Silverlight 1.0, Microsoft's response to Adobe's Flash, has been released. I've read a couple of articles about Silverlight and also about AIR (Adobe Integrated Runtime) recently. It seems to me that these new technologies have the capability to revolutionize the way we work with net based applications. In my view, they could even mean the end of traditional Web applications.
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Microsoft's opponents have been pinning their hopes on Web applications for a long time already. Since the early days of Netscape we have been hearing this story of Web based applications running somewhere in the cloud and not on Windows desktops anymore. Google's success has raised these hopes again because this company has enough cash to defy Microsoft.
You might object that Silverlight is a Web app as well since it is just a browser extension. However, if you read a little about the technology behind it (WPF), you'll realize that in the future the Web browser probably won't play the same important role for Internet applications as in the present. The future role of the Internet Explorer could be comparable to that of Windows Explorer. With the Windows Explorer you launch Windows apps, with the Internet Explorer Internet apps. But once the app is running, the browser is no longer needed.
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Note that Rich Internet Applications (RIAs) no longer have to rely on Web technology. So there is no HTML, no Ajax, no CSS, and there is even no need for HTTP. Hence, I think one shouldn't consider RIAs as Web applications. There is really a big difference between old fashioned Web apps such as Google apps and RIAs providing a "real graphical user interface". This doesn't mean that the Web will go away, of course. But Web browsers will only be used for what they were originally made for - to browse Web pages.
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I was at the Vista launch in Austin, TX, where they were demoing WPF development. One thing a friend and I were talking about was the “bigger reason” for WPF. It’s apparent with Google Docs & other rich Web-based services like it that more and more functionality is being put inside a Web browser. In our opinion, Microsoft is intentionally trying to pull/force people back into reliance on the Windows OS to “get the job done” and for obvious reasons. Pretty interesting…
I think Microsoft is taking this direction since the times where Netscape was still a competitor. This is where the name .NET came from. When I first read about .NET I already thought it would be something like WPF. But when I read about ASP.NET later, I was very disappointed because everything was still browser based. But you’re right, Google is the thriving factor now. Their success has certainly accelerated this development. It will be interesting to see if Google will be able to make this move away from the Web. They are very much focused on Web technology now and have almost no experience with desktop apps. However, they have enough money to buy this expertise. The only question will be if they realize early enough that the future belongs to RIAs.