April 28, 2007

The Token AJAX Post

It's the backbone of the oft heralded "Web 2.0" movement. It's the key to breathing fresh, interactive life into an aging XHTML spec. If you had not already gathered from these clues and the title of my post, I'm referring to AJAX - asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

I'd bet many readers can sympathize with the sense of bedazzlement I experienced upon first laying eyes on Google Maps. Add to that Windows Live, Flickr and GMail, among a host of others, and there is an obvious trend of companies using JavaScript to push their applications to new heights.

With AJAX, interaction between the web server and the client are no longer limited to jagged, intermittent spurts of activity. Instead the bits flow over the wire as soon as they're requested, making for a smoother browsing experience. The best of these AJAX applications have often given me the eerie feeling that I'm not using a browser at all.

But is it just hype? I think the AJAX phenomena has been around long enough to have settled comfortably into the minds of developers and the expectations of users. I don't think it's a passing fad. However, I also tend to believe that the overall usefulness of AJAX has been blown out of proportion. True, it can make for a snappier user interface, but I don't see it as much of a revolution. If anything, I think AJAX was the next evolutionary step beyond the dynamic HTML that was so heavily pushed in the late 90's.

I used the MS AJAX package in a recent project and was pleased to see that this and similar toolkits are opening AJAX techniques to a wider audience of developers. But in my mind I foresee the true next-generation web-based software to transcend traditional XHTML/JavaScript scenarios via new runtimes such as Adobe Apollo and Microsoft Silverlight.

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