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No Pause to Refresh: More Robust Web Apps

Rich Internet applications improve the user's experience over the Net and skip the deployment and maintenance hassles of client/server apps.

By Heather Havenstein
October 10, 2005 12:00 PM ET

Computerworld - The Internet has represented a huge leap forward for many organizations, allowing them to expand the reach of their applications to remote workers, customers and suppliers. Unfortunately, limitations in browsers have meant a step backward for the user experience compared with client/server applications.

But a burgeoning group of users is solving this dilemma with new tools designed to preserve the rich content and interactive features of the desktop in "rich Internet" applications that can be accessed via a thin client. Rich Internet applications are designed to provide enhancements to usability without the deployment and maintenance headaches of client/server applications.

The new tools essentially eliminate the need to refresh a Web page every time a user enters or receives new data. They allow businesses to more easily move existing client/server applications to the Web or build new Web applications. Companies are using the tools for e-commerce and call center applications that require complex interactions with users. They also use them for applications that need to run on various devices.

Traditional HTML-based applications are built as static, page-based applications that require an HTTP request to a server every time data needs to be refreshed. However, applications on the Web often require heavy interaction with users. For example, a customer service application could require a call center representative to enter information from a customer while also accessing a technician's service schedule. These types of applications can't work efficiently with the latency that comes with constant page refreshes.

Rich Internet applications include a rendering engine in the client that can cache data and communicate back and forth with the server while still displaying the Web page for the user. The engine can process user requests to provide a more responsive user interface and fewer round trips to the server than HTML-based applications do. While HTML is a simple straightforward language for building static applications, adding any type of interaction within the user interface often requires a lot of scripting from developers. Rich Internet application developer tools are designed to plug into popular integrated development environments (IDE) while providing the windows and tabs needed to add interactive features without a lot of coding.

No Pause to Refresh
Image Credit: Belle Mellor

Keeping the Record Straight

When SunGard Data Systems Inc. wanted to move its client/server mutual fund shareholder application to the Web, the company opted to use rich Internet technology to migrate the system.

The company's Investar-One shareholder record-keeping system for mutual fund clients has 400 to 500 screens, and using traditional HTML programming to build the graphical user interface (GUI) for the Web would have taken too long and wouldn't have delivered adequate content, says Mark Judah, chief technology officer at SunGard's Investar-One business unit in Wayne, Pa.

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