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Curl, the rich programming language specialist back from obscurity, is turning to open source to gain a foothold in rich internet applications (RIA).

The company, founded on MIT research and that burned through its cash during the last internet bubble leading to a $1.5m acquisition, has said it plans to open source the Curl libraries and web kit within weeks, and to integrate its run-time with Eclipse.

The next version of Curl, which currently supports Windows, Macintosh and Linux, will also offer a souped-up Windows look-and-feel, the company told The Register.

The move comes as nine-year-old Curl attempts to exploit the industry's current fascination with RIAs, and applications that run outside-the browser. Forrester Research claims 30 per cent of application developers are using RIA technologies.

Curl, though, is in the running against scads of AJAX- and scripting-based frameworks and Java architectures as well as Adobe's Integrated Runtime (AIR) and Microsoft's Silverlight.

Curl is fighting to stand out against Open Laszlo, NexaWeb Enterprise 2.0 and DOJO on the AJAX-based RIA front, while there's Altio Live, UltraLightClient and JavaFX for Java developers.

Of these, Silverlight and AIR - expected to be widely available by early 2008 - will compete most aggressively for RIA dollars.

Some analysts believe Curl could replicate its success in Japan and Korea by targeting the enterprise and building a following in the developer community.

Curl's strength lies in its ability to provide high levels of performance and secure online-offline transactions, unlike AJAX-based solutions, while AIR and Silverlight are unproven.

According to a recent Curl-sponsored survey from integrator Sonata Software, Curl beat Adobe and Microsoft on ease of design, ease of development and run-time performance. Sonata rated Curl on performance, scalability and built-in data analysis tools.

While Curl might get the analysts' nod and come top in taste-test challenges, developers look like they could simply go with what they know.

Microsoft developer Andrew Brust, chief technical architect at development shop Twenty Six, told El Reg that Curl doesn't impress him at all. "It's very fringe, given that it has its own programming language and no explicit support from Microsoft or the J2EE vendors.

"Demand [for RIAs] is starting, but it's still small, and this [Curl] is not helped by the fact that there are so many fringe stacks out there. That puts skill sets in short supply and makes the learning curve a risky investment."

Brust thinks Silverlight - being ported to Linux by a team of Novell-led developers - will change all that. "The UI is fantastic, the capabilities significant, the platform stable and portable, and the skill set, .NET, is tied in to a huge standard," he said.®

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