Tuesday, March 15th, 2005
I’ve done something three times over the past two weeks I never thought I’d do again: talk about the web as an application platform. Why, just over a year ago, I was explaining to anyone that would listen that “DHTML” web applications were difficult to create maintenance nightmares involving a motley crÃ¼e of brittle dialects, bound by an underpowered scripting language.
And now my friend Dion and I are sharing Ajax goodness with the world, joining with hundreds of our collegues as we blur the boundaries between web and desktop clients. What a difference a few Google apps can make.
As our community explores Ajax, there are bound to be a few naysayers and curmedgeons. Such dissenting views are of course healthy contributions to the discussion. I want to address two common buckets-of-water-thrown-on-the-ajax-discussion.
First, I’ve read plenty of blogs and comments in recent days that express the general sentiment, “
XMLHttpRequest isn’t new, quit blabbing about how cool it is.”
Perhaps the best rebuttal to this sentiment is in Lee Gomes’ interesting Wall Street Journal article, published today:
Meet Ajax, the technology powerhouse. For years, it has been living indolently on your computer, never really doing much of anything.
In the past few months, though, computer programmers, most notably those at Google, have begun to wake up Ajax and put it to work. And as a result, the computer industry may never be the same.
The second general detraction is goes something like, “Ajax web applications aren’t nearly as cool as rich desktop apps, so let’s not waste our time on them.” In the words of Keith Lea:
…the web is not a cool platform for complex applications.
The first rebuttal that comes to mind is in the form of an experience I had all three times I presented on Ajax recently. Quoting myself:
Google actually distributes two interactive map applications: a rich client called Keyhole, and of course, Google Maps. Of the two, Keyhole is vastly superior. You can navigate the entire world in luscious, satellite-mapped detail, along with topographical details. It makes Google Maps seem quite primitive by comparison.
How many of you have tried out Keyhole? (Three hands go up). How many of you have tried out Google Maps? (A sea of hands go up).
There’s more to say on this topic, but its time to wrap up this entry, and I’d like to make one more point before I do.
I’m still bullish on rich desktop clients. While I’m excited about Ajax, its just one more tool on the architect’s shelf. In fact, the next few projects in my personal and professional queue involve Java’s Swing GUI toolkit.
Let’s move past arguing about what Ajax is, how poorly suited the term is, and how unfortunate it is that web browsers trump every other technology when it comes to getting your software into the hands of new users.
Posted by Ben Galbraith at 8:43 am