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Monday, January 01, 2007

The Rich Internet Application straw man

Via Mike Chambers (Apollo product mgr at Adobe), comes this snapshot of a comment made by Mark Anders of Adobe:
If you look at what Microsoft is doing with WPF, they say it's really about rich Internet applications but actually, I don't think it is, because I think rich Internet applications are not about Windows only. I think the Internet is about a multitude of machines and you do not always know what they are.

Mike then goes on to extoll the qualities of a true "rich internet application" and how <insert Adobe buzzword> is the shiznit. Naughty! Naughty! Macromedia/Adobe coined the term rich internet application (RIA) and can frame it to mean whatever the heck they want it to mean. Cross platform? Sure! Compelling experience? Yeah why not! Target a layer above the platform? Well, duh! Makes the OS irrelevant? Was it ever relevant to anybody outside Redmond anyway?

Students of logical fallacies will recognize Mark and Mike's argument as a classic Straw Man Argument. The modus operandi is thus: create a position that is easy to refute, then attribute that position to your opponent. Simple. But not straight.

Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) is part of .NET Framework 3.0, the new managed code programming model for Windows. As a member of the WPF team, and specifically as one of the co-owners of the XAML Browser Application (XBAP) story, I haven’t made the connection between WPF / XBAPs with the so-called rich internet applications. I doubt anyone else on my team or others in Microsoft who swim in the WPF pool have ever positioned WPF/XBAPs as such.

But there’s no reason to let facts get in the way of a good Microsoft bashing.

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  • "Macromedia/Adobe coined the term rich internet application (RIA) and can frame it to mean whatever the heck they want it to mean."

    No reframing needed... the original definition does specify "enable easy deployment on multiple platforms and devices."

    I understand your context about how others outside Microsoft are applying that label to your current work, however, thanks.


    By Anonymous John Dowdell, at January 2, 2007 at 4:25 AM  

  • Hmmm... so jd is saying MS is constructing a straw-man to attack a valid argument, by labelling the argument a straw-man - or is the counter to the argument creating a straw man around a single inconsistency to taint the other possibly valid points??? Ow my head hurts.

    Personally, I see this blog posting as pretty much a confession that MS doesn't want a future for cross platform XBAP.

    Hey... maybe the WPF team actually started out creating something cool, but were deliberately held back by MS - because it didn't sell the OS.

    This only serves to reinforce the belief many businesses have that MS is disingenuous when it comes to anything web client based - because they are frightened that the OS (and hence their main revenue stream) will become irrelevant.

    Shame, I would love to develop on a capable, performant, cross platform, 0 deployment, and secure rich client framework, that wasn't forever associated in our clients' minds with "click the monkey".

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 2, 2007 at 5:15 AM  

  • Nice try, but it looks to me like you are the one trying to reframe the argument.

    Searching Google for "WPF RIA" returns 314,000 results. Here's just one example of where a Microsoft employee discusses WPF as an RIA technology without disclaimer or comment.

    Even beyond Microsoft bloggers, though, the fact is that most bloggers consider WPF to be an RIA technology, as evidenced by those google search results. I challenge you to find me any public statement by any Microsoft employee more than a few months old that refutes the notion that WPF is an RIA technology. Failing that, your reframing doesn't have a leg to stand on.

    By Anonymous Andrew Shebanow, at January 2, 2007 at 9:56 AM  

  • I posted about this, but in going back and reading it tonight, I entirely missed the point of your post Ashish. And in doing a Google search for WPF and "Rich Internet Application" on the msdn blogs, you're right, no one talks about WPF as an RIA technology.

    Why is that? I'd be curious to hear your thoughts on it. Is it because Macromedia came up with the term?

    By Anonymous Ryan Stewart, at January 2, 2007 at 8:02 PM  

  • In my experience you can open web page with XBAP where they work out of the box. This isn't the case with Macromedia products.

    To look at history you can look at sites which used to prefer XVID/RealMedia format. Well those happen to require extra work for the majority of users until you can play them. Now most prefer WMV.

    Right now WPF looks like a losing proposition but looking at future, gamers and game developers will be driving Vista adoption with the Direct 3d 10 requirement even to those users which would otherwise be happy with XP.

    So WPF, especially the lacking v1, itself isn't driving anyone to use it but the time will come when the fools will realize that it's the obvious solution due to how MS have again had everyone update to Vista or vNext in 7 years time.

    And WPF/e well ... Since it seems to rely on JavaScript (correct if I am wrong) I'll just hope it dies quickly without anyone noticing it. :-)

    Happy new year.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at January 3, 2007 at 9:39 AM  

  • Thanks all for the comments.

    JD: thanks for the clarification. Although I said "frame", not reframe, I can see how the choice of words led to some confusion. Perhaps "define" might have been a better term.

    Anon@5:15am: I thought the word "Windows" in Windows Presentation Foundation would have been a dead giveaway. I will not go over product plans and such on a public forum such as this (and no, that is not meant to be a hint and a wink) but .NET Framework and WPF are Windows technologies.

    Andrew: By that token the term "star allergies" gets you 1.2 million results, and I doubt many concerning sniffles you get when you’re outdoors on clear nights. Sorry I’m not biting on the triple-dog-dare.

    Ryan: If there was a company-wide memo on this I didn’t get it :) So I’ll speak for myself: the absence of use of RIA in my discourse on WPF has a lot to do with sticking to WPF's stated goals and intended purpose. To a very small extent it also has to do with faintness of heart in creating flame-baits and political hot-potatoes, much the same way that Macromedia, Apple and Microsoft didn’t use the term "applet" very much at all.

    WPF is meant to be the next gen. presentation sub-system for Windows: providing support for building great user experiences that combined documents, media, graphics, UI etc. We did this by unifying disparate technologies like USER, GDI/GDI+, DirectX and new technologies (the MIL for one) into one application development framework. In doing so, we also exploited advances in client hardware (e.g. video cards and displays). And you can use this foundation to build apps that run standalone or in the browser. We’ve recognized the strides made in web development, understood the ease-of-deployment, ease-of-use advantages there and have structured the programming/deployment models in WPF accordingly. I’d like to continue to characterize WPF and its intent in these sort of terms.

    By Blogger Ashish, at January 4, 2007 at 6:24 PM  

  • In order to defuse potential misinterpretation, note that I'm not interested in how people frame the term "RIA", but the sorts of things developers wish to do.

    I do think the following anonymous comment should see some response: Personally, I see this blog posting as pretty much a confession that MS doesn't want a future for cross platform XBAP. By enabling IE to run XBAPs, we will have IE-only pages that offer richer functionality than HTML+Javascript, over the Internet. All we need to do is add the word "application" and we have RIA from the words I've just used.

    Developers have realized that users like the back and forward buttons, and perhaps to a lesser extent, the address bar. Vista's file system manager has breadcrumbs in addition to back/forward and what I'll term URI. It just makes sense to have this functionality for the types of activities one performs with files and folders and whatnot. Combine this with ease of interoperation between apps and you get Internet Applications. The problem right now is that it's hard to make them rich -- try and make a decently sized grid with fixed rows and columns that performs decently (like Excel's freeze panes). Anything more than simple richness requires something more than HTML+Javascript. Another feature of the web that it is safe if one doesn't run downloaded executables or install untrusted components; the XBAP Sandbox is designed to include XBAPs in this category: code that can be safely run, with no security prompts the user has to worry about. XBAP is very much positioned to be an Internet (or Intranet) thing -- the team isn't just using IE to more easily deploy applications.

    If the above paragraph (or anything I say) appears to reveal misunderstanding, please let me know.

    Does anyone know if we can plan on having XBAP support for, say, Firefox, if Mono's Olve development matures?

    By Blogger Luke Breuer, at January 5, 2007 at 10:22 AM  

  • Great point, Microsoft will have no idea what it means to be a RIA. Great article

    By Blogger Maria, at September 18, 2007 at 12:45 AM  

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