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We’ve just completed some research with the web and digital agencies that Microsoft is working with in the UK – the headline news from the report is that 73% of participants believe that 2007 will see a significant increase in client demand for Rich Interactive Applications or RIAs.

In fact, from the responses provided, participants expected RIA to be the most significant new type of client offering this year. This is a great news – after what seems a long time coming there are now a number factors which indicate that 2007 will be the year of the RIA:

  • web and digital agencies are seeing increased client awareness about the need to differentiate through user experience
  • broad consumer and business audience awareness as to what constitutes a good computing experience is increasing as users are exposed to Vista and Office 2007  
  • a choice of application form-factors (or delivery mechanisms) now exist – browser, gadget, lightweight desktop, full desktop – one or more of which can be leveraged based upon the identified user requirements 
  • there is a choice of tools, technologies and runtimes from Microsoft, Adobe and others which designers and developers can leverage to deliver upon the promise of RIA

From a Microsoft perspective, some parts of the RIA picture are well defined now (WPF, Vista Gadgets), some are nearing completion (e.g. Expression Blend) and others (WPF/E included) are currently a work in progress – throughout this year though all the parts will come together to provide a comprehensive platform for delivering Rich Interactive Applications.

Whilst on this topic, one thing to note here is my use of the word Interactive, in the term RIA. There’s been some discussion over on Ryan Stewart’s blog about whether the often-used Rich Internet Application still conveys the right message. Ryan notes “The term does seem kind of odd in today’s world. Are there really any applications that aren’t connected to the internet? The term Rich Internet Application was coined way back in March of 2002, long before broadband was a realistic possibility for many people and before the web had really transformed everything.”

Microsoft, Ovum and others are referring to RIA to mean Rich Interactive, rather than Internet, Applications – the change representing a subtle, but important, difference which highlights the impact that interaction has on the usability, productivity, effectiveness, flexibility and relevance of an application. In addition, by removing specific reference to the internet, it recognises that the internet is now a fundamental part of today’s applications.

Bola Rotibi from Ovum defines Rich Interactive Applications as “applications that combine the light touch and ubiquity of a web application with the interactivity and functionality of a desktop application, and offer a consistent and effective user experience, both online and offline across a variety of devices and networks.” The report is definately worth a read – if you haven’t got an Ovum subscription you can purchase it here.

I’d be interested in your comments on the term RIA, what it means to you and whether you’re also expecting to see increased demand for RIAs this year.

We’re going to share the full report and analysis with those who participated in the research in a couple of weeks time at an event we’re running for web and digital agencies. If you’d like to receive a copy of the report in due course please contact me

Posted by: Andrew Shorten



  1. Hi Andrew, I think that “web and digital agencies are seeing increased client awareness about the need to differentiate through user experience” is something that’s not really special to 2007. You and I have been seeing this over 2005 and 2006 as well (and before that we were telling clients that this was coming, indeed starting in 2002, whilst starting mid-2005 we did see customers asking us more and more about this).

    I’m a bit confused about the renaming of the RIA term, for two reasons:

    1) I can’t help but think that this is a typical Microsoft move; take a term that was invented by someone else and then redefine it to make it Microsoft’s (I guess I don’t have to refer to other occasions where this happened). I might support the new message that Microsoft tries to introduce, but it should be a little bit more original to improve it’s Experience?

    btw: How’s Ovums definition of a Rich Interactive Application really different to how we described Rich Internet Applications? And I suggest they add a flavor of ‘communication’ to it as well 😉

    2) It might be due to English not being my native language, but to me it feels like ‘Rich’ and ‘Interactive’ are way too much of an overlap.

    OK, enough negative comments so let’s thow in some positive stuff as well (don’t like starting a fight here 😉 ).

    What indeed is new since 2007 is that this Richness / Experience also affects the desktop more and more. And whilst obviously the report states that this is due to Vista and Office 2007, it doesn’t do right to the Experience Ecomony in the IT industry in general (think Apple, think Google, think what AJAX and Flex developers have been doing so far). But yes, the more year 2007 comes to an end the more Vista and Office (hopefully – I haven’t experienced Vista myself yet) have contributed to awareness of good computing experiences.

    I haven’t followed the discussions on Ryans blog. To me, keeping ‘Internet’ in RIA really indicates that internet is coming to the desktop instead of the ‘standalone’ internet fading away. And if the standard internet is going to be here for a while, the more a single development model for both browser-deployed applications as well as desktop-deployed applications becomes necessary (instead of one development model for the desktop, and another one for deploying through a browser). Removing the term Internet might indicate that the browser becomes obsolete, which I personally don’t see happening in the years to come. Especially since there’s still many enterprises around that don’t allow people to install something on their desktop, whilst you’d still like to make the experience as close as possible to the real desktop app (or when you are in the airport logging in with another pc, etc).

    Now I think of it, this desktop-experience discussion is quite funny. In the beginning of the RIA times we were referring to desktop-like Experiences for web applications. Apparently those web applications have already come to a stage where desktop applications feel the Richness / Experience pressure coming from the web? Why would we otherwise have to replace the word ‘Internet’ in the RIA term? (pun intended ;o) )

  2. Hey Waldo,

    I completely agree that demand for RIA has been growing over the last couple of years – I like to think that we (and plenty of others) were the pioneers of RIA and that we helped to stimulate this demand. But, lets not forget, that in the early days this was hard work and significant effort was required to get some customers to understand the potential ROI from investing in user experience. What I was alluding to in this post was that more and more customers are recognising the value of differentiation through experience and that 2007 marks the tipping point where agencies are seeing significant customer-driven demand for Rich Interactive Applications.

    Regarding the term Rich Interactive Applications, I don’t think it’s fair (on this occasion) to say that Microsoft has redefined it – I believe that Ovum were the first define RIA with Interactive rather than Internet, and since then it has been picked up and used by others also.

    As you say, there is far more than just Vista and Office 2007 driving user expectations; but, in terms of broad impact, Microsoft will touch a huge % of the computing population and with that comes the opportunity (and responsibility for designers and developers building on the platform) to raise the bar on what makes for a good experience. I for one am glad that Microsoft has invested in WPF and the Expression tools so that designers can, for the first time, really participate in the creation of rich, compelling and usable Windows-based applications.

    In the beginning we were referring to RIA as desktop-like experiences for the web because web-based applications typically offered a sub-standard form of interaction. Undoubtedly the use of AJAX and Flex have dramatically changed the experience on the web for the better; but equally, WPF has dramatically changed the experience that can be delivered on the desktop.

    With the future release of lightweight desktop runtimes some will say that web and desktop experiences are converging so as to replace the need for traditional desktop apps, but native desktop experiences will continue to evolve to fully exploit the underlying hardware that is available and will provide the greatest opportunity to innovate (whilst being careful to ensure that experiences are appropriate – i.e. not building a 3D user interface just because you can).

    When choosing an RIA runtime environment, developers can make a choice which balances the deployment mechanism (browser, desktop), the richness of user experience, the breadth of underlying application framework, the design, development and testing tools available and the desired reach of the deployed application. This is something that is really resonating with the web and digital agencies that I’m speaking to at the moment.

  3. RIAs — Rich Internet Applications — are defined as cross-platform, with high performance, among other things:


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