Yahoo BrowserPlus and AIR
Writing about web page http://browserplus.yahoo.com/
Yahoo has entered the RIA domain with BrowserPlus, a technology that allows you to create functionality that bridges desktop and browser. Some reports I’ve seen say that BrowserPlus is a direct rival to AIR, but from what I’ve read on the Yahoo site I’d say it sits closer to the browser than the desktop, like Gears; applications are still browser-hosted, whereas AIR sits more evenly between the two (albeit with much stronger emphasis on applications being system-based), but I’m wondering how many more niches there are left to fill in the RIA paradigm. BrowserPlus does offer some genuinely useful capabilities that are similar to those offered by AIR, like file drag/drop and system tray capabilities so comparisons are inevitable and in some ways justified, but these are currently a limited subset. An area which I think does justify close comparison to AIR is the development ‘gateway’, simply because both technologies allow HTML/JS developers to create RIAs with their existing skill-set.
If it’s easy to detect the existence of the BrowserPlus runtime within a page, it could get some traction; on our own web applications I can see it being useful to provide users who have it installed some extra functionality, like dragging and dropping files to the browser, or page update notifications, but it would be important not to rely on it being there for core functionality, partly I think because it would be harder to persuade users to install something that isn’t so ‘tangible’ as an AIR or Webstart application. Security may also be a concern – AIR and Java applications need to be digitally signed whereas it’s not clear yet what Yahoo will do here. I guess though it will depend on how useful and ubiquitous applications built on BrowserPlus become, and Yahoo has some fairly prominent applications for it within its own portfolio (e.g. Flickr). AIR is fast approaching that stage I think – Ebay Desktop, Google Analytics AIR, Twhirl, Adobe Media Player and Snackr are now core applications for many people I know, and the new and rather lovely Acrobat.com suite (and not forgetting Aviary) will be a major driver for further adoption, especially if the the AIR version can be extended to include desktop versions of the applications. I’m sure Yahoo will have the detection aspect covered – in addition they have done something similar to JavaFX with an extensible runtime that can be added to without re-installation, so it’s really only a case of getting that important first-install.
One final thought – it seems to me that if you could combine BrowserPlus with Prism you would have something closer in concept to AIR, if not execution; a browser-based application that looks like a desktop application, with a desktop integration runtime on top.