The days when Web pages were static collections of text and graphics are long past. But as the Web matures, there's a fierce competition over which technology will propel it into a medium for rich, interactive applications.
On the other side is Adobe Systems' Flash, which got its start as a method for graphic animations. It's grown into a much more powerful programming foundation over the years and has been joined more recently by a competitor: Microsoft's Silverlight.
All these technologies are advancing rapidly as Internet start-ups and giants such as Google race to transform personal computer software into services available on the Internet. These so-called rich Internet applications rarely match the performance and features of PC-based applications, at least today, but online applications can benefit from sharing, reliability, and access from multiple devices.
Consumers typically need not worry much about the programming plumbing beneath their online applications. But suppose you're the person on the hook for your company's online expense reporting tool or a start-up planning to build an online music mixer for anyone on the Internet. You'll have to place a bet on which technology is best and which programmers to hire or train.
Few expect the competition to have a winner any time soon.
"You'll continue to see a high degree of flux for probably the next several years," said Kevin Hoyt, an Adobe Systems technology evangelist for rich Internet applications.
People in the computer industry love to talk about competition, which indeed often does keep companies from growing complacent. But it's also awfully convenient when some foundational technology--Windows, JPEG, and USB spring to mind--dominates to the point where most engineers need not worry much about the messy chaos of multiple choices.
The HTML camp The HTML side of the battle has its roots in industry standards and in the task of displaying information. That's good and bad.
Unlike during the browser wars of the 1990s, though, there's more convergence than divergence these days. Even the upcoming version 8 of the dominant browser, Microsoft's Internet Explorer, will ship in a standards-compliant mode by default.
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