but their use continues to evolve.

As analyst Gartner concludes in respect to enterprise-level adoption, RIA platforms are still in a dynamic and early adopter phase of market evolution. What is certain is that the RIA market is highly competitive. As well as the most distinct and prominent flavours, Apple pushes the use of its own software. Such divisions are inherent to the RIA market and competition is now taking a specific route.

Most RIAs are splitting into two distinct groups: client technology, where a specific app – such as Silverlight or Flex – is installed into the client; or the server-based and Ajax route, where users only need a browser and no other client requirements.

The distinction between the two approaches is such that Gartner considers Ajax and client-based RIAs as similar but separate technologies. Many firms choose to opt for the client approach – but for me, going with the client approach seems like a backwards step. It like we’re re-inventing the battle between desktop and browser apps, only this time both options are in the browser.

First, users normally need to install a specific framework that executes the RIA before an application can launch. In Java-based alternatives like Ajax, there is no installation requirement – built-in browser functionality means required components are kept server-side. Second, the line between the desktop and the browser is blurring (see further reading). The browser is increasingly seen as the operating system, with individuals able to securely access social networking, music streaming and enterprise applications via the browser.

Take note, however, that going for development via the browser is not a standalone decision. Businesses must also consider mobile development – and must avoid relying on a specific toolset for mobile development. Get the decision wrong and you can find your business in a similar platform-specific cul-de-sac, this time on the mobile rather than the desktop. By going with a mix of HTML/Javascript and Ajax-server based technologies, your business can use the same developers on desktop and mobile environments.

HTML/Javascript and server-based Ajax is the route that will allow you to reach out to an increasingly mobile and browser-based audience. And in the future, it’s a combination that will help your business cope with the increasing range of screen sizes. Open source development frameworks like Rhodes and PhoneGap allow skilled web specialists to write once and deploy anywhere, creating mobile apps that have access to local device functions like camera, contacts and GPS.

If you want to give your software the greatest reach, make sure your web-based developments take a direction that allows you to serve your savvy customers.

Dharmesh Mistry is the CTO/COO of Edge IPK, a leading provider of front-end Web solutions. Within his blog, “Facing up to IT”, Dharmesh considers a number of technology issues, ranging from Web 2.0, SOA and Mobile platforms, and how these impact upon business. Having launched some of the very first online financial services in 1997, and since then delivering online solutions to over 30 FS organisations and pioneering Single Customer View (Lloyds Bank, 1989) and Multi Channel FS (Demonstrated in Tomorrow’s World in 99), Dharmesh can be considered a true veteran of both the Financial Services and Technology industries.