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Open AJAX Is Loosed Upon the World

"Pretty. But Can They Fight?"

IBM's announcement last month of the Open AJAX initiative brought to the fore a few key points. The two most obvious are that IBM remains an 800-pound gorilla that the other primates will follow through the business jungle, and that AJAX has emerged as an ironically disruptive technology.

Ironic in that AJAX comprises not only a seemingly modest collection of modest elements - XML and JavaScript - but that these elements are hardly new, work in a loosely coupled fashion, yet represent the leading edge of what's going on with application development in the world today.

Open AJAX also brought in the heavyweights Oracle, Novell, Red Hat, Google and Yahoo, in addition to solid middleweight Borland and major featured performers Zend, Zimbra, Laszlo, Mozilla, and the Eclipse Foundation. Prominent in their absence were Sun, HP, and Tibco, although spokespeople from both Sun and Tibco have told me that they haven't ruled out future participation in this coalition.

Like the applications upon which it is focused, Open AJAX is loosely coupled, with no formal organization or management structure. It represents, in the word of one member executive who spoke to us, "IBM putting its foot down and the rest of us destined to follow its footsteps."

The essence of AJAX is its ability to keep applications from returning to a central server every time a user wants to know something. The theory is that this not only makes things easier for the server and the network, but also enhances the user experience. Things are speeded up, server and network loads reduced, and happiness ensues all around.

But by employing the venerable XML and the increasingly venerable JavaScript, AJAX also represents the continued movement away from proprietary software (including application development environments) that has been witnessed over the past 18 months. Some analysts argue that IBM's leadership and support of Open AJAX is simply a defensive move to enable it to take a measure of control over the many wild open-source horses that have left the barn.

IBM's lead on this project, David Boloker, doesn't think so-you can learn more about his views by visiting www.sys-con.tv and finding a recent interview we did with him as Open AJAX was being announced. And many executives within this initiative supported Boloker's leadership, many of them calling it "long-term" and "tremendous."

This effort seems to be not so much a defensive marketing move from IBM as a provocative leadership move driven by technologists rather than marketers. Many of the participants add a particular flavor (or "personality" in Boloker's term) to this overall initiative, personalities that will in fact be competing with one another for developers' favor.

As these personalities compete for one another within a defined AJAX universe, developers may get the best of both worlds: the latest and coolest way to develop and deploy apps in an environment that is neither anarchic nor held hostage by a single vendor.

"Pretty, but can they fight?" as Donald Sutherland's character asked a generation ago in Kelly's Heroes. (If you get this allusion, then thanks for putting on your reading glasses to take in this column. If you don't get it, Donald looks remarkably like his son Kiefer but plays goofier characters.) Whether Open AJAX will in fact be able to fight its way to AJAX leadership in coming months, and whether this will be a net positive for IBM will be, as they say, decided by the market.

The real test will be to see whether JavaScript-driven local performance becomes a central application development issue, or just a nice feature that will be integrated here and there. Google maps is cool and all that, but not always accurate, and hardly made of the stuff that heavy financial, government, industrial, or any other mission-critical apps within any other vertical market demand.

But the initiative is not static, and its lack of formality will presumably let all the players adapt as they see fit, and thereby not lock in developers to any particular flavor or personality, all the awhile affording many risk-averse companies and agencies a measure of security. After all, no one gets fired to this day for buying IBM, so only time will tell whether no one will get fired for embracing Open AJAX.

More Stories By Roger Strukhoff

Roger Strukhoff (@IoT2040) is Executive Director of the Tau Institute for Global ICT Research, with offices in Illinois and Manila. He is Conference Chair of @CloudExpo & @ThingsExpo, and Editor of SYS-CON Media's CloudComputing BigData & IoT Journals. He holds a BA from Knox College & conducted MBA studies at CSU-East Bay.

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