The next big RIA service: Sprout

I was preparing my slides for the upcoming AjaxWorld Conference in New York next Tuesday, where I compare different technologies for creating rich Internet applications. The slides for the big players on the market are ready, but I was looking for one more – something that would fall into a category of cool RIA. And I found one.

These days RIA tools are created mainly to two groups of people: Web Developers and UI Designers. The second group is represented by creative people who can design screens but are not programmers. Big guys like Adobe are trying to come with tools that would bring together these two groups of people who currently live in different planets. For example, Adobe is going to release Thermo Beta this Summer – it allows designers to drag and drop and Flex code will be automatically generated based on their creative movements. Many people can’t wait to get their hands dirty with Thermo. In my opinion, it’s a useful tool for creating a small application or initial prototyping of an enterprise Flex application, but when I’ll get this code from the Web designer, I’ll start ripping it apart and refactoring anyway. The first version of Thermo will not allow designers to work with it after a developer has refactored the code. Microsoft also creates very good tools like Expression Design and Expression Blend that bring together designers and developers.

I do not see anyone besides Adobe and Microsoft who has anything decent to offer in this area. Google is into search engines. Apple is into iPhone. Sun Microsystem’s dedication to building RIA based on Swing is a very rough, long and winding road. AJAX is a crowd of very good developers marching together to a dead end (what a spiel for a presenter at the AJAX conference!).

But besides Web Designers and Web Developers there is another and very large group of people involved with RIA – the users of RIA. The term Web 2.0 was never officially defined, by my definition is this:

A Web 2.0 application is the one that puts the user in a driver’s seat.

I was really impressed with a great and simple to use application called SproutBuilder (currently in Beta). This service allows you to build a rich flash widget in a matter of minutes.
For example, it took me about ten minutes to create this widget that includes a music and video players for my content, a calendar and a YahooMap component.

Then, you press the button Save, and it generates an SWF file ready to be played in Flash Player. They also give you an HTML link so you can easily embed this SWF file (hosted on their server) into your Web page.

It’s a eally nice and refreshing application that will turn a lot of regular users into creators of Web content. I do not know how creators of Sprout Builder will make money – they’ll figure it out, and

I would not be surprised to hear that they were acquired by Adobe, which is planning to make money off the Flash-based applications anyway.

Sprout has been built using Adobe Flex and Drupal.

Yours truly,
Yakov Fain