Rich User Interfaces for Web Applications
In the early 1990’s, many companies were developing client/server applications. There would be a back end database, along with a server that accessed the database and added logic and processing to the data. And, there would be a custom client written with a tool like Visual Basic.
Then, in the mid-1990’s, the Web changed everything! Developers realized that a web browser could provide the functions of the custom client. The Internet made sure that the network was universally available, and nearly every Internet user had a web browser.
Unfortunately, HTML and other web standards were originally designed to provide layout for static, non-changing documents. By switching from custom client software to web browser clients, the applications became universally accessible. But, the user interface took a big step backwards!
Have you ever tried to go online to buy an airline ticket? As long as you know exactly what you want–Which flights and which days–Everything goes fairly smoothly. And, it still takes several mouse clicks and page reloads to get your ticket purchased. But, what if you just want to find a low cost way to take a vacation, and your flight plans and schedule are flexible. Most online travel sites aren’t designed to support flexible travelers. Users end up having to repeatedly go through all those mouse clicks and page reloads looking for a low cost option.
Wouldn’t it be much easier if a rich user interface was available? A rich user interface is one that minimizes mouse clicks, does not require page reloads, and makes it much easier to do flexible queries. Macromedia’s new Flash MX product provides the missing capabilities needed to build rich user interfaces.
The online reservation system shown below for the Broadmoor Hotel provides a great example of a rich user interface. With no page reloads, the user can choose a date in the left-hand panel, and see available rooms in the middle panel. Or, a user can pick a room type, and have the dates highlighted when that type of room is available! When it’s time to book a room, that happens in the right-hand panel. Everything is available on the single screen–Even validation for credit card or booking information. Try it yourself at http://reservations.broadmoor.com!
It’s easy to imaging a wide variety of possible applications for rich user interfaces including:
- Reservation systems for sporting events, conference rooms, special events, etc.
- Form processing for insurance companies, banks, or any other company needing flexible, validated forms.
- Online report generation and data visualization.
- Customer or Employee self-service applications for customer service, HR, support, etc.
Clearly, rich user interfaces will be critical for both external, customer-focused web applications and for internal, employee-focused applications.