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What's So Special About AJAX?

Prominent Gurus of the Fast-Emerging Rich Media World Speak Out

Now that the web is well on its way to becoming more responsive, smoother and reliable - and correspondingly more enjoyable to work with - SYS-CON Media's AJAXWorld Magazine - edited by Dion Hinchcliffe (pictured left) - stops up and tries to "freeze-frame" the moment. We take a look at the question that is presently on the mind of hundreds and thousands of software developers, architects, IT managers, and CXOs alike: "What's So Special About AJAX?"

RIA pioneer, Founder & CTO, Nexaweb

Fundamentally, the “Ajax” phenomena reflects an “eye opening” realization of what the web can be for the millions, instead of being a fascination of JavaScript/DHTML per se.

For the last ten years, the millions of netizens have accepted the web’s “click and refresh” experience as “that is the way it has to be.” In the background, there are various techies (for example, during 1998 and 1999, I wrote a word processor hosted at www.ajaxword.com, and there were startups like webos.com, desktop.com and halfbrain.com, all doing “Ajax” stuff in a much more polished way than most of the Ajax apps you would see today) screaming for a better web. These techies are loners. The market was not ready and the millions of netizens were not even thinking of something different.

I clearly remember myself talking to some well known executives in software companies in 2000 and 2001 about the “problems of the web” and they were like “huh?” –  the true tipping point is due to applications like Google Maps. Apps like GoogleMap woke up the millions. For the first time, millions of people realized how better the web can be. The better web is exciting – it is faster, it doesn’t require constant “click wait and refresh." For the first time, the millions realized life can be so much better. Then the acronym “Ajax” came along and then the excitement around Ajax came along.

On the other side, forget about “ajax”. The truly exciting thing is about “Web 2.0”  – the next generation web and the opportunities that it creates. The web will be more responsive, smoother and reliable. It would be more enjoyable to work with. It would unleash a new set of business opportunities that were not possible before. Look at the various exciting companies, ranging from RIA infrastructure/tool companies; new e-commerce/airline ticket booking companies, new media companies. A new level of excitement of VC interest is starting to emerge.

In summary, the fascination is not about the acronym “Ajax” per se. The excitement is about what the web can be and it can do, in ways that are so different but so much better than what we have been used to. The excitement is really about what this “new” web can enable.


Author of Ajax in Action

Ajax can be adopted incrementally, using the technologies and the skills that you're already using (i.e. the web browser). The barrier to entry is therefore very low for both web site owners and for developers.

It extends the reach of web apps from casual stuff like shopping and photo albums to serious heavy-usage scenarios. At the same time, it makes the casual stuff so much slicker and more fun to use.

It is encouraging a culture of collaboration between web sites (through the 'mashup' and 'web API' approach). This is unleashing a lot of creative thinking and energy right now.

Co-Authors, AJAXWorld Conference Speakers

The Ajax wildfire is a function of numerous factors:

#1 Marketing
Developers = people always love to enrich their lives with the most popular trends, such as Nike Air Jordans, an Apple iPod, a Gucci purse, or Ajax.
Ajax delivers a "cool" brand name for this suite of useful technologies, unifying the public perception.
Ajax is an open solution that is not controlled by any one corporation or individual.
Ajax was delivered at the time when developers were ready to embrace a common vision for the future of web application development.

#2 Technical feasibility
Ajax provides plugin-free, browser-compatible interactivity to traditional Web applications.
Desktop hardware advances have resolved many of the browser performance issues regarding JavaScript execution.
Network hardware advances have resolved many of the network latency issues regarding JavaScript download and server communication.
Developers need a community to discuss ideas and improve status quo solutions. "Ajax" has provided that community by unifying previously fragment efforts to improve web application development.

#3 Algorithm for success
(marketing brand + technical feasibility) * developer need * market timing precision = degree of success

Applied to Ajax:

("cool" + "genuinely useful") * "high" * "precise(Feb 2005)" = highly successful Ajax!

AJAXWorld Conference speaker, Co-Founder of Rico; AJAX Evangelist for Yahoo!

Why Ajax is proving to be so special? Since the 80s, the desktop application world has had a rich a set of user interaction idioms and ways to get at large sets of data and present them in an almost unlimited type of ways (albeit usually bounded by platform specific style guidelines.) Before Ajax became truly cross browser and ubiquitous, the classic web site was tied to the page refresh model. Want more information? Tear down the page and build it back up. This seriously affected both the programming model and the way sites were designed.

The introduction of Ajax tears down this page boundary and opens a pipeline to just-in-time information, presentation or even logic to flow continuously into the page all the way across the user's interactions. Instead of designing the user flow in chunks around the submit and hyperlink events, suddenly you are now able to design with the user in mind, respecting the true workflow process; keeping the user "in the flow". It has opened the potential for information in context all the time, in real time and just-in-time; just the way the user thinks about the problem. That is why Ajax is so special.

Scripting Specialist, Self-Decribed "Dynamic typeof() Guy"
1) Ajax is a cohesive term used to draw together a number of existing technical concepts into a marketable meme. Its purpose and its success lie in its ability to express a unified class of ideas by way of a single word.

2) In its original form, "A.J.A.X." the acronym enumerated the particular components of a certain recipe that demonstrated a working model of a highly interactive browser-based web application.

3) More broadly, "Ajax" the concept has become the catalyst that made the evolutionary transition between web "Sites" and web "Applications" not only possible but within everyone's reach. Ajax has since become associated with many implementations that are not necessarily limited to the exact technical components of the original acronym.

4) The Ajax meme continues to serve as a central theme around which the development community rallies to drive the evolution of mature toolsets and frameworks designed to simplify building this interactive and responsive next generation of web applications.

5) Current and future innovation and standardization resulting from the momentum of the Ajax juggernaut will mature, refine and consolidate the techniques used to create web applications. Web applications will ultimately use Ajax-style interaction as a matter of course and without having to diverge from standard practices and tools.

Author, "Real-World AJAX" One-Day Seminar speaker
1 - Ajax is big for one main reason. It is not server platform dependent. I can write a JavaScript front end that can talk with PHP, Java, .NET, ColdFusion, etc. That is why Ajax is getting so much attention. You have all of these develop groups that usually taunt each other working in the same area! (I am a .NET developer moderating on JavaRanch.com, I get teased enough!) If it were just dependent on one serverside framework Java or .NET, I do not think it would have been so big.

2 - Ajax is innovation. We have been stuck in this mold that the Web page has two separate parts that interact will form submissions. We had to live with rendering of controls for small updates. We have to download any information on the page we may need to use. Ajax changed the way we do trees, tool tips, surveys, polling, etc.

3 - The XMLHttprequest object is more reliable (Well if we forget about ActiveX) manner to transport data to and from the server. Yes, we all have been using PopUp windows, frames, and iframes to do the same tasks, but now we can tell when we have an error more easily and we can determine if something is taking too long. (But we do have to worry about certain pop up blockers! I talk about that at the Real World Ajax Seminar in San Jose!)

4 - User task time is also reduced with Ajax powered components on a Web page. Simple controls like an auto complete textbox, linked selects (double combos), live searches, and server polling can eliminate key strokes and time waiting for the page to render. No more sitting in my cube hitting F5 waiting to get more spam in my web mail inbox! People always talk about not having enough time to do things, Ajax may change that. If Ajax could tell me where I left my keys, I would become even more efficient! Anyone have spare RFID tags, GPS, and the Google Maps API handy? I got an idea....

5 - Ajax is allowing people to get paid to code in JavaScript. Would you ever have guessed that?

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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