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Definition: rich client

An application in the user's computer that retrieves data from the Internet. Written in a programming language such as C/C++ or Java, which has complete access to all the functions in the computer, the rich client program runs stand-alone without the need of a Web browser.

The First Internet Programming - A Step Backward
In the mid-1990s, applications were converted to Web server architectures that relied on the Web browser for the user interface and JavaScript programming embedded in the Web pages. Such browser-based applications exhibited "page-at-a-time" behavior. The entire page had to be reloaded each time any data was sent to the server, and the experience was more akin to early online applications of the 1960s and 1970s.

Moving Along
As the Internet became mainstream, scripting languages were enhanced to deliver more of the functionality of regular programming languages, and AJAX came along to make Web pages work with more fluidity (see AJAX) even though they still ran from within the Web browser. All the while, the increasing speed of the computer CPUs and Internet connections began to blur the distinction between Web-based applications and local applications for the user. See RIA and smart client.

Encyclopedia Rich Client
In 1990, this encyclopedia was made available as a Windows application. The user sees two scrolling windows, a lookup routine and only a handful of features, but under the covers, it took more than 500 pages of C source code to create the program. The continuous scrolling of multimedia objects from A to Z requires access to low-level Windows functions.

In 2003, it was turned into a rich Windows client. The software, text and images are downloaded from the Web, but the program does not run from the Web browser. As a rich client, it retained all the features users loved on their PCs with the added benefit of automatic updating.

Our Rich Client
The program resides in the Windows PC like any other local application but is automatically updated from the Web.