Curl is another player in the RIA (Rich Internet Applications) space, going up against Microsoft Silverlight, Adobe's Flex platform, and OpenLazlo, among others. The Curl platform provides developers a way to build web-based apps that can't be easily built using Ajax or other web-based technologies. Those apps can be deployed both within the web browser or on the desktop via Curl Nitro, an extension of the Curl platform. To show off what Nitro can do, the company has recently released a demo app featuring a visual representation of the Facebook social graph.
The Curl Platform and Curl Nitro
Where the Curl platform itself competes with Flex and Silverlight, Curl Nitro competes more directly with Adobe AIR, Mozilla Prism, Google Gears, and other applications that allow content from the web to run on the desktop while also providing asynchronous communication with various back-end services.
This recently released Nitro demo app called CurlGraph was designed by Manuel Lima, the founder of VisualComplexity.com (our coverage) and it allows you to visualize a circle of up to 128 friends from your Facebook account. By examining the ring of friends and the arcs that indicate the relationships between them, you can visualize what your personal social graph looks like.
When installing the app, the dialog box looks very familiar - much like Adobe AIR - and the process was just as easy. You login to Facebook via the app and then it will graph out all of your Facebook friend connections.
Fighting For the Desktop
While the app itself is an impressive way to showcase Curl's ability to support a visually engaging desktop application, the company itself is going to be up against some tough competition to gain a foothold on the desktop.
At the moment there's the popularity of Adobe AIR's desktop widgets to deal with, especially among early adopters and other enthusiasts, not to mention Silverlight and other players in the RIA game, including OpenLaszlo, NexaWeb Enterprise 2.0, Dojo, Altio Live, UltraLightClient and JavaFX.
Curl's best bet may be with their enterprise efforts or with their open source web services development kit (WSDK), shipped earlier this year as a part of the Curl Rich Internet Application Platform 6.0. But even then, they're up against Microsoft's Silverlight offering which was ported to Linux by some Novell developers as Moonlight.
Fighting big companies like Microsoft and Adobe isn't easy for a smaller shop, nor is competing against JavaFX and others in the enterprise. Yet that doesn't mean that Curl isn't trying. Curl's VP of Developer Relations, Richard Monson-Haefel, left a comment here on RWW not long ago which was very critical of Adobe AIR's security model, a subject recently noted by Adobe platform evangelist Ryan Stewart on his blog.
Stewart references a recent presentation by Ethan Malasky called Developing Secure AIR Applications, and then says that "security is one of the things that gets talked a lot about with regards to AIR and the team spent a huge, huge amount of time thinking about the security mode." (Slides from the presentation are below).
If the Curl platform is truly more secure, then they may be able to find success in the enterprise space, an area which AIR and Silverlight are both trying to reach now. However, Curl will have to be up for the battle because those two companies have a lot more resources to fight aggressively for RIA marketshare.