MarketScope for Ajax Technologies and RIA Platforms
 
29 March 2011

Ray Valdes, Eric Knipp, David Mitchell Smith, Gene Phifer, Mark Driver

Gartner Research Note G00211813
 

Ajax technologies and rich Internet application platforms continue to mature, while the market consolidates and is poised for further transformation.





What You Need to Know



This document was revised on 31 March 2011. For more information, see the Corrections page.

The use of Ajax toolkits and JavaScript frameworks has become pervasive in the consumer space of public, high-end websites, while the enterprise sector lags behind.

Plug-in-based rich Internet application (RIA) technologies and outside-the-browser RIA platforms have matured, but are now facing a substitution threat from HTML5.

Enterprise adoption of RIA tools and technologies spans a spectrum from early to midstage to laggard. Most early adopters have made their move, and it is the middle adopters that are driving the market, which will favor integrated stacks that leverage server-side platforms on the one hand and a pure Web approach that favors vendor-neutral standards on the other.

A key driver behind the evolution and adoption of presentation-oriented technologies is the rapid growth of mobile devices. This has introduced new requirements and has provided an impetus for the HTML5 family of protocols and specifications.

Success in Ajax and RIA deployments depends more on a user-centered design/development process than on choice of technology; unfortunately, most organizations follow processes that are technology-focused and metrics-blind, and will find ROI elusive.






MarketScope



The sector of Ajax and RIA tools and platforms, broadly speaking, represents a category of technology offerings oriented to meeting the needs of application development teams to build systems that deliver a rich and responsive user experience.

The usual focus of buyers in this market is on technology (in the form of libraries, toolkits, frameworks and platforms) — despite Gartner's long-standing advice that success in presentation-oriented development projects results more from a user-centered design process than from adding a new layer of technology.




Core Usage Scenario

The category of Ajax tools and RIA platforms spans diverse technologies and vendors. What ties the category together is a key scenario or use case that is incorporated into many inquiries to Gartner from end-user organizations.

The typical situation is as follows. An enterprise or organization has in place a portfolio of existing applications that has been developed or procured over the past 10 years or longer. This application portfolio is built on an earlier generation application platform or presentation framework, such as PowerBuilder, Visual Basic, Oracle Forms or a basic server-side Web platform (Active Server Pages [ASP], Java, Cold Fusion). The organization has evaluated the application portfolio and arrived at the following conclusions:

  • The application portfolio and underlying platform are both considered antiquated.

  • The organization has decided to replace the old, server-side platform with one that is considered modern and mainstream, namely .NET or Java (both, in some cases).

  • In terms of user experience, the applications are "unfriendly" and have an antiquated look and feel.

  • Often, the organization is separately considering a client-side or presentation-focused platform or toolset to supplement the server-side platform. In other cases, it is considering a unified platform (both server and client-side technology from the same vendor), but is analyzing the front-end capabilities of the platform carefully.

This scenario leads the organization to consider a range of choices, from Ajax toolkits like jQuery and Dojo, to plug-in based approaches like Flash and Silverlight, to outside-the-browser technologies like Adobe AIR, Windows Presentation Foundation (WPF) and Lotus Expeditor. These choices are what this MarketScope is intended to cover: presentation-centric tools and technologies that can supplement or complement server-side platforms.

The MarketScope does not specifically cover some platforms and technologies that are related, but are not quite on target:

  • General-purpose, server-side development platforms, such as the IBM WebSphere stack or the Microsoft .NET server stack. These platforms are covered by other Gartner research, including a number of Magic Quadrants.

  • Software infrastructure, frameworks and middleware that are layered on application-server platforms, such as portals or the emerging user experience platform (UXP). Other research from Gartner covers this topic

  • Mobile-centric platforms and tools, even though the enterprise application portfolio will become increasingly mobile-centric, and mobile use cases have already had an impact on the evolution of some packages in this MarketScope. Again, other research initiatives from Gartner directly address this topic.




Design Process Remains Less Mature Than Technology

In the Ajax/RIA sector, the focus of buyers is not just on technology, but on technology that is different from the traditional, server-centric platforms to which they are accustomed. The need, as perceived by prospective buyers in this market, is often not precisely articulated, but is generally for a tool, technology or platform that delivers a "better" user experience. In this context, better refers to an experience that is visibly different than what's produced by the existing platforms, which have resulted in legacy applications that are perceived to be drab and difficult to use.

Unfortunately, all too often, adding new technology to an organization that has a dysfunctional process results in a degraded, rather than an improved, user experience. The eventual result is often not known, because having an immature process means that appropriate metrics are not collected. Therefore, the organization cannot objectively determine whether there is an improvement in the effectiveness of the user experience. The case can be made that organizations would get better results by focusing on a better design process, or on more-effective use of the presentation capabilities already included in mainstream server-side platforms, which have evolved to include Ajax and RIA features. This consideration is beyond the scope of this research, which focuses on an emerging but cohesive set of buyers and sellers that comprises the Ajax/RIA market.




Market/Market Segment Description

As is characteristic with any rapidly evolving market, there are often diverse players and approaches and plenty of "apples versus oranges" comparisons possible, due to differentiation in features and approach. The argument has been made by some vendors with products in this space that the notion of a cohesive Ajax/RIA market is an illusion, and that this is not a market in the same way that one cannot state there is a well-defined HTML or XML market. The proposition is that all of these (HTML, XML, Ajax, RIA) technologies are enabling technologies for one or more distinct markets.

While this perspective has a certain validity, Gartner has chosen to do a MarketScope in this area over the past several years, because this situation meets two key aspects of a market:

  • First, a community of buyers that is willing and able to buy, and that may reference each other (or, alternatively, third-party advisors) in making a buying decision

  • Second, a community of sellers that competes with each other for buyer attention and commitment

The market is at a stage where the process of fragmentation and diversity has passed through one cycle, and there has been a countertrend of consolidation and maturation. The market is now poised for a new round of fragmentation and diversity, addressing different requirements that will move it in different directions: HTML5, mobile, social and an integrated UXP. However, the original fault lines in the market landscape remain. Not all sellers compete with each other, and not all buyers have identical needs. Nevertheless, Gartner has received enough inquiries for guidance in product/technology selection, and has seen enough competitive face-offs that the broad outlines of the market are visible. Within this market are segments like the fissure between enterprise RIA and consumer-oriented Ajax. But this fragmentation is no different from other early to midstage markets — for example, the portal market, where vendors were initially strong either in external-facing or internal-facing deployments, but not in both.

As an early stage market matures and consolidates, the usual evolutionary path is for a small number of large vendors to grow even larger by encompassing broad-based approaches, acquiring smaller vendors and/or taking market share away from second-tier choices. Although the maturation process is well under way in the Ajax/RIA market, this has not been characterized by an acquisition spree. Instead, the smaller vendors have repositioned or shifted focus, while larger vendors grow share by leveraging their brand, installed base in other sectors, distribution channels, partnerships and ecosystems.

The center of gravity in the market — or at least the commercial subset of this — is shifting in the direction of server-integrated, platform-centric approaches, and away from the client-centric, server-neutral trend that has been in place in recent years. At the other end of the market, away from the "heavy RIA" end of the spectrum and toward the "light Ajax" side, there has been a more rapid shift, because this end of the spectrum is where there are consumer-oriented, Web-centric ventures that have greater agility and less legacy code than the average enterprise. This sector is shifting toward open-source toolkits and frameworks — primarily jQuery, but also Yahoo YUI, Google Web Toolkit (GWT) Dojo and Prototype. On top or alongside these well-known libraries and frameworks are more-focused, newer JavaScript libraries, such as MooTools, Rafael, JS Charts and Highcharts.




Inclusion and Exclusion Criteria

A MarketScope is intended to address the needs of Gartner customers in evaluating product offerings and vendor relationships in an early to midstage market. A market, as stated earlier, is a community of buyers and sellers. An implication of the term "community" is that many of the participants (although by no means all, or even necessarily a majority) are aware of each other and often use that knowledge in formulating buy-side decisions, as well as sell-side competitive strategies. The aspects of a market, therefore, include buyers, sellers, decisions, information about products and services, and, ultimately, transactions that have an economic aspect (where economic value is used in the broadest sense of an incentive, reward or medium of exchange).

Because the mix of Ajax and RIA products and technologies in this MarketScope includes some offerings that are not commercial products, alternative inclusion criteria are needed to reflect the reality of market decisions, where prospective organizations are choosing from among:

  • RIA platforms, such as Adobe Flash/Flex, Microsoft Silverlight or IBM Lotus Expeditor

  • Free, nonproduct offerings from commercial Web giants, such as Google GWT, Yahoo YUI or Adobe Spry

  • Community-based, open-source packages, such as jQuery or Prototype

  • Commercial open source, such as from Backbase, Tibco Software or Sencha

  • Platform-aligned, aftermarket toolkits, such as from DevExpress or Telerik

Therefore, the criteria must be a mix of traditional and nontraditional attributes, which include the following:

  • Revenue: Ajax or RIA-related annual revenue (on the order of $5 million).

  • Geographic presence: Offices in more than one region, such as North America, Asia and Europe.

  • Vendor presence: Stability and longevity.

  • Market acceptance in one or more of the following sectors: Top 100 websites, Global 1000 companies, Web 2.0 startup ventures, independent software vendors (ISVs) and system integrators (SIs) and the small or midsize business (SMB) market.

  • Ecosystem activity: As evidenced by marketplaces, aftermarket offerings, community forums, books, seminars, and partner and channel activity (IT service firms, SIs, distributors, Web interactive agencies and advisory firms).

  • Gartner client interest: Indicators of interest by Gartner end-user clients include the number of inquiries to analysts via the Gartner call center, or at Gartner conferences via one-on-one attendee meetings.

These criteria allow disparate products to be included: commercial products from enterprise-oriented vendors, as well as nonproduct offerings and open-source packages (community-based open source and vendor-aligned open source).

The inclusion criteria were analyzed in a spreadsheet with a dozen attributes: vendor strength (RIA-related revenue, vendor longevity and partners), market share (among enterprises, ISVs, high-end websites and Web 2.0 ventures), and product attributes (Gartner client interest, product features and ecosystem activity). Points were allotted based on strength in these attributes, and vendors or offerings that exceeded a composite threshold value were included.

There have been a number of changes in the vendor lineup since last year, due to factors such as:

  • Acquisitions: Namely, Sun Microsystems was acquired by Oracle.

  • Repositioning to another market segment: For example, JackBe is focusing on the mashup sector, while Nexaweb has focused on legacy application modernization.

  • Fading in the market and/or reduced interest on the part of enterprises.

  • Renaming and rebranding: For example, Ext JS became Sencha.

  • Growth in visibility and traction (Vaadin).

The vendors that were present last year and are not included in this year's MarketScope are JackBe, Magic Software Enterprises, MB Technologies, Nexaweb and Sun Microsystems. Ext got additional venture funding, made some acquisitions and recruited some high-profile developers, and rebranded as Sencha. Vaadin is new to this year's MarketScope, a result of increased visibility and market traction (a partnership with Liferay, publication of a programmer's reference and guide, increased mention by vendors and an increase in inquiries from Gartner clients). Also new this year is Canoo Engineering, which is a long-standing vendor of RIA technology but, like Vaadin, has recently gained traction and visibility beyond its established customer base.

As the market has matured, there has been a natural consolidation process, which is most pronounced among open-source packages. Open-source offerings often have less market friction and inertia because of their perceived low cost (i.e., there is no capital budget that needs to be amortized over time), and because these are often vendor-independent and cross-platform. During the early days of Ajax (2004 to 2006), there were more than 100 toolkits. However, the field has dramatically narrowed, in favor of jQuery. Although other key competitors with jQuery — such as Dojo, Prototype, Yahoo YUI and GWT — still have strong and loyal advocates, and although second-tier packages such as MooTools, MochiKit, Cappuccino and SproutCore still have their fans, most other packages have faded in the face of jQuery's growth. In many ways, it has become the playing field, rather than just being one of many players. In recognition of this trend, since the prior MarketScope, some packages have introduced interoperability with jQuery.

Stepping back from the details of specific vendors, it is worth observing that four vendors were downgraded (from one level to the next, such as from Positive to Promising), and that two that were formerly Strong Positive are now Positive. As noted, another five were dropped from last year. These changes reflect changes in the market, where it is increasingly difficult, if not impossible, for a commercial vendor selling an Ajax toolkit to be viable in the face of broad adoption of jQuery. Therefore, commercial vendors have moved to related categories, whether portals, mashup tools, legacy modernization, rapid application development (RAD) or some other category. These are covered by other MarketScopes or Magic Quadrants. Granted, there is a strong, presentation-centric aspect to these, but the "center of gravity" for these categories (portals, business process management suites [BPMSs], mashup tools) is elsewhere.

Not just Ajax toolkit vendors, but also some vendors of RIA platforms, which are more powerful and broader scope than an Ajax toolkit, (so there is less direct competition with jQuery), have also been downgraded in the face of disruptive developments, such as the rise of HTML5 and the increasing importance of mobile deployments.

It is important to note that a downgrade is not necessarily a reflection of decreased tool quality or increased weakness of the vendor. In most cases, it is a function of the lens through which we are viewing this, that of the MarketScope of Ajax toolkits and RIA platforms (and to what extent these choices will serve the enterprise or end-user organization). This lens looks at a particular scenario, that of an enterprise making a strategic decision for a presentation-specific technology or platform, which is a different decision than selecting a server-side development platform (one that may also have a presentation aspect) or selecting a portal or BPMS. There are vendors that have a midlevel rating in the Ajax/RIA MarketScope that could shine in a different category, such as portals or mashup tools.




Rating for Overall Market/Market Segment

Overall Market Rating: Positive

Although the market has been around since the first commercial products were introduced in 2001 and 2002, for much of that time it has been in the early stages of evolution. It is only since 2009 that the market matured beyond the early adopter segment to mainstream middle adopters. The Positive rating for this overall market remains the same as in the prior edition of this MarketScope.

As is observed in other markets (mobile platforms, Web platforms) there is a consumer aspect and an enterprise aspect. Regarding the enterprise aspect, a key attribute of this segment is the idea of "significant platform commitment" — as opposed to pilot projects or "one of a kind" tactical projects. Tactical projects remain more prevalent than strategic platform commitments.

The market has gone through various phases, which Gartner identifies as follows:

  • 1998 to 2002: Embryonic phase — with demonstrations of technology, such as Desktop.com, but no commercial products.

  • 2002 to 2004: Nascent phase — with a handful of products introduced by pioneering vendors such as Backbase, General Interface (acquired by Tibco Software), JackBe, Laszlo Systems and Macromedia.

  • 2004 to 2008: Early adopter phase — which can be broken down further:

    • 2004 to 2006: "The Rise of Ajax" — about 24 months, during which over 100 open-source toolkits proliferate.

    • 2007 to 2008: The "Year" of Adobe Flex — about 18 months, during which Flex gains dominant share among early adopters in the enterprise RIA segment.

  • 2009 to 2012: Early majority phase — in which enterprises make strategic commitments to Ajax and RIA technologies. Some of these initiatives are client-centric RIAs, leading to an intensive conflict between Adobe and Microsoft, while other initiatives have stronger linkages to server-side platforms.

  • 2012 to 2017: Platform-centric phase — in which client-side technologies become more closely unified with server-side platforms, and customers gravitate to their favored major platform vendor (for example, IBM, Microsoft and Oracle) or emerging UXP vendor, such as Adobe.

Gartner estimates that more than three-quarters of Global 1000 companies have experimented with Ajax or RIA technologies from more than one vendor. During the early phases of the market, there were more than 100 vendors and toolkits covering the broad spectrum of technology choices, which range from lightweight Ajax to extended browser (Flash, Java, Silverlight) to outside the browser (AIR, WPF, Expeditor, JavaFx).

Before 2010, only a small minority of organizations made a strategic platform commitment. Note that a platform commitment does not have to be an enterprisewide monoculture; it just has to go beyond a single, isolated project. Most large enterprises have more than one platform in place (i.e., both Java Platform, Enterprise Edition [Java EE] and .NET), even for nonlegacy projects.




Additional Challenges and Considerations

A MarketScope is a lens intended to provide as clear a view as possible of a market landscape to most Gartner clients. However, the nature of the task is such that to the extent an organization differs from the norm, the lens will represent a distorted view (or, alternatively, one could say that each organization needs its own level of astigmatic correction to reflect its priorities). More specifically, an organization that is heavily aligned with one vendor or another will view the market through a lens that is Microsoft-centric, IBM-centric, Oracle-centric, etc. Gartner has observed that, in practice, large organizations tend to have multiple vendor alignments, despite nominal allegiance to one primary vendor.

A second challenge in this process is that the MarketScope lens is focused on vendors and not on products. In the case of smaller vendors, the vendor-centric view aligns perfectly with a perspective centered on products. However, larger vendors offer more than one product. Microsoft is the extreme example, with many significant choices of products and technologies that relate to the presentation aspects of an application, from WPF to ASP .NET Model-View-Controller (MVC) to Silverlight 4, plus a half-dozen other choices, some of which are legacy products but are still actively used. Other vendors, such as Adobe, Oracle and IBM, are similar in that they have multiple offerings — both focused (client-side only, perhaps) and broad-scope (integrated server-side platforms). There are also vendors that started out with Ajax or RIA offerings, but have since shifted market emphasis to some other product category (for example, JackBe and Laszlo), but still market their original products.

Most vendors in this MarketScope have more than one product in their portfolio that falls under the scope of RIA and Ajax, although these are generally part of the same product family. Larger vendors, as noted earlier, may have unrelated and even competing products in their portfolio. In the case of multiple products, the evaluation aggregates the product mix, and gives proportionately greater emphasis to the package that is of core interest to Gartner clients that are end-user organizations.

Gartner clients that are accustomed to Magic Quadrants (and not MarketScopes) should note that MarketScopes present results in a coarse-grained, one-dimensional ranking (Levels 1 through 5, which are labeled Strong Negative, Caution, Promising, Positive and Strong Positive). This is different from the high-resolution, two-dimensional position in a Magic Quadrant. MarketScope labels may not capture the nuances of a vendor's ranking, including the important notion of directional movement. To illustrate, two vendors ranked at the midpoint in the scale (Level 3) both carry the label Promising. However, in one case, the vendor has declined from Level 5, and the other has ascended from Level 1. Also, the coarse-grained ladder consists of only five steps, which might obscure the fact that a vendor near the top of one level may have more in common with vendors at the next level than with lower-ranked vendors in the same level, due to truncating high-resolution numerical analysis to fit low-resolution "buckets." Therefore, it is important to consider all aspects of a vendor's evaluation:

  • Written description and analysis of each vendor

  • Bullet-point items listing positive and negative attributes

  • Ranking level

Table 1 lists the evaluation criteria associated with traditional commercial vendors. Figure 1 shows the position of the vendors in this MarketScope. These criteria are unchanged from last year's MarketScope. This year, all weights are even (standard), with the exception of Overall Viability, reflecting the priorities of midstage adopters, which often value vendor longevity over product-centric attributes like technical architecture.




Evaluation Criteria


Table 1. Evaluation Criteria

Evaluation Criteria
Comment
Weighting
Product/Service
Core goods and services offered by the vendor that compete in/serve the defined market. This includes current product/service capabilities, quality, feature sets and skills — such as architecture and component model, breadth and depth of user interface (UI) controls, footprint in memory and across the wire, server-side complement, if any, accompanying programming tools, if any, interoperability with other tools and technologies (including Ajax and RIA tools), support for current and emerging standards, including HTML5, support for mobile development, etc.
standard
Offering (Product) Strategy
The vendor's approach to product development and delivery that emphasizes differentiation, functionality, methodology and feature sets as they map to current and future requirements. Emerging requirements include support for and/or coexistence with HTML5, and support for mobile development, cloud development and emerging, server-side platforms.
standard
Overall Viability (Business Unit, Financial, Strategy, Organization)
Viability includes an assessment of the overall organization's financial health, the financial and practical success of the business unit (in the case of larger vendors) and the likelihood that the individual business unit will continue investing in the product, will continue offering the product and will advance the state of the art within the organization's portfolio of products. For open-source packages, especially those that are community-based, there are indicators of ecosystem activity (committers, forum participants, support by services firms and SIs, etc).
standard
Sales Execution/Pricing
The vendor's capabilities in all presales activities and the structure that supports them. This includes deal management, pricing and negotiation, presales support and the overall effectiveness of the sales channel. This criterion is less applicable, of course, to the case of open-source packages, especially those that are community-based.
standard
Market Responsiveness and Track Record
The ability to respond, change direction, be flexible and achieve competitive success as opportunities develop, competitors act, customer needs evolve and market dynamics change. For example, the growing dominance of open-source software in the consumer-oriented Web has led some vendors to support jQuery.
standard

Source: Gartner (March 2011)

 


Figure 1. MarketScope for Ajax Technologies and RIA Platforms

Figure 1.MarketScope for Ajax Technologies and RIA Platforms

Source: Gartner (March 2011)
 



Vendor Product/Service Analysis

Adobe

Adobe has become far more complex in recent years. It is best known for the Flash Platform, which underpins a range of products and services in the Adobe portfolio that Gartner clients consider and evaluate. These include the Flash Player for in-browser RIA, Adobe AIR for exa-browser RIA, Adobe Flash Builder and the open-source Adobe Flex framework for Flash (and AIR) application development and Flash Media Server for streaming media content. Through organic development and acquisition, Adobe complements the core Flash Platform with technologies including Adobe Spry (a lightweight, open-source Ajax toolkit), Dreamweaver, ColdFusion and LiveCycle Data Services (LCDS). In the last two years, Adobe has added cloud-computing-style services, including LiveCycle Collaboration Services (LCCS), Adobe InMarket (a distribution service for AIR applications), Adobe Online Marketing Suite (an analytics service), Digital Publishing Suite (a digital content publication service) and BrowserLab (a testing service enabling developers to preview Web applications in multiple browsers). In addition, in 2011 Adobe launched the Customer Experience Management platform, an end-to-end digital and multichannel marketing platform that incorporates components of the Flash portfolio alongside the LiveCycle business process management (BPM) technology and Day Software CMS platform and CRX content repository.

Adobe is based in San Jose, California, with $3.8 billion in fiscal-year 2010 revenue and more than 9,000 employees. A key part of its product portfolio is the Creative Suite branded products addressed to an audience of creative and multimedia professionals: Photoshop, Acrobat, Premiere, Illustrator, etc. Adobe acquired Macromedia in 2005, and incorporated its flagship products and technologies, such as Flash, ColdFusion, Dreamweaver and Flex. Flash subsequently became the core of Adobe's enterprise strategy; Adobe Flex represents the evolution of the Flash platform into the enterprise and ISV application development market. Flex 4 is the fourth generation of this RIA development toolkit, released in early 2010. In 2010, rapidly growing interest in HTML5 caused industry observers to call into question the future viability of the Flash platform as the dominant RIA technology. Adobe responded by expanding the choices available to Flash developers concerned about cross-platform compatibility, from cross-compilation for iOS, Android and Research In Motion (RIM) and Wallaby Flash-to-HTML converter for WebKit-based browsers, to HTML5 tooling (through the HTML5 add-on pack for Dreamweaver and increasing investment in new HTML5 tools like Edge, which allows motion designers to express their ideas in HTML), to better support for the Flash runtime on next-generation, Internet-connected endpoint devices (through the Open Screen Project). The RIA market of the future is likely to be less Flash-centric than the RIA market of the present, but Adobe is taking steps to ensure that it remains a viable player in the long run.

Positives:

  • Adobe's new business strategy is integrative in nature, seeking synergies in the whole of Adobe's portfolio to provide a more complete and compelling value proposition. Successful execution of this visionary strategy will enable Adobe to capture a higher margin of business from enterprise profit centers.

  • Flash remains the dominant RIA technology thanks to its continual improvement, with new technology and relative maturity and stability as measured by successful enterprise, ISV and public Web deployments.

  • With more than 97% penetration, Flash is installed on the overwhelming majority of Internet-connected PCs. It is also the most widely supported exa-browser RIA technology on mobile devices, thanks to support on recent versions of Android upcoming support for the BlackBerry Tablet OS and WebOS. Adobe has an opportunity to position Flash as the premier cross-platform RIA development toolset and to maintain (and perhaps even increase) its value proposition in the face of HTML5, because developers working across multiple immature HTML5 implementations will value a layer that provides cross-platform consistency.

  • Adobe has a strong brand reputation in the creative professional market, and the company has deep roots with design firms.

  • Adobe is a thought leader in usability and in marketing the concept of user and application experience.

  • As the only RIA vendor to operate a widely used Web analytics service (Adobe Online Marketing Suite), Adobe is able to provide simplified integration techniques in its Creative Suite branded tools. This makes it easier for enterprises to ensure that best-in-class reporting and measurement features are built into their RIAs.

Negatives:

  • Adobe faces serious headwinds if exa-browser RIA technology is supplanted by the modern Web — HTML5, CSS3 and JavaScript. Although popular with designers, Dreamweaver, Adobe's entry into the HTML5 market, is not the preferred editor for Web developers. There are far and away more Web developers than there are dedicated Web designers.

  • Regardless of the likelihood that HTML5 fully supplants exa-browser RIA, it is highly likely that a significant percentage of Web applications that would have used RIA in the past will make the switch to pure-browser techniques. Adobe's success with such projects is far from guaranteed, although it does provide coverage through multiple means: Adobe Spry framework (JavaScript/Ajax), support in Dreamweaver for jQuery (including jQuery Mobile). Adobe is known primarily for point tools, but is trying to reinvent itself as a broad, full-solution vendor with the Customer Experience Management platform. Adobe faces new execution challenges that it did not encounter when it sought to function primarily as a conglomerate of loosely coupled products.

  • The shift in marketing emphasis from best-of-breed point tools to best-of-brand solution suites may disenfranchise some customers of certain products who prefer a simpler vendor relationship.

  • While Flash is the dominant RIA technology among early adopters in the enterprise sector, Adobe needs to make more progress to develop its reputation as a strategic player in the broader enterprise market. ActionScript is a full-fledged, object-oriented scripting language based on ECMAScript, but it is still a niche skill that cannot be transferred to other IT projects.

Rating: Positive




Backbase

Backbase is one of the pioneering vendors in the commercial Ajax sector, founded in 2003. The company is based in Amsterdam, with offices in New York. The core team has remained together since the founding stage. The company has, over the years, evolved a mature and powerful Ajax framework that includes a library of client-side controls, a visual development tool and server-side integration. On top of this, Backbase has added a portal offering that is headed in the direction of a user-experience platform. The company's marketing emphasis is on external-facing scenarios, such as self-service and customer-facing portals that offer tools to e-business teams for cross-sell and upsell, and that need to have both a broad reach and a high user experience impact.

The Backbase Portal was first released in June 2008, and is now in v.4.3 (released January 2011). It is termed a "client portal" in that a key system component is a client-side Ajax library. There is a server-side set of services running on a variety of Java EE containers (WebSphere, jBoss, etc). Backbase now leverages the widely adopted jQuery JavaScript library.

Positives:

  • Backbase has broadened its scope from an Ajax library to a client-side portal.

  • The company has gained some traction in the financial services sector, for external-facing sites (some up to 20 million users).

  • Backbase is keeping pace with industry developments in HTML5, CSS3 and mobile Web.

  • The vendor is an early entrant in the emerging category of lightweight, client-side portal frameworks.

Negatives:

  • The portal category is crowded and mature on the server side, while the client-side category is just emerging.

  • Backbase is a small specialty vendor competing with larger, established players.

Rating: Promising




Canoo Engineering

Founded in 1999, Canoo Engineering is a longstanding and pioneering vendor in the RIA application market. Based in Switzerland, Canoo has a number of products in several market sectors, but is best known for its Canoo RIA Suite, anchored by the UltraLightClient (ULC) Java-based RIA framework, in the market since 2001. The company also has offices in Mumbai, India, Lugano, Switzerland, and Amsterdam.

The most recent version of its RIA Suite — released in March 2011 — consists of the ULC Core component, an advanced table UI component; Web, Office and portal integration; a load testing framework; a visual editor; and Grails and Groovy integration features.

ULC applications have no browser and OS dependencies. The application's UI runs in a Java runtime environment, either as a browser plug-in or outside the browser. The architecture of the ICEsoft system is also different from most other RIA solutions insofar as the entire programming model is server-side; it uses a Java-based component to project the UI on the client side. This approach is similar to that of Vaadin and ICEsoft Technologies.

Positives:

  • Canoo offers broad support for a variety of UI components.

  • The company has a well-established market presence — albeit small —- with a solid customer base.

  • Canoo offers strong support for a "desktoplike" user experience.

  • ULC offers a consolidated programming model for Java developers; there's no need to learn JavaScript, Ajax, Cascading Style Sheets (CSS), etc.

Negatives:

  • Canoo is a small company in a crowded aftermarket sector.

  • Canoo's products appeal largely limited to Java-centric AD organizations.

Rating: Promising




DevExpress

DevExpress is a longstanding member (starting in 1998) of the Microsoft ecosystem of aftermarket vendors that sells visual and business components on top of Microsoft presentation platforms such as WPF, ASP. NET, Silverlight and Windows Forms. DevExpress competes directly with Infragistics and Telerik (vendors also covered in this MarketScope), as well as with other vendors in this market niche (ComponentOne, Dundas Data Visualization, Janus, Software FX, Xceed, GrapeCity, ComponentArt, Divelements, SpringSource and Syncfusion). Many of these companies play complementary roles for their host platforms by filling gaps in the control sets for Silverlight, Windows Forms, etc.

The DevExpress product line includes over 300 products (presentation controls, reporting and analytics libraries, application frameworks) that range from control libraries for Silverlight, WPF, ASP .NET, MVC, and WINForms to Visual Studio .NET productivity tools to an object-relational mapping tool. All DevExpress controls and libraries ship with source code, as is customary in this category, but are not open-source licensed.

One way in which DevExpress differentiates itself from competitors is that it provides eXpressApp Framework (XAF), a cross-platform application framework that can target Windows Forms and ASP. NET. Although XAF can be considered a RIA platform and, therefore, directly competitive with offerings from Microsoft, the bulk of the product line is complementary to the Microsoft product line and helps accelerate adoption of Microsoft presentation platforms. DevExpress has licensed one developer tool (CodeRush Xpress, a code navigation assist) to Microsoft for use within Visual Studio.

Positives:

  • DevExpress offers a broad line of components, libraries and frameworks that complements Microsoft presentation platforms.

  • This is a small vendor that has survived for a long time in the shadow of Microsoft.

  • DevExpress has a loyal customer base that has adopted component products on a tactical basis.

Negatives:

  • DevExpress is a small company in a crowded aftermarket sector whose framework-level product competes directly with Microsoft and has not seen wide adoption.

  • Customers view the company's products as tactical and complementary, rather than as strategic and self-contained.

Rating: Promising




Dojo

Dojo, like Prototype, is a pioneer in the category of community-based, open-source Ajax toolkits, dating back to 2004. The Dojo Toolkit is built and maintained by a team of 300 contributors, mostly volunteers, under the auspices of the Dojo Foundation (founded in 2005). The foundation is led by a management and board that include IBM, Tibco and Google, as well as smaller firms like SitePen and Set Direction. The scope of projects that Dojo contributors participate in includes not just Dojo Toolkit, but also related technologies and systems such as Sizzle, DWR and CometD, which are offerings that can stand alone or can be incorporated in other Ajax toolkits and libraries.

Version 1.6 of the Dojo Toolkit was released in March 2011 under Berkeley Software Distribution (BSD) open-source license. The Dojo Toolkit now consists of a layered portfolio of technologies, starting with a 31KB base and core, which provides event model, Ajax input/output (I/O), query selector engine, style manipulations, etc. On top of the core is a widget system (called Dijit) that provides UI and layout controls. Widgets are ARIA-compliant for accessibility. Lastly, there is an extension layer called DojoX that allows the system to support mobile, CSS3, local storage and encryption. The Dojo system interoperates with server-side JavaScript (node.js and Persevere), as well as Adobe AIR. Dojo systems include packaging and building tools, which support large-scale teams (as in enterprise development projects) that are building voluminous code bases over time. According to the Dojo Foundation, there have been 5 million cumulative developer downloads of the toolkit (as compared with 3 million one year ago). The Foundation estimates 500,000 active developers.

Dojo's most direct "competitors" are other leading, community-based, open-source packages, such as jQuery, Yahoo YUI and Prototype. An important differentiator for Dojo is its close working relationship with and adoption by IBM.

Positives:

  • Dojo has an early position, strong influence and high visibility in the category of open-source Ajax.

  • It has support from IBM and, to a lesser extent, Oracle. Dojo is a corporatewide standard at IBM, supported across 30 products.

  • Dojo has early adoption and a track record in some major sites such as AOL Mail and MapQuest, and enterprises such as Thomson Reuters, Cisco, ADP and Alcatel-Lucent.

Negatives:

  • The IBM relationship is mostly a positive, but may be considered a negative by some vendor competitors.

  • There is the perception of slowed momentum, relative to newer toolkits (jQuery and MooTools), although Dojo continues to maintain a steady release schedule.

Rating: Positive




Google

Google is clearly one of the Web's largest and best-known companies, with over $29.3 billion in revenue in 2010 and $8.5 billion in net income. In the Ajax/RIA space, Google offers GWT.

GWT is a tool intended to leverage the skills of the server-side Java programmer who does not know JavaScript (a very different language from Java). Developers write code in Java, which gets translated by the system to JavaScript for client-side deployment. Google has built a sophisticated technology to allow developers to debug and profile at the Java source level, without having to descend to inspecting machine-generated JavaScript code. GWT can take advantage of the optimization capabilities of a statically typed language (Java), as compared with the more difficult challenge posed by dynamically typed languages (JavaScript).

For some time, a sticking point among developers regarding GWT was that Google itself did not use GWT in its flagship applications (Mail, Maps and Docs) — instead, a JavaScript-based approach was used, rather than GWT's Java-centric approach. However, Google Wave, introduced in 2009, was an innovative, real-time collaboration and messaging application with a rich UI built with GWT. (Unfortunately, the Wave project was terminated in 2010). GWT is also used by AdWords, a mission-critical application that is strategic for Google. GWT is also used in other Google offerings, such as Google Health, Latitude, Moderator and Profiles. In March 2011, Google announced that the UI used by the next generation of Google's Blogger service, which reaches more than 400 million users worldwide, will be built with GWT.

Positives:

  • Google offers a well-crafted toolkit for the Java-centric developer, incorporating end-to-end coverage of the application development life cycle.

  • It leverages the Google brand and ecosystem, and its perceived vendor stability and longevity.

  • GWT's ability to support a complex UI embodied in the Google Wave project shows the power and range of the toolkit.

Negatives:

  • The Java focus is neutral (i.e., it's not compelling) to Web 2.0 developers, who are mostly located outside the enterprise sector.

  • Google does not use GWT for its most-visible and popular products (Maps, Mail and Apps), partly because they predate GWT, and because they are written in non-Java languages.

  • The Google brand is positive, but is not compelling to enterprise developers.

Rating: Positive




IBM

IBM is one of the largest and most-influential vendors in the enterprise IT sector. IBM has long been projecting a marketing message around the concept of "rich client" or "smart client." The company has a range of presentation-related technologies and platforms, and was an early force behind Ajax, Dojo and the OpenAjax Alliance. Likewise, IBM has adopted Ajax techniques in its own WebSphere portal and WebSphere Commerce Server (using Dojo and OpenLaszlo) and in many other products. Included in IBM's range of offerings related to presentation are Enterprise Generation Language (EGL) Rich UI and IBM Forms.

The case can be made that no other enterprise vendor is promoting, delivering and exploiting Ajax technology more than IBM, which has made extensive use of this technology in multiple product lines. However, using the technology within a product is different from packaging and selling the technology in a way that meets Ajax/RIA buyers' expectations and requirements. Although IBM is using Dojo in a widespread and strategic manner, it appears that most adopters of Dojo as a development tool use it directly, rather than through intermediaries. With regard to IBM developer tools, these have become Ajax/RIA-enabled as well, so that Rational, Notes and WebSphere developers can enhance the user experience of existing and new applications, including mashups.

One of IBM's strategic RIA platforms is Lotus Expeditor, which can be used either as a "full stack" outside-the-browser environment based on the Eclipse Rich Client Platform (RCP) or as an adjunct to the browser for local desktop and data integration. It provides additional capabilities for offline storage (a scaled-down DB2 relational database management system [RDMS]), system management, provisioning, etc. While highly configurable in nature, Expeditor can be delivered from a runtime as small as 3MB up to a 100MB network delivery image, which can be compared (albeit in an apples-to-oranges fashion) with Ajax toolkits (including IBM-backed Dojo) that are 20KB in size. However, the architecture behind Expeditor allows for the possibility that it may be used in browser-plug-in-type scenarios as well, which would broaden its appeal substantially.

Lotus Expeditor's main competitors are outside-the-browser technologies from Microsoft (WPF and Silverlight 3) and Adobe (AIR). All of these desktop environment offerings have been burdened by the perception of cost (hardware resource utilization) and complexity — although Adobe AIR has gained more market traction than the others, at least in the highly visible consumer space (for example, Twitter clients such as Tweetdeck). In the enterprise sector, the installed base of Lotus Notes, Sametime and Symphony — all built on the Expeditor technology foundation — in aggregate may exceed that of AIR. All have seen slow market uptake, relative to the meteoric growth in lightweight Ajax toolkits and relative to the robust adoption of inside-the-browser approaches such as Adobe Flash/Flex

IBM stands to benefit from the market shift to midlevel adopters that have a strong platform/vendor affinity. (That is, organizations whose favored megavendor is IBM will increasingly adopt one of the many UI offerings from IBM.)

Positives:

  • IBM has historically been a major force behind Ajax in general and Dojo in particular, and makes extensive use of Ajax and RIA in its product lines, including its server-centric developer platforms. However, IBM is not promoting node.js, which is well-positioned to capitalize on synergies between client Ajax and server programming models.

  • Expeditor is a powerful RIA framework with comprehensive subsystems to support enterprise-scale initiatives.

  • Expeditor leverages Eclipse (a widely used developer tool) and Java (a dominant enterprise language and platform), and allows integration and interoperability with Ajax.

  • Eclipse is used as the technology foundation for revamped Lotus Notes, Sametime and Symphony clients, which can result in synergy and accelerated maturity of the technology.

  • Expeditor has potential in browser-plug-in scenarios in the future.

Negatives:

  • IBM's success in using Dojo and incorporating it into tools is not the same as selling RIA platforms to buyers in the Ajax/RIA market.

  • The full-stack approach used in Expeditor means a large footprint and complex environment for developers. But the incremental, network delivery of function means enterprises can start small and grow the system as needs dictate.

  • Applications for the Expeditor platform initially had to be designed as Eclipse plug-ins, which represented a design obstacle for the average application developer. This constraint has been relaxed in recent versions, which support a broader range of Web development, including HTML5.

  • Although Eclipse has an extensive track record as a developer tool, it has a much more limited history as an application deployment platform (which is the way it is used in Expeditor).

  • Over the years, the marketing message from IBM has changed (along with the Expeditor product name) multiple times, resulting in a slow rate of adoption.

Rating: Positive




ICEsoft Technologies

ICEsoft was formed in 2001 and is based in Alberta, Canada. The company is a small but key vendor in the category of Java-based enterprise Unix (UX) technologies. ICEsoft is best known for ICEfaces, an open-source Ajax framework for Java EE designed to provide enhanced Ajax functionality to Java Server Faces (JSF) controls in a manner that is largely transparent to developers. ICEfaces is characterized by a server-centric architectural approach in which all application logic is coded in Java and executes in a standard Java EE application server environment. Speed and responsiveness are gained by pushing the rendering functions to the client side, while keeping business logic on the server. Supporting this trigger-based, server-initiated rendering is Ajax Push (also known in some circles as Comet, Reverse Ajax or HTTP streaming).

ICEsoft also markets Enterprise Push Server, which provides Ajax Push capabilities for JSF applications and the Push Server (included with the open-source version of ICEfaces). The company is also developing ICEpush, aimed at packaging a real-time notification mechanism from ICEfaces with a broader range of technologies than JSF.

The company states that approximately 125,000 Java developers use this JSF framework. ICEfaces is distributed under the Mozilla Public License (MPL) open-source license; an extended version (ICEfaces EE) is licensed as traditional commercial closed source.

Outside the Ajax/RIA category, ICEsoft also markets an open-source library that allows Java programs to display and print PDF documents.

Positives:

  • ICEsoft offers a strong JSF component library in the sparsely populated (i.e., with respect to competitors) JSF market niche.

  • The user base is growing steadily.

  • There is a leading-edge focus on Ajax Push design concepts.

  • There is synergy and momentum among Java developers who prefer open-source tools and technologies

Negatives:

  • ICEsoft is a small vendor competing (albeit indirectly) with Oracle, a large strategic vendor with strong commitment to JSF.

  • ICEsoft is also competing with diverse and numerous non-JSF alternatives in the broader Ajax and RIA sector.

Rating: Promising




Infragistics

Infragistics was formed in 2001 as a result of a merger, with roots that go back to 1989. It is a key player in a cluster of aftermarket vendors that gravitates to Microsoft-related presentation platforms — early on, it was Visual Basic, ASP and Windows Forms and, more recently, Silverlight and WPF. Two principal RIA products are NetAdvantage for Silverlight for Line of Business UI Controls, and Silverlight Data Visualization. In addition, the company recently introduced NetAdvantage for jQuery,

Infragistics' products are sold directly, as well as through channel partners, and are priced below $2,000 — in line with similar aftermarket competitors. It competes directly with DevExpress and Telerik (vendors also covered in this MarketScope), as well as with other vendors in this market niche (ComponentOne, Dundas, Janus, Software FX, Xceed, GrapeCity, Sharp Library, ComponentArt, Divelements, SpringSource and Syncfusion). Many of these companies complement their host platforms by filling gaps through visual controls (data grids) and report-oriented components.

Infragistics differentiates itself from competitors in part by a focus on user experience services and guidance. The company introduced Quince in 2009, an innovative repository of UX and UI design patterns that allows members of development teams to collaborate and helps insure consistency across a portfolio of applications. The company has also moved ahead of others in recognizing and leveraging the prevalence of jQuery, rather than trying to compete directly with it.

Positives:

  • Infragistics offers a solid suite of components across all Microsoft UX technologies. It is a specialized vendor that has survived for a long time in the shadow of Microsoft.

  • The focus on user experience has potential for strategic differentiation.

  • The company has a loyal and longstanding customer base.

Negatives:

  • Infragistics is a small company in crowded aftermarket sector.

  • Many customers view the company's products as tactical, not strategic.

Rating: Promising




Isomorphic Software

Isomorphic Software is based in San Francisco and was founded in 1998. The company has two product offerings in the Ajax/RIA sector: SmartClient (now at v.8.0, released in January 2011) and Smart GWT (v.2.4 released in January 2011). The two product lines share a common Ajax engine and have feature parity. The Smart GWT offering allows Ajax development in Java via GWT, and achieved about 90,000 downloads in the first three months after release. Both products target enterprise Web applications and application modernization scenarios, and allow incremental upgrades of legacy Web applications.

Both products are offered in a free, open-source version under the Lesser General Public License (LGPL), as well as under a commercial license. The free versions include a library of over 150 UI components intended to compete with UI components offered by other server-neutral UI technologies, such as Sencha, Dojo and Flex. Commercially licensed editions introduce Java-based, server-side capabilities such as data binding, data validation and transaction handling. Commercial editions also include Visual Builder, and a screen design and mockup tool with wizard-driven data binding tools.

ISVs that use the SmartClient technology include Intuit and Informatica. Enterprise customers include JPMorgan Chase and Blue Shield. Isomorphic recently introduced Visual Builder OEM, which allows an ISV to ship a modified and customized version of Isomorphic's Visual Builder that allows end users to customize and extend the ISV's product.

Positives:

  • Isomorphic offers a broad, multifaceted, but cohesive, framework and component library.

  • The company has steady market traction with ISVs and enterprises.

Negatives:

  • Isomorphic is a small company competing in a crowded sector against larger, established IT platform vendors and commoditized open-source packages.

Rating: Promising




jQuery

The jQuery package is the most widely adopted and most prominent of JavaScript libraries. It is a community-based, open-source Ajax library, initially authored by John Resig in January 2006, with v.1.0 released in August of that year. The current version is v.1.51. The package has grown steadily in visibility and influence through a mix of developer-friendly constructs, elegant coding techniques and well-written documentation. It gained broad industry adoption beyond what is usual for open-source projects from established, diverse vendors such as Adobe, Microsoft, Oracle and Nokia.

jQuery falls under the auspices of the jQuery Project, which is part of the nonprofit Software Freedom Conservancy. There are multiple aspects of the jQuery offering: jQuery Core (event handling, Document Object Model [DOM] traversal, animation and Ajax communications), jQuery UI (widgets, animation and other visual effects), Sizzle (CSS selector engine) and QUnit (JavaScript test suite). The core has a client-side footprint of 29KB (minified and compressed), and in uncompressed form is 8,200 lines of JavaScript code, 212KB in size.

The adoption of jQuery has enjoyed a strong increase since 2009. This growth curve follows the pattern of other open-source software categories, such as HTTP servers (dominated by Apache), search engines (Lucene), IDEs (Eclipse) and RDMSs (MySQL), in which one package over time benefits from a "network effect" and gains critical mass. This is not to say that other packages, such as Dojo, Prototype, GWT and YUI are not good choices. Further, the market is evolving, especially in the area of mobile, which is where jQuery has lagged behind some alternatives (Sencha, for example).

Positives:

  • jQuery has an elegant architecture with well-written documentation and a small footprint.

  • It has support from established industry players such as Adobe, Microsoft and Nokia.

  • jQuery has wide adoption across many sites, including high-visibility websites like Fandango, Twitter, Bank of America, Amazon, Netflix and Dell.

  • jQuery has the ability to coexist with other toolkits, such as Prototype.

  • It is gaining traction and credibility in the enterprise sector.

  • It has support in a range of open-source projects, including WordPress, Drupal and Joomla.

Negatives:

  • jQuery is competing in a dynamic space with other evolving, high-quality toolkits (YUI, Dojo, GWT and Prototype).

  • The organization and team are community-based, open source (i.e., mostly volunteers that work for other companies), and there is no curated aftermarket.

  • jQuery is not suited for single-page cohesive Web apps, where JavaScript frameworks such as Dojo, Sencha, Cappuccino and SproutCore shine.

Rating: Strong Positive




Microsoft

Microsoft has long been the champion of rich UI technology. The company has many different technology offerings in this category, including the WPF, Windows Forms, Silverlight, Composite UI Application Block, the Prism Composite UI framework, the Microsoft Ajax Library (which has a client-side aspect and an ASP .NET server-centric aspect), SharePoint Web Parts and Microsoft Office as a developer platform. One technology has attracted most of the attention in the past few years: Silverlight. Silverlight packages the powerful but complex features of .NET-based WPF into a lighter-weight, more developer-friendly offering. It can be used for external- or internal-facing applications. It can also be used for building applications that work inside the browser or on the desktop, and for applications that work whether the user is connected to the Internet or not — without the download of a separate runtime. And it can be used as a native programming framework.

After several years of heavy promotion, Silverlight was growing mind share that was having an impact in the RIA market. However, that changed substantially when, at PDC10, Microsoft changed direction and announced that Silverlight would be focused more as a programming model for native clients (e.g., Windows Phone 7), and that HTML5 is the strategic direction and vision for cross-platform, browser-oriented (i.e., "reach") environments. While in the long term this is a more realistic strategy and aligns better with the role of Web technologies, it introduces uncertainty and confusion about the future of Silverlight. The company is currently updating developer tools to support HTML5. We expect that both of these issues will be resolved by the end of 2011; but, for now, Microsoft's overall developer strategy is in a state of flux. This is largely due to changes expected as the company readies the next version of Windows and shares its plans for entering the media tablet market.

Although much attention has been centered on Silverlight, it is worth noting that many Microsoft-centric organizations already have a capable platform for enterprise Web applications in the form of ASP .NET, which offers the Microsoft ASP .NET Ajax Library (formerly Atlas) as a way of delivering an enhanced user experience. For many organizations considering Silverlight for straightforward enterprise applications, building on ASP .NET might be a more pragmatic and cost-effective choice. This aligns better with the long-term HTML5 strategy as well. However, development teams building premium media experiences that need to display digital rights management (DRM)-protected content or extended offline mode will choose Silverlight.

Silverlight also has many features targeted at enterprise line-of-business (LOB) uses such as printing, rich text, clipboard, right click, mouse wheel support, drag and drop, and hosting HTML (and other plug-ins like Flash). One significant enhancement is the ability to compile once and deploy on Silverlight 4 and .NET 4. This will open the door for many uses within enterprises.

Silverlight may be downplayed as a brand, but it remains an important technology, forming the basis of the Windows Phone 7 platform, and will likely play a role in Microsoft's future desktop and tablet offerings. Plans for Silverlight 5 were unveiled in December 2010 to include hardware video decoding, data binding and Model-View-ViewModel (MVVM) support. For the past couple of years, pressure has been building for Microsoft to rationalize its Silverlight and Web offerings for developers.

Positives:

  • Microsoft utilizes .NET technology and leverages the skills of an estimated 6 million .NET developers.

  • The company is supported by the broad ecosystem of Microsoft service providers.

  • There is support for multiple programming languages, including dynamic languages like Ruby and Python.

  • There is also support for an integrated, developer-designer workflow.

  • There is a strong development process around security, resulting in a very good track record for new deployment.

Negatives:

  • Linkage to the .NET platform and tools is perceived as a negative by some non-Microsoft-centric organizations.

  • Microsoft still trails Adobe in installations and consumer usage.

  • While some clarity regarding Silverlight versus HTML5 has been achieved, there are larger, unanswered questions about future programming models for the forthcoming release of Windows and the tablet.

  • Microsoft doesn't have a strong following in the Web design community. Its strength is in the enterprise development community.

Rating: Positive




Oracle

Oracle has been in the RIA market since 2003, with Ajax-based, partial page rendering capabilities. Oracle actively markets its RIA technologies today, most of which are encompassed in the ADF Faces 11g product. ADF Faces 11g is an Ajax-centric environment with over 150 Ajax-enabled JSF components. ADF Faces 11g uses a rich JSF rendering kit that renders HTML, Flash and Scalable Vector Graphics content, as well as corresponding client-side components, with application logic residing mostly on the server side, executing in the JSF life cycle.

ADF Faces 11g resonates best with the existing Oracle developer community. It is definitely a developer-centric (versus end-user) product. While the components can be used with any IDE or code editor (i.e., non-Oracle packages), Oracle JDeveloper provides a visual and declarative environment for building applications that use ADF Faces.

Although Oracle has enhanced ADF Faces to include HTML5 features, Oracle is taking a conservative position regarding HTML5, compared with its competitors. This is not necessarily an immediate problem, as the HTML5 set of specifications is far from complete. However, many other industry players are more aggressive in implementing features from the draft specifications — in addition to being more vocal in their marketing messages.

Developer interest in ADF Faces has risen significantly of late. This is driven partly by the fact that Oracle Fusion Middleware and Oracle Fusion Applications use ADF, but partly also because of the robustness of the product.

Oracle also supports JavaFX, promoting a stand-alone thick RIA client approach similar to Adobe AIR. This approach is especially useful in mobile environments and for enterprises with client-centric strategies.

Positives:

  • Oracle is a large, established vendor with a large developer community and ecosystem.

  • It has a robust framework for building a wide range of Web applications.

Negatives:

  • Product is best-suited for Oracle developers, but has some limited appeal for other users.

  • Conservative approach to HTML5 adoption introduces the risk that competitors will gain traction, in either mind share or market share, at the expense of ADF Faces

Rating: Positive




Prototype/script.aculo.us

Prototype is foundation-level, Ajax technology often used in conjunction with the script.aculo.us UI library. Both are open-source, are purely JavaScript and have distinct identities, but overlapping communities. Prototype was initially written by Sam Stephenson in 2005. The current version is v.1.7 of Prototype, which shipped in November 2010. It is open source under the MIT license.

Script.aculo.us is a UI layer written in JavaScript by Thomas Fuchs, and builds on the core Prototype framework by adding an animation engine, drag-and-drop effects, sliders, fades, autocompletion, etc. The current version of script.aculo.us is V1.9, which includes V1.7 of Prototype. There is a new version of script.aculo.us, rearchitected and renamed to scripty2. However, this is still in beta form. Lastly, Thomas Fuchs has also written a minimalist framework for mobile WebKit-based browsers called Zepto, which is noteworthy because it adopts a jQuery-style programming convention.

Major "competitors" of the Prototype/scripty combination are open-source packages like jQuery, Dojo and Yahoo YUI. One differentiator is that Prototype is geared to the "write your own widgets" developer who is looking for a solid but lightweight technology foundation on which to build custom components. High-profile, public-facing websites like Apple, CNN, Ikea and Tumblr that want a distinct look and feel have chosen the Prototype/script.aculo.us combination.

Positives:

  • Prototype is one of the early toolkits to package Ajax know-how in an open-source offering.

  • Prototype has strong adoption from high-traffic sites.

  • The multilayer modular structure makes adoption possible in stages.

Negatives:

  • No single vendor has become strategically committed to the success of this project.

  • The partitioning among Prototype, script.aculo.us, scripty and Zepto adds friction to the developer adoption process.

Rating: Promising




Sencha

Sencha, formerly Ext JS, is a small, Bay Area firm offering a range of JavaScript frameworks and development tools to simplify the development of browser-based RIA applications for cross-browser Web applications. The release of the Sencha Touch mobile Web development framework in 2010 vaulted the company into a high-profile position as one of the first to deliver a modern framework enabling developers to build mobile iOS applications with a similar look and feel as those of native apps. Born as an extension to the Yahoo YUI toolkit, the Ext JS v.3.3.1 (released in February 2011) JavaScript library has gained popularity under a dual (commercial or open-source General Public License [GPL] v.3) license. Sencha has experienced steady revenue growth since its formation in 2007, and more-pronounced growth since the release of the Sencha Touch framework. Sencha Touch allows developers to build Web applications that target browsers on iOS, Android and RIM BlackBerry platforms.

Positives:

  • Components included in Sencha's frameworks are curated, providing a common component behavior and life cycle that make learning multiple controls easier for developers.

  • Sencha Touch is the leading mobile Web application framework (for the moment).

  • Sencha's frameworks are particularly accessible to Java developers, who will find the event model similar to Swing.

  • Sencha is a commercial vendor with an awareness of enterprise needs and the application life cycle. It's gaining visibility and market traction in the enterprise sector.

Negatives:

  • Sencha is a small, private vendor competing with commoditized, open-source toolkits that have thriving communities, and with commercial cross-platform tools that provide native-app packaging (Appcelerator and Corona) for JavaScript.

  • Adoption of Sencha products is centered primarily on SMBs, with only a moderate footprint in the enterprise arena, despite recent gains in traction and visibility among enterprises.

  • Sencha Touch is a "coding over convention" framework, meaning that developer expertise is required to accomplish any task. Designers who lack programming skills will find the framework challenging to learn.

Rating: Promising




Telerik

Telerik, founded in 2002, is based in Sofia, Bulgaria, with offices in the U.S., Germany, Australia and London, employing over 350 people. The company competes directly with DevExpress and Infragistics (vendors also covered in this MarketScope), as well as with other small vendors in this niche of Microsoft-centric aftermarket products (vendors such as ComponentOne, Dundas, Janus, Software FX, Xceed, GrapeCity, Sharp Library, ComponentArt, Divelements, SpringSource, and Syncfusion).

Telerik's principal product in the Ajax/RIA sector is RadControls for ASP .NET Ajax. This product is a library of controls layered on top of Microsoft's ASP .NET Ajax framework, including about 70 components. Another product is RadControls for Silverlight, which builds on Microsoft Silverlight by adding 40 controls, plus a common code base shared with Telerik RadControls for WPF. One of the newer products is Telerik Extensions for ASP .NET MVC, which is dual-licensed as open source (GPL v.2) and commercial. It leverages the jQuery Ajax toolkit, and introduces support for HTML5 and CSS3. Additional offerings from Telerik include controls for Windows Phone, WINForms, a test tool for automated Silverlight testing and prototyping tools. In addition, the Telerik product line includes non-UI tools and components, such as an object-relational mapping tool, a project dashboard and a content management system (Sitefinity CMS).

Telerik's customers include Microsoft (the MSDN website uses the RadEditor HTML text editing component), Quaker Oats, SC Johnson and Limited Brands. Telerik says that its online forums have over 400,000 registered members, a 43% growth from 2009 to 2010.

Positives:

  • Telerik has a broad line of components across the major Microsoft UI platforms.

  • It is a small vendor that has survived for a long time in the shadow of Microsoft and continues to grow.

Negatives:

  • Telerik is a small company in a crowded aftermarket sector.

  • Many of the company's products are tactical and complementary, rather than strategic and self-contained.

Rating: Promising




Tibco Software

Tibco has been doing RIA longer than most ISVs. Its General Interface (GI) technology is optimized for building complex, highly interactive Web applications, while providing the interface and performance approaching those of a desktop application. Tibco has migrated its open-source presence to the Dojo Foundation. It also sells an enterprise version, GI 3.9.0 Enterprise.

In addition to the builder functionality, GI provides Gitak, a complete testing framework, and GIPP, a performance profiler. Finally, GI is the source for the Tibco PageBus, the driving force behind the Open Ajax Alliances' Hub, which enables in-browser publish-and-subscribe among heterogeneous gadgets.

Tibco has seen very little growth for GI over the last year (end-user deployment growth from 500 to 550) and has very little market presence. Also, Tibco has stated that it has few plans for the future of GI, other than continuing to support future browser releases. While it will support HTML5, Tibco has no specific plans to embrace HTML5.

Positives:

  • Tibco offers a full-featured, enterprise-class Ajax toolkit.

  • There is successful migration to Dojo for open source.

Negatives:

  • GI is still well-hidden behind Tibco's primary product lines, which are integration-centric.

  • Tibco has no real plans to enhance GI. other than future browser support.

Rating: Promising




Vaadin

Vaadin is a small Finnish software company that produces and offers professional support for the Vaadin framework. Vaadin has gained visibility and growth starting in 2009, although the product was first released as a commercial offering in 2000, when it was known as the Millstone Framework. It was open-sourced in 2002 under the Apache v.2 license. The package was renamed Vaadin in 2009.

Popular with European SMBs and ISVs, and gaining ground in the US, Vaadin only recently began to break out into the enterprise sector — in part due to the growing popularity of the Liferay Portal, which OEMs the framework. Vaadin reports that traffic and developer interest roughly quadrupled in 2010. It uses a server-side component model requiring only Java expertise, and a Java servlet container. Vaadin widgets are developed with GWT, and developers can extend the component library using GWT as well. The framework approach is comparable to integrated approaches such as Cappuccino, SproutCore, Sencha and Dojo. The Java-based and server-centric approach has similarities to offerings from ICEsoft and Canoo, which can be considered Vaadin's most direct competitors.

The company has 42 employees, and a significant portion of its revenue results from providing service and support to enterprises using the Vaadin framework.

Positives:

  • Because it is a pure, server-side RIA framework, Vaadin insulates Java programmers from writing HTML and JavaScript code. It is particularly accessible to programmers who wish to use Java to create "single page" Web applications with a similar look and feel to Swing desktop applications.

  • Vaadin's documentation is unparalleled among open-source RIA frameworks.

  • Vaadin's architecture delegates the majority of processing to the server, so even low-end PCs on slow network connections challenged to run heavy JavaScript applications should have no problem with Vaadin.

  • Vaadin's server-centric approach provides developers with significant access to server-side resources and tools, which can result in developer productivity advantages over its competitors.

  • The architecture supports plug-ins, which now number more than 150.

Negatives:

  • Vaadin is maintained by a small (but active and impactful) community, and the Vaadin developer community is tiny, as compared with that of more popular RIA frameworks.

  • As a server-side RIA framework, Vaadin does not allow fine-grained control over client presentation and behavior via HTML and JavaScript. Developers must rely on either the precompiled components or their own custom widgets created with GWT.

  • Although Vaadin framework has introduced support for some HTML5 constructs, its server-centric approach means that it cannot support offline mode on the client.

  • Although Vaadin's server-centric approach can, in theory, support other JVM-based languages, the system is viewed as Java-centric. In practice, most deployments are written in Java only.

  • Vaadin applications are stateful, requiring the Java servlet container to maintain user session information — although representational state transfer (REST)-ful architectures are possible by implementing REST communication between the Web server and the other servers hosting Web services.

Rating: Promising




Yahoo

Despite overall corporate challenges, Yahoo remains a major player in the consumer Web sector, and operates such properties as the My Yahoo portal, Flickr photo-sharing, Yahoo Mail, Yahoo Store e-commerce storefront, etc. The YUI toolkit is a free and open-source Ajax toolkit written in pure JavaScript. The package contains not just a framework and widgets, but also utilities (a logger and compressor), CSS tools and design patterns. Yahoo's interest in developing YUI is primarily for its own use, rather than for traditional software sales. It finds value in getting feedback from others who use its open-source technology. YUI v.3.0 was a major upgrade from previous versions of the toolkit and represents a significant improvement over earlier versions. Although YUI is used mostly in the public Web environment, interest in this package now reaches beyond public sites to the enterprise sector. A key attraction of YUI is its status as open-source software. Recent developments have made this even more attractive, due to the two-way transfer of code. YUI support for node.js is also a plus, as the server side JavaScript model is gaining more and more interest.

While Yahoo continues to struggle overall in its businesses, Yahoo YUI has been mostly immune to these travails. This is likely because YUI is open source, and because its primarily adopters have been Web-centric companies with internal resources that are less concerned about vendor viability (or, rather, measure this in the same scale as MooTools and other community open-source toolkits).

Yahoo is trying to broaden its reach to the enterprise sector. The Yahoo team was very responsive and professional in addressing Gartner queries for this research — an indicator that the company is not sitting still or letting things slide downhill.

Positives:

  • Yahoo offers a full-featured Ajax toolkit for the Web developer.

  • The company leverages the Yahoo brand and ecosystem, including the Yahoo design pattern library.

  • YUI has evolved through multiple generations over the years, and the package has been in production use since 2005, on MyYahoo and the Yahoo start page.

  • There has been good adoption in the top 100 websites, and Yahoo was one of the top three Ajax libraries in the broad-scope site survey conducted by Opera in December 2008 (1 million websites surveyed via crawler).

  • Modular architecture and dynamic loading make YUI amenable to deploying in mobile environments

Negatives:

  • Yahoo corporate continues to lose luster, and the company continues to see some staff departures and layoffs, resulting in perception of an uncertain future. YUI overcomes this mostly by being an open-source technology.

Rating: Positive


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Vendors Added or Dropped




We review and adjust our inclusion criteria for Magic Quadrants and MarketScopes as markets change. As a result of these adjustments, the mix of vendors in any Magic Quadrant or MarketScope may change over time. A vendor appearing in a Magic Quadrant or MarketScope one year and not the next does not necessarily indicate that we have changed our opinion of that vendor. This may be a reflection of a change in the market and, therefore, changed evaluation criteria, or a change of focus by a vendor.





Gartner MarketScope Defined




Gartner's MarketScope provides specific guidance for users who are deploying, or have deployed, products or services. A Gartner MarketScope rating does not imply that the vendor meets all, few or none of the evaluation criteria. The Gartner MarketScope evaluation is based on a weighted evaluation of a vendor's products in comparison with the evaluation criteria. Consider Gartner's criteria as they apply to your specific requirements. Contact Gartner to discuss how this evaluation may affect your specific needs.

In the below table, the various ratings are defined:


MarketScope Rating Framework

Strong Positive
Is viewed as a provider of strategic products, services or solutions:

  • Customers: Continue with planned investments.

  • Potential customers: Consider this vendor a strong choice for strategic investments.

Positive
Demonstrates strength in specific areas, but execution in one or more areas may still be developing or inconsistent with other areas of performance:

  • Customers: Continue planned investments.

  • Potential customers: Consider this vendor a viable choice for strategic or tactical investments, while planning for known limitations.

Promising
Shows potential in specific areas; however, execution is inconsistent:

  • Customers: Consider the short- and long-term impact of possible changes in status.

  • Potential customers: Plan for and be aware of issues and opportunities related to the evolution and maturity of this vendor.

Caution
Faces challenges in one or more areas.

  • Customers: Understand challenges in relevant areas, and develop contingency plans based on risk tolerance and possible business impact.

  • Potential customers: Account for the vendor's challenges as part of due diligence.

Strong Negative
Has difficulty responding to problems in multiple areas.

  • Customers: Execute risk mitigation plans and contingency options.

  • Potential customers: Consider this vendor only for tactical investment with short-term, rapid payback.