The Cloudy Future of Rich Applications

Michael Vizard

Everybody knows that one of the primary next frontiers of cloud computing is delivering rich applications.

Unfortunately, delivering those applications is a bit of a challenge right now because of network latency issues. But while that issue is likely to get solved by the rise of new network services, the one issue that doesn't seem likely to resolve is the war over browser formats.

While the main protagonists in this battle over the future of cloud computing are Adobe with its Flash technology, Microsoft with Silverlight and a couple of open source approaches, there are proponents of HTML 5 such as Apple CEO Steve Jobs who argue that rich applications in the cloud are too important to let any single vendor's technology dominate the landscape.

Conceptually, Jobs is probably right. But as a practical matter, HTML 5 isn't really ready to serve as a platform on which rich applications for the cloud can be built. That means that developers can either wait to build these applications until HTML5 is ready, or deal with current market realities.

Geoff Cubitt, CTO of Roundarch, an IT services firm, says that while the lack of clear standards is unfortunate at the moment, most businesses want to see rich applications in the cloud sooner rather than later. That means many will move ahead using proprietary formats that over time they hope will give way to industry standards such as HTML5.

However, just as many developers may sit on the sidelines waiting for all these issues to be hashed out. That's unfortunate because it will slow the evolution of cloud computing as a platform for delivering rich applications. Or worse yet, many will embrace the lowest common denominator to build these applications, which is the very scenario that led to use of Javascript to create so many existing Web applications that end up being difficult to manage and scale.

Perhaps the various providers of cloud computing platforms will start throwing their collective weight around more to help resolve some of these issues. But in the meantime, internecine warfare in the application development community over all the various browser formats that now need to be supported isn't really helping anyone.

So just maybe in the interest of progress the time has come for Microsoft, Google, Adobe, Apple and folks driving Firefox to have a long overdue sit-down to not only resolve some pretty basic browser issues, but also work out a framework for developing the next generation of rich cloud computing applications that everybody can live with.

Of course, that assumes that everybody running these organizations is actually an adult and has the interest of customers and shareholders at heart first, and their own personal egos a distant second. Alas, the industry as a whole seems to be suffering from a real lack of collective leadership at the moment, which in the end serves no one's interest.



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