As the Web 2.0 trend pulls us away from the traditional desktop oriented software model to a web based one, one of the biggest problem we encounter is replicating the same user experience online as we once had on the desktop.
Currently, a lot of online applications (e.g. Google Docs) are more or less light-weight versions of existing desktop applications we are used to working with (e.g. Microsoft Office) because they don’t provide the same level of functionalities as the desktop software. However, if the online server-client model is to persist and become ubiquitous, then it MUST match the user experience currently being offered by desktop applications. Having a rich user experience is a necessity for user acceptance over other solutions.
The phrase “rich user experience” encapsulates a multitude of different things including (but not limited to) functionality (what features the application provides), usability (how easy is it to use?) and presentation (is the GUI attractive?).
For example, let’s take the current market leader platform for providing such rich experiences that I have talked about: Adobe Flash. Wikipedia describes Adobe Flash concisely so I shall quote it instead of re-inventing the wheel:
“Adobe Flash (formerly Macromedia Flash) is a multimedia platform that is popular for adding animation and interactivity to web pages. Originally acquired by Macromedia, Flash was introduced in 1996, and is currently developed and distributed by Adobe Systems.”
Today, Flash has become widespread and has reached a market penetration of 95 – 97%¹
Why did Flash become so popular? Because Flash provided web developers with a way to provide richer experiences than what standard HTML pages could. This included incorporating multimedia elements such as animations and video directly into the web pages. I don’t have exact statistics, but it is beyond a doubt that companies which used Flash to add richness to their websites would have seen their popularity rise.
Over the years we saw Flash take a strong market hold as many websites had some sort of flash on their pages, be it videos, advertisements & banners or any other components.
During subsequent versions, Flash included its own scripting language called ActionScript which allowed developers to build their own web applications using Flash. Users could interact using their computer’s input devices such as the keyboard, mouse, microphone & webcam. ActionScript itself evolved from a scripting language into an Object Oriented programming language, allowing users to build even more complex and richer applications using Flash.
In the end I think we can see that Adobe Flash is a perfect example of how rich internet applications can transform websites and provide richer user experiences which can only lead to greater user acceptance.
PS. Some other technologies that are interesting to look at are AJAX and Adobe Flex.