Not your father's Web: The year in RIAs

Rich Internet application (RIA) development didn't used to be a heavyweight competition. Just a few short years ago, when developers wanted to create a browser experience beyond the ordinary -- to incorporate sophisticated dashboards or jazzy special effects, for example -- they could draw from a handful of obscure and fledgling tools. The were still coming together. Even the showed their youth.

Now that Flash is part of Adobe Systems, AJAX is omnipresent, and Microsoft and Sun have entered the game, RIA is as mainstream today as mainstream gets. At the lightweight end of , a number of open-source libraries have caught fire. are ideal for programmers who just need to add a bit of fancy functionality (a date chooser, a data grid, some form preprocessing, etc.) to a page.

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A step up from the open-source tools are commercial AJAX frameworks such as Backbase, Bindows, JackBe, and Tibco General Interface. But can these maintain their edge? With so many good open-source alternatives available, why ?

The reasons range from better technical support and documentation to more polish and flexibility. But it's becoming increasingly difficult to draw significant, categorical differences between the open-source and commercial tools.

As the open-source projects extend their reach, the commercial players are finding niches beyond AJAX. For instance, has evolved into an "enterprise mashup" platform that ties together HTML, RSS, Web services, and SQL calls. , plus has and . Laszlo Systems, now the shepherd of , focuses on Web 2.0 desktop solutions for businesses and service providers.