"The hybrid application world is upon us," declared Yahoo engineer Chris P. Saari at a Web 2.0 Expo breakout session Tuesday afternoon.
That's not to say the core technology in Web browsers will disappear. In fact, rich Internet applications like the Joost Internet video player are being developed on top of Mozilla's code base. What's in danger is the browser as default online application interface.
"There are experiences we want to provide the user that we simply can't get in a Web browser, unless we distribute a plug-in," said Saari.
Rich Internet applications promise all the benefits of online applications wrapped in a friendly, usable interface. And companies like friendly, usable interfaces because their customers like them.
EBay has long realized this, but only now has the development technology progressed to the point where RIAs have become feasible from a business perspective. "EBay users have asked eBay to build desktop apps for years and until now it didn't make financial sense to do it," one of the developers of eBay's new San Dimas desktop application said to the conference panelists.
Why bother with RIAs? According to Ben Galbraith, an IT consultant, author, and co-founder of Ajaxian, the standard reasons -- offline access, execution speed, access to local resources, and better graphics rendering -- are worth considering. But the real reason is usability.
"User experience is really the only differentiator left," said Galbraith.