The term “rich Internet applications” is an old one, coined when Adobe Systems released its Flash technology as a way to define applications that are highly interactive and connected.

Today, there is little doubt the industry has embraced HTML5 as the best solution for cross-browser, cross-device rich application development and delivery. Witness the demise of Flex, the repositioning of Flash, and Microsoft’s announcement that Silverlight 5 would be the last version for the browser.

And now that HTML5 has risen to mainstream acceptance, the industry is seeing what Telerik’s Todd Anglin called “an unusual alignment of technology heavyweights around a common platform,” citing the contributions of Adobe, Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Google and Microsoft, among others, toward the common platform.

“This is unprecedented in our industry,” he said. “Each has wanted to build and own the platform, but with the explosion of devices on the market, now they want to own the tooling services.”

_Can this all be traced to Apple’s decision to not allow runtimes in applications on its iPhone? Partly. But it’s also due to the number of new devices coming on to the market, each with different operating systems. “Plug-ins simply can’t keep up with the rapid explosion of all these devices,” Anglin said. “Even if they were allowed to, they couldn’t keep up.”

Jacobs cited a study that declared that 2.1 billion mobile phones with browsers will be in circulation two years from now, and those browsers all claim to support HTML5 development.

But it’s way too soon to declare HTML5 the Web application winner, the experts claim. According to the website builtwith.com, only 8% of the top 100,000 websites have any HTML5 behind them, and only 14% of the top 10,000 sites have anything from HTML5—even if just a Canvas pack. Further, only 46% of Internet users today have an HTML5-compatible browser.

The trouble, according to Anthony Franco, president and cofounder of software development firm EffectiveUI, is that HTML5 is not yet a standard. “Just because someone says their browser supports HTML5 doesn’t mean it’s a standard. All browsers support the W3C recommendation [for HTML5] in a different way,” he said.
 
And because HTML5 is not uniformly supported, compatibility issues come into play. This, Franco said, creates “an exception-coded nightmare.”

(As an aside, Franco said he declared the term “rich Internet application” dead two years ago. “Let’s break down the term. ‘Rich’ means well thought-through from a user perspective. ‘Internet’ means connected. ‘Application’ is software. All software should be well thought-through from a user perspective and connected. All the things we create and design by default are well thought-through from a user perspective and connected.”)

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HTML5 not quite finished yet
Make no mistake, there still are certain kinds of applications for which plug-ins aren’t bad. Silverlight runs in and out of browser, is great if you’re in a homogeneous Microsoft environment, and your developers are skilled in Visual Studio and ASP.NET. Similarly, Flash has a powerful gaming and rich media engine that HTML5 cannot yet match.

About David Rubinstein

David Rubinstein is editor-in-chief of SD Times.