Friday, February 08, 2008

Smart clients....Has the pendulum swung back?

Before the emergence of the 'web' most of the UI development was 'rich-thick-client' based on MS platforms such as VB, MFC, etc. VB development enjoyed a lot of popularity because of the component based model and the ready availability of rich UI widgets and development environments such as Visual Studio.
Such rich clients suffered from 2 major drawbacks: DLL hell and application upgrade/deployment.
Maintaining the correct version of the application across all clients distributed across locations was a big pain.

To address this problem, many thick clients were migrated to a web-based UI with a centralized server and repository. But this 'silver bullet' again had 2 main drawbacks - the user experience was nowhere close to that of a rich client. Even with the emergence of RIA (Rich Internet Applications) and AJAX, those applications requiring tons of data input and fast keyboard based navigation across screens, the web UI offered serious limitations.

And it is here that .NET smart clients come into the picture. A .NET smart client has the following features:
- Uses the 'click once' platform feature to automatically update DLLs on the client machine. Thus deployment is no longer a problem.
- Smart clients build on .NET resolve the DLL hell problem using metadata versioning of assemblies.
- Smart clients can talk with webservices to obtain data and fulfill other business requirements.
- Smart clients can work in offline mode - offering either limited or full functionality.
- Smart clients can easily integrate with other applications on the desktop providing an integrated approach to the user.
- Using WPF, users can be given a rich user interface that they demand.