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Richer Clients a Must for Web Services

Although thin and fat clients have served the computer industry well in the client/server era , a new study says more "rich clients" are needed in the shift to Web services.

Without rich clients, the adoption of Web services, , which need to operate in a distributed fashion, will be slowed, according to a study by research firm ZapThink.

"The basic idea is that portals and other Web-based interfaces are good for Web-based applications," said senior analyst Ronald Schmelzer, of the Waltham, Mass., concern. "But for distributed functionality, this is not the direction you need to go. A Web browser is not the most visually rich client server application and when you click on it you need to wait for a server response."

Schmelzer is calling for more software vendors to create "rich clients," which are a hybrid of thin clients, such as Web browsers, and fat clients, which include applications that require the installation of software on a desktop.

Rich clients provide capabilities neither thin nor fat clients can, including windowing features and data navigation controls such as buttons, check boxes, radio buttons, toggles and palettes. They also enable Web services by integrating content, communications, and platform-independent application interfaces for distribution with service oriented architectures .

"These would provide instant access to information, interaction with distributed and remote applications, and integration with local desktop applications," Schmelzer said.

Rich clients let applications communicate and even execute one another in a distributed fashion -- also known as Web services and their more broad cousins, service oriented architectures (SOAs).

Schmelzer said major vendors Microsoft Macromedia are in the process of creating rich clients for Web services, or even simply better user-to-content interactivity. Applications such as Microsoft Office and Macromedia have added support for retrieving information from Web Services applications.

For example, Schmelzer said people use Microsoft Excel for business intelligence, analytic, and information integration needs. Moreover, he said new Web-based forms technologies such as Microsoft InfoPath and the latest versions of the Acrobat product serve as live sources of distributed data.

In another example of rich clients, Macromedia has written a language called Macromedia Flex Markup Language (MXML) create, run and execute applications within Macromedia's client-side Flash environment. Flex applications can consume Web Services.

Other rich clients include applets, which are applications that execute from another application. Unlike Microsoft's, Macromedia's and Adobe's solutions, applets typically run off of Java Virtual Machines . In this space, companies like Nexaweb are flying under the radar with Java products that provide rich client software.

Nexaweb CEO Larry Geisel told internetnews.com that Nexaweb's Java-based server allows customers to field heavy-duty applications over the Internet within Web browsers, but without the performance or functionality limitations of a traditional Web applications.

Ultimately, Schmelzer not only insists that rich clients are vital to helping Web services vault into the next generation, but will also prove to be very lucrative: he estimates the market opportunity for rich clients for SOAs will exceed $923 million by 2010, replacing portals along the way as Web interfaces.