I've been trying to get my head around the three most interesting players on the Rich Internet Application front, and in a conversation today a really good analogy surfaced. Compare them to game consoles.

So, who are the players:

First comes XulRunner from the Mozilla foundation. This often overlooked environment is ticking along quite quietly but gaining quite a following out there. Unlike it's two main competitors it's actually got some real world applications built with it (even though, like the other two it won't be at a production release until the end of the year). Open and fairly approachable it's got a lot going for it.

Next if Apollo from Adobe. This all singing, all dancing behemoth builds on the underpinnings and learnings of Flash, ColdFusion, Flex and Photoshop. Sadly it's legacy may make it rather hard (and expensive) to develop with.

Third contender in the ring is WPF/E (Codename) from Microsoft. Surprisingly given it's parents track record this is probably the easiest of the three to get started with. Cross browser and platform support, an open object model that's addressable from Javascript in the browser (it's as easy to work with as the basic browser DOM) and an XML based vector markup language (XAML) that shares a lot of heritage and maturity from it's Windows only cousin WPF.

Just discovered a fourth entrant worth having a look at. Dekoh is a Java ased platform supporting everything from JSP to ASP.NET to Flash on Windows, OSX and Linux. It's free and Open Source.

So ... what consoles do these guys match up to, and why (and I expect the fanbois to abuse me over some of these) .

XulRunner has to be a Wii - it's lightweight but surprisingly powerful and a real underground hit because of its no-nonsense all-round solid performance.

Apollo is, IMO, the PS3 of the space. It will probably look great but it's expensive and some would say over-engineered. The barriers to entry (from a developer perspective) are high and the legacy of some of its components (Flex for instance) raise some questions about how much fun it's going to be.

WPF/E is, almost by default, the Xbox360. Popular, great capabilities, fairly approachable (eg with the arrival of XNA the Xbox became the most open of the consoles. In a similar manner the open XAML based model of WPF/E makes development easy).

Dekoh is harder to pick a platform to compare it to but I think given the portability and wide range of options but I think it's closest match is to the DS Lite. Fairly frill and pretension free but ballsy enough to do well in the game..

Oh okay, so maybe there's a fifth but Java, like the Atari 2600, while ground breaking at the time is no longer state of the art or fun to develop for.

Wonder what RIA platforms would be if they were cars....