December 19th, 2005

Thinking about AJAX


xin-desktop.jpgI remember attending Supernova last year and there is this small company demostrating a little web-based Email client they developed which looks and behave like Microsoft Outlook except it runs on a browser. After a very boring presentation which shows us nothing what Outlook cannot do, I remember Marc Canter finally not so politely shoo them off the stage. A few week later, Yahoo! quietly acquired them and recently launch it as Yahoo! Mail Beta.

Ever since then, I have being thinking about AJAX or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML, the technology that allows a web-based application to behave like a native application. Since then, a lot of AJAX applications have become extremely popular like Google Mail, Google Maps, Flickr etc. Many people already feel the magic, how “un-weblike” it makes the web application to be.

There are also many other interesting AJAX applications, like word processor, calendar, presentation, all in one office suite or even a desktop! (See more here and here). So if I can write a AJAX web-based application to behave like an native application, then why should I even bother to write a native application anymore? Even better, my users can be using Windows, Mac or Linux, my applications will run without compatibility problem.

If the proposition sound like Java, yes it is except it does not require Java Runtime Environment. So if I am SUN, I better have a blueprint for AJAX…but what am I going to do if everyone stop using Java?

If the proposition sound like Flash, yes it is except it does not requires any Flash plugin. So if I am Macromedia, I would proposed something like AFLAX (the F stands for Flash), trying to wiggling into AJAX…except no one really cares about AFLAX because anything that Flash can do, AJAX probably can do it now or later.

If the proposition sound like what Marc Andreeson said in 1996 about transforming the browser into an operating system, yes it is. And it is the statement that got Microsoft to wake up and eventually Netscape squashed Netscape. But surprisingly this time Microsoft did not feel threaten by AJAX and instead, going to embraced it! (Ray Ozzie was also at Supernova 2004 so…)

It is not often a technology comes along and that forces the 3 largest software company in the world to rethink about their strategy. Sure, there are still many things AJAX can’t do but AJAX is not something to be written off as a fad. The short comings are not something that cannot be fixed and it will be.

Like it or not, AJAX will upgrade the web to web 2.0. Already Google, Yahoo!, MSN already have their homepage to have AJAX interactivity. It is a matter of time others will jump onboard.

Oh, for programmers, I am sure AJAX programmers is going to be in demand.

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