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Happy Birthday, AJAX! – Two Years Old Already

AJAX: Born 18 February 2005

Yesterday marked the passing of two years since Jesse James Garrett posted online his seminal essay, "Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications" and then went offline, on a trip. What he came back to is now a part of Web 2.0 and Rich Internet Applications history: it was as if simply giving a handy name to the technique behind a new, richer web somehow catapulted it into being.

Of course it wasn't that simple. The techniques Garrett encapsulated in his acronym had been in use by others before him, but never won for themselves a name. So when he came up with the easy-to-remember, easier-to-spell "AJAX" what happened was the same that happens when a match is dropped on the floor of a bone dry forest.

That "the AJAX wildfire" (a phrase coined by the founder of Nexaweb, Coach Wei) spread faster than Garrett, or indeed anyone else, had expected is now axiomatic. But it is still worth capturing the thoughts and views of the early pioneers, so many of whom have since gone on record as saying they "were doing AJAX since long before it was called AJAX."

Here is our round-up. Hyperlinks from a person's name are to that person's session at the upcoming AJAXWorld Conference & Expo 2007 (East), which is, appropriately, celebrating a birthday of its own, since the very first "Real-World AJAX One-Day Seminar" which exploded onto the scene in 2006 also did so in February.

AJAXWorld 2007 (East) is already the Second International AJAXWorld and the fourth AJAX-centric sold-out event produced by SYS-CON Events in just 12 months.

DAVID TEMKIN
Founder & CTO, Laszlo Systems

"The 'AJAX wildfire' we've experienced for two years now is still just an early indicator of what's coming."

"In 2000-2001, when Laszlo was just getting off the ground, the world of the web was a quiet, solemn place. We had just entered the three-year nuclear winter that accompanied the dot-com crash. In those years, there was serious speculation about whether people would continue to use the web at all. Would it turn out to be just another CB radio, a technology fad that had no future?

We heard venture capitalists muse that what had fueled the web's popularity in the 90s was their enormous investment in thousands of dot-coms, and without this funding, the web would naturally wither away. So when we showed people rich applications delivered into web browsers, and the system used to build them -- what became OpenLaszlo -- the insiders' reaction was subdued at best. After all, why would you be interested in improvements in CB radio technology when CB radios were about to go away?

The reaction of users was different. It seemed that the farther you went from the veterans of the Web 1.0 hype wave, the more interest there was in rich web applications. So there was clearly a disconnect -- a technology of obviously significant value to end-users was not getting the attention of the cognoscenti because of overall economic and technological stagnation, and the doubt about the web as a vehicle for delivering any kind of return on investment.

All this changed as web-based businesses started to live up to, and even exceed, '90s hype. Businesses slowly revived their investments in web technology for internal IT purposes, and everyday web usage accelerated. All the while, the underlying technology steadily improved -- broadband became the norm, computers got faster, browsers got better. The world was finally ready to hear about rich web applications in earnest, and it took Google and Jesse James Garrett to get the word out successfully.

The "AJAX wildfire" we've experienced for two years now is still just an early indicator of what's coming. Techies are very excited about AJAX and related technologies, but the fact is that today's web experience, on average, is only marginally "richer" than it was two years ago. And the process isn't about the adoption of a particular development technique. It's about revolutionizing software as a whole -- the business, the technology, the way in which software is discovered and consumed. It's about re-centering software around the network and the web, and away from the personal computer. The AJAX revolution will be complete when installed applications are a thing of the past, and networked, multi-device applications are the norm, regardless of whether the development of those applications involve "AJAX" in literal terms. What's most exciting about the last two years is that that outcome is starting to seem not only possible, but likely -- a long way from the "CB radio" outcome."

 

COACH WEI
CTO & Founder. Nexaweb
`
"Before the phrase 'AJAX' and 'Web 2.0' came into being, it was definitely a challenge in getting people to understand and appreciate such thoughts.  I remember myself failed miserably trying to convince a fairly well respected software executive in early 2003 of the problems of the synchronous HTML interaction paradigm. He even wrote a blog piece saying that he is surprised to even hear companies like Nexaweb complaining about the web.

Things have changed. The past 24 months show strong evidence and momentum of a new Internet wave that is transforming enterprise IT as well as consumer services.  AJAX is certainly one of the technology pillars that power such transformation. We should salute those who have been pushing and believing in the vision of web 2.0 and the power of AJAX over the many years – it is the collective effort of these people and organizations that have ushered in a new era of the Internet for the rest of us.

Looking ahead, the big wave is still forming. Get your surf board ready, paddle fast and many organizations will be able to ride the wave to new levels of success."

Things have changed. The past 24 months show strong evidence and momentum of a new Internet wave that is transforming enterprise IT as well as consumer services.  AJAX is certainly one of the technology pillars that power such transformation. We should salute those who have been pushing and believing in the vision of web 2.0 and the power of AJAX over the many years – it is the collective effort of these people and organizations that have ushered in a new era of the Internet for the rest of us.

Looking ahead, the big wave is still forming. Get your surf board ready, paddle fast and many organizations will be able to ride the wave to new levels of success."

Things have changed. The past 24 months show strong evidence and momentum of a new Internet wave that is transforming enterprise IT as well as consumer services.  AJAX is certainly one of the technology pillars that power such transformation. We should salute those who have been pushing and believing in the vision of web 2.0 and the power of AJAX over the many years – it is the collective effort of these people and organizations that have ushered in a new era of the Internet for the rest of us.

Looking ahead, the big wave is still forming. Get your surf board ready, paddle fast and many organizations will be able to ride the wave to new levels of success."



KEVIN HAKMAN
TIBCO’s Director of Developer Evangelism and GI co-founder


"
People just did not think what we were doing in 2001 was possible. "

"In 2001 when we were showing applications that looked and felt like desktop GUIs but were running in the browser, we’d get accused of using plug-ins, applets, or Active-X to achieve what we had done. But of course there were none of those.” In one case GI co-founder, Michael Peachey, had a developer in an audience stand up and yell at him that it was irresponsible of us to show what we were and say that it was all in the browser. People just did not think what we were doing in 2001 was possible.

We’re glad that Google Maps and Jesse’s term raised awareness in the way that it did. Funny thing today though is that with 6 years AJAX experience in a two-year old AJAX market, and an open source offering featuring more than100 AJAX components out of the box, we’re still doing things at TIBCO that people thought were not feasible.

A lot of that is due to the original core architecture inside of TIBCO GI that Luke Birdeau, the lead engineer for the General Interface project, put into the solution and continues to enable GI to work its magic."


DAVE WOLF
VP of Consulting, Cynergy Systems

"Smaller teams, working hand in hand with designers... to build software with a true focus on our user’s experiences. That is our next challenge."

"The spark that lit the AJAX wildfire wasn’t that Jesse introduced us all to a combination of technologies, tools and tricks we’d never thought of before. Not in the least. The real spark was that we all now had a single word that encapsulated what we at Cynergy had been doing for years, and to be able to describe that to people that mattered most; the business decision makers.

These were people who had the power and the influence to cause a real disruption to the industry, and that they did. Yet, to turn this disruption into an explosion, we need to move beyond discussing what technologies we use to build this amazing new class of software solutions, but to completely reshape how we go about actually building them. Smaller teams, working hand in hand with designers, working from creative spaces to build software with a true focus on our user’s experiences. That is our next challenge."


No round-up of perspectives about AJAX would be complete without consulting the consultants. Accordingly here's what one top analyst has to say on AJAX's 2nd birthday; it is by no means an unqualified thumbs-up for Jesse James Garrett's approach over others currently available:

RICHARD MONSON-HAEFEL
Senior Analyst, Burton Group

"Given a choice I would much rather work with Adobe Flex 2 than AJAX simply because the tooling is much better."

"While AJAX has set the world on fire and caused a renaissance in user experience, it's not the best Rich Internet Application (RIA) technology available today.

The technology, or "approach" as some like to say, suffers from serious problems. First, it's not completely portable across browsers. While most AJAX functionality works fine across Firefox and Microsoft IE, it's not 100%. People initially enthusiastic about AJAX as a cross-platform, de facto standard quickly discover the corner cases where functionality that works well in IE doesn't work in Firefox and vice versa. And don't even talk about Opera and Safari!

While I'm confident that the enormous momentum around AJAX will force browser providers to fix these inconsistencies, as it stands today there are still interoperability problems. Adobe's Flex 2 platform, which is based on the Flash player, doesn't have this problem. Adobe is the only provider of the plug-in, so the implementation is consistent across browsers. In addition, adoption of newer versions of the Flash Player is wickedly fast compared to consistent adoption of new AJAX standards (e.g. CCS, JavaScript, DOM).

The same can be said for Java: the Java Plug-in is provided by Sun Microsystems and provides a consistent presentation across browsers.

Another area where AJAX really needs to advance is in terms of tooling. While there are some nice AJAX development tools coming out of vendors such as Microsoft, Backbase, TIBCO, and Nexaweb - the truth is AJAX IDEs are still pretty primitive compared to what we have for Java and Adobe's Flex 2. In fact, given a choice I would much rather work with Adobe Flex 2 than AJAX simply because the tooling is much better. While the AJAX IDE market is still underdeveloped, the number of code-level AJAX frameworks and APIs available today is ridiculous. At my last count (August 2006) there were something like 160 AJAX frameworks. The other day someone told me - this is not been substantiated - that number is closer to 300 today. While I like the Apache adage, "let a thousand flowers bloom" there is a point where the sheer diversity of options is counter-productive for the industry as a whole.

Here is another problem with AJAX, it's not very deep. Compare the JavaScript libraries included in even the best AJAX toolkits with the Java Platform, Standard Edition. AJAX pales in comparison when it comes to the number of features and functionality. Although the hundreds of JavaScript libraries available today may collectively provide as much functionality as Java SE, including them all in a development environment and picking among redundant libraries make it impossible for AJAX to complete with Java today in terms of platform breadth.

There are today three leading platforms for developing Rich Internet Applications: AJAX, Adobe Flash Player (with Adobe Flex 2 or OpenLaszlo), and Java Plug-in (used with Java applets). None of these solutions are perfect - they all offer some advantage over the others. The fact that AJAX has ignited a renewed interest in making the Web a much better user experience is to be applauded, but don't confuse the hype around the technology with the basic facts about the strengths and weakness of AJAX compared to its counterparts, Adobe Flex and the Java Plug-in. AJAX is a good thing, but there is plenty of room for improvement."


>>> Do you have something about AJAX or RIAs to add? Join the Discussion <<<


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