Top Ten Reasons AJAX is Here to Stay
By Andre Charland
It's an understatement to say that AJAX is hot right now. There's a lot
of hype; no one can argue that. It went from a geek buzzword in
February to being profiled on CNN in October. So, let's look at why
AJAX is here now, and why it's going to continue to grow and will
definitely still be around for a while. So, in late-night talk show
style, I've put together a top 10 list.
Top Ten Reasons for AJAX
XAML, XUL, XForms...Not Yet.
Server Technology Agnostic
Adoption Is Strong with Industry Leaders
Plays Nicely with Flex and Flash
Low Incremental Cost
Benefits of Regular Web Applications
Cross Browser and Cross Platform
Usability and User Experience Are King
And the top reason....
Open Standards Based
Now on to the details...
1. Open Standards
Let's start at the top. AJAX is based on open standards supported by
many browsers and platforms; this means there's no fear of vendor
lock-in. Most of the technologies that make up AJAX have been used
extensively for years. These aren't hot, new, untested technologies
that will only work most of the time. Browsers are a trusted
application platform for most users and enterprises now; this wasn't
the case five years ago. One of the turning points for AJAX was the
Mozilla 1.0 release that FireFox is based on and supported the XML HTTP
Request Object. This allowed the same asynchronous data transfer that
had been possible in IE for years. That support and FireFox's rapid
adoption really helped people understand that cross-browser rich
Internet applications were possible.
accepted technology. For a long time, many companies had employed a "no
XML is a widely used standard from the W3C http://www.w3.org/XML/.
XML HTTP Request Object is supported in Internet Explorer,
Mozilla-based, Safari, and Opera browsers.
Developers and designers are beginning to realize not only the large
role user-experience plays in market success, but how it affects the
cost of ownership. The success of AJAX-based applications such as
Google Maps over more traditional alternatives like MapQuest show that
success can come to products that provide better user experience. AJAX
is playing a leading role in making Web applications usable. It allows
pages to request small bits of information from the server instead of
whole pages. This incremental updating of pages eliminates the page
refresh problem and slow response that have plagued Web applications
since their inception.
People have learned they need decent user interfaces and are willing to
invest in it. The bottom line here is that if users can get things done
faster there's value in that whether the application is an internal
intranet application, or a public Web service.
3. Cross-Browser and Cross-Platform Compatibility
IE and Mozilla-based FireFox have the lion's share of the market and
are arguably the easiest browsers on which to build AJAX Web
applications, but now it's possible to build AJAX-based rich Internet
applications that work on most modern Web browsers. This is an
important reason why AJAX has become so popular. Although many
developers were aware this was possibly years ago with Internet
Explorer, it was overlooked because of the vendor lock-in factor.
Thanks, Mozilla and FireFox.
4. Benefits of Regular Web Applications
AJAX is the face of today's Web applications-and Web applications
enjoy certain benefits over desktop-based ones. These include a lower
cost of deployment, easier support, shorter development times, and no
installation; these are just some of the benefits that have caused
businesses and consumers to adopt Web-based applications since the late
90s. AJAX will only help Web applications get better and achieve more
for end users.
5. Incremental Skills, Tools and Technologies Upgrade
Because AJAX is based on de facto standards that have been around for
several years, many developers have at least been exposed to the
technologies required to build AJAX applications. This means it's not
huge learning curve for development teams to shift from vanilla HTML
and form-based applications to rich AJAX style applications. It also
means that development teams working on Web applications can
incrementally upgrade their user interfaces to AJAX; it doesn't require
a wholesale upgrade and re-write of their Web applications. Given the
large investments that have been made in deploying browser-based
applications since the late 90s, it's very appealing to be able to
leverage existing systems and improve the user experience.
6. Works with Flex and Flash
Much of the development community is locked in a heated debate of Flash
vs. AJAX. There are definitely advantages and disadvantages to both
technologies in different situations, but there's also a lot of synergy
and opportunity for them to work together. Many developers and vendors
have realized this and have implemented some really great software
using both AJAX and Flash in harmony. Macromedia is also keen to see
these technologies work together.
Widespread adoption of AJAX by industry leaders proves market
acceptance and validity of this technology group. Everybody is jumping
on the bandwagon, including Google, Yahoo, Amazon, and Microsoft (to
name a few). It was really Google Maps that captured the attention of
Web developers. When people began to investigate how Google was able to
deliver such an incredible user experience in the browser without any
plug-ins, they found AJAX under the hood.
Of course, it's not enough for Google to do something for AJAX to make
the leap to mainstream enterprise. But, if you look at the customer
list of AJAX development companies such as eBusiness Applications
(www.ebusinessapps.com) or Tibco (http://www.tibco.com), you'll see
Fortune 500 enterprises including major financial institutions,
government agencies, airlines, and other major industries adopting AJAX
and they were doing so before the term "AJAX" was coined.
8. Web 2.0
Love it or hate it. The Web 2.0 movement is in full swing and turning
the heads of programmers, VCs, marketers, and end users alike. This is
definitely helping AJAX adoption for the time being; when the hype
eventually dies down, it will be interesting to see what happens. AJAX
interfaces are a key component of many Web 2.0 applications from
BackPack to Google Maps. Likely the hype will help accelerate the
adoption of AJAX and the usability benefits will keep it around. One of
the key principles of Web 2.0 is using the Web as a platform for
application development, instead of merely Web pages. Highly usable and
interactive user interfaces are a key part of any application platform.
9. AJAX is Server Agnostic
Much like how AJAX is browser independent, it's also perfectly
compatible with any standard Web server and server-side language. PHP,
ASP. ASP.Net, Perl, JSP, Cold Fusion, and so forth-take your pick and
start building. This has helped move AJAX along because all Web
developers can use and talk about a common presentation layer.
10. Next-Generation RIA Technologies for the Web Aren't Here Yet
It would be great to build applications today in XUL, but because it's
not supported by 90% of the browsers out there, it's not considered a
practical solution for most purposes (yet). However, AJAX programmers
should keep an eye on technologies such as XAML and XUL. There is no
doubt these technologies would make it easier to develop rich Internet
applications, but they are in conflict with each other and don't have
the same market penetration or momentum yet.
AJAX is great for improving the usability of the Eeb applications that
are there today. AJAX is not perfect, it's not "rocket science," and
many developers and technology companies are trying better technologies
for RIA all the time. The fact of the matter is that AJAX is here today
and working, it's cross-browser and cross-platform, and both users and
developers like what it can do. High profile AJAX applications like
Google Maps have emerged as clear leaders in their field (who uses
MapQuest anymore?). Likewise, leading Fortune 500 enterprises are using
AJAX and are even contributing tools back to the community. In general,
the industry has agreed on the underlying AJAX technologies and is
using them. Renewed emphasis on rich Internet applications and a key
advancement in browser technologies has made AJAX not simply a new tool
in the developer's toolkit, but a phenomenon that is changing the way
Web applications are written. Nobody can say for sure with what or when
it will be replaced as the preferred platform for rich Internet
applications, but many factors support a sustained AJAX presence over
the next couple years.
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