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Return of the Rich Client - .NET 3.0 Meets the NY Times

by Jonathan Allen on Oct 01, 2006 |

Listening to all the Web 2.0 hype, you would think rich client applications have gone the way of DOS and dinosaurs. But it appears that the New York Times didn't get the memo, and they have the killer app to prove it.

The New York Times has released a beta of the Times Reader to critical acclaim. While some question the logic of creating a separate application just to view website content, they cannot actually find fault with the program. The readability enchancements alone are just too good. As Rafe Needleman says. "I admit that if I wanted to take a stand against this type of application, I could simply not use it--the Times' Web site has the same content. But the New York Times Reader really is a better way to read the Times' news."

The Times Reader isn't your typical rich client application. By leveraging Microsoft's ClickOnce technology, the application is updated automatically without user involvement. New features are automatically downloaded and installed whenever the user starts the program.

The presentation is done with Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF), a component of the soon to be released .NET 3.0. This gives the NY Times developers unprecedented control over the layout. Unlike a web browser, which has trouble displaying columns, the Times Reader can freely flow text from column to column as the page resizes. There are no scroll bars, users simply use the arrow keys to turn the page. And because it is an installed application, it can include the fonts used in the print edition of the NY Times. Other features not normally available to browsers include deep support for off-line viewing, automatic tracking of read pages, and the ability to annotate pages with your own notes.

Can this the beginning of a renaissance in rich client applications?

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ClickOnce = WebStart for .net? by Eirik Maus

Sounds like microsoft has reinvented java webstart. Actually I am surprised that nobody has done this in java before, since webstart has been available for 3-4 years, giving exact the same set of hassle-free deployment benefits. Why not? Because there is no Java Presentation Framework?

Re: ClickOnce = WebStart for .net? by Joost de Vries

Java Desktop Network Components (JDNC) is a project from Sun that combines Webstart and RIA, as I understand it.

Not cost effective by Abhijit Deb

Thick Client Applications are not cost effective. I hope we can achieve similar level of usability in a browser based application pretty soon. Moreover, I would not want to install hundrads of application on my laptop or PDA (one for amazon.com, or google.com, or nyt.com or etc.) I do not understand why we have to go backwards?

Great News by Chris Marshall

When all websites I visit follow this great example, I'll only have 300 companies' applications downloaded onto my PC. What could possibly go wrong? And what easier way to switch from site to site than starting a new application from the start menu. Which now takes up the entire screen. Oh yes; and kill another application because, with 300 running, I'm a bit low on RAM.

Why is everyone thinks rich clients are dead? by Jakob Jenkov

I am having problems seeing why rich clients should be dead. Granted, less applications need be installed on computers in the future, because many apps work fine as web apps. But not all apps work well as web apps. My screen grabber wouldn't for one. And how do I implement that custom plugin my company needs for that diagramming web app?

It's like people say "Web apps are cheaper, because we can update everybody in one go". But we just wrote a live update for a desktop app we are developing. You know what? It only took 2-3 days to implement! Every app can afford to implement live-update, even if it doesn't use .NET or Java WebStart. It's not that hard to do.

We implemented live-update because Java Webstart doesn't let you make upgrades only available for people with valid licenses. And how do you do that in your web app, by the way? Let peopel continue using what they already paid for, without having to upgrade to the next version? Very easy with live-update, very messy with web apps.

And, it's not like web apps are *always* easier to install than rich client apps. You can just download and run a .exe file without saving it. When you close the app, it's gone. It's the same with Java Applets.

Yes, more and more apps will become web apps, but not *all* apps. Not yet at least. There are still times where people need to be able to run apps offline, or where the app is too big to be downloaded on demand, and where a web app just isn't suitable.

Reboot by Laslow Veeblefetzer

Installed this program, but clicking on an article caused my machine (Compaq 1230NX, XP Professional, 1gig memory) to reboot. I already had .net 2.0 installed but not 3.0. Not ready for prime time, I think.

Re: Not cost effective by Eduardo Miranda

Maybe we could migrate everything to web app and create a really thin cost effective client... Mainframe X clients ring a bell?

History repeats itself, but there is nothign wrong about it, if we evolve each iteration. So, web is not a mainframe client and smart clients are not old PC app.

Give it a try

Re: Reboot by Jonathan Allen

Well it is a beta. Once the final cut of .NET 3.0 is released, it should be more stable. You can expect that to occur at the same time as the Windows Vista launch.

Rich Client is simpler by Christoph Henrici

I believe a + for Rich Client is that you can target a much simpler architecture, with much less "pure" technical layers which are necessary as soon you start with distributed applications. You basically have your two tier application: GUI + Database.
This does'nt mean that your application isn't well egineered, in contrary : you very well can have your layers and seperation of concern in the "Fat" Client. In contrary, you do not have to start tearing apart layers, because of distribution.
For many a opertioaal Entreprice Application, such a architecture is completely sufficient. You have a application, which is simpler, robuster, easier to develop and maintain.
Deployment issues, which you have for such a "Fat" Client, can be adressed, with other application transparent technology, eg. Citrix Mainframe or VNC Technology. I very much believe, that the Java Community, would be well advised to embrace Rich Client Technology, not "only" through RIA, which really is moving the code to the client again. Sometimes i suspect that the Rich Client vs Internet "fight" is very much a "political" one and does'nt adress "real" requirements of enterprice computer.
What i would like to see, is more technology, which protects your investments in your application code, but let's you "exchange" or develop a new UI more quickly, be it Web or rich. In this area, i think Oracles ADF Technology could be showing a way. But sadly Oracle is also emphazing on the JSF/Ajax Client and not enought the Swing Rich Client capabilities.

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