Wednesday, June 14th, 2006

An axe to grind with Ajax

Category: Editorial

In his latest column for, Alex Krapf talks about his “axe to grind” with Ajax.

Recently, my buzzword detector went off when I tried to attend the monthly New England Java Users Group meeting and found myself wait-listed: The room with a capacity of about 300 was oversubscribed by a factor of two.

What could possibly get a bunch of Java geeks so excited? We always have pizza at the meetings, so that wasn’t it…To my bewilderment, it was a technology whose acronym “AJAX” stands for “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.” (It wasn’t even Java.)

Since that evening, I’ve spent quite some time researching the AJAX phenomenon, and I’ve come to a conclusion: I don’t get it.

He goes on to justify this statement by noting that he just doesn’t see the browser as a viable platform for applications., and that developers continually try to find ways around the browsers weaknesses rather than playing to its strengths. He’s impressed with the Google Maps application and a few others he’s seen, but on the whole, he’s not impressed.

There are three questions he says to ask yourself when considering Ajax in your application: “What are you trying to resolve?”, “Are there other solutions?”, and “What security implications are there with XMLHttpRequest endpoints?”.

This quote sums up his perspective well:

AJAX is sexy, but it is hardly revolutionary.

Posted by Chris Cornutt at 7:08 am

3.4 rating from 39 votes


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“Sounds like Alex is thinking about this more from an architecture standpoint than a user-experience standpoint.”

Exactly! Small improvements in UI can create some serious leverage.

Also, Ajax is still pretty damn young. People are excited, because they know how good it is to get in on the ground floor.

Comment by Joe Grossberg — June 14, 2006

It amazes me that people are still thinking this way in 2006.

I haven’t seen a desktop app that I’ve liked in a long time. Even the best desktop apps are a pain to use — just try stopping the music in iTunes… You don’t see a “stop” button with a black square, instead you see a pause button. If you close the iTunes window, you find the music keeps playing. Go to a bookstore and you see 1500-page tomes on how to use programs like Microsoft Word.

All the time I run into people who are using Excel when they should be using a database. Think of the idiots who lost a laptop with personal data on millions and millions of veterans — data like that shouldn’t be spread out on thousands of desktop machines that are vulnerable to who knows what… It should be kept on a server and accessed through a browser-based app. Yeah, a hacker might break into the server, but it’s easier to secure one big machine than it is to secure thousands of desktops in the wild.

Comment by Paul Houle — June 14, 2006

Why is it always ONE technical answer to every problem for people? Use a browser based app where it makes sense and a native desktop app where ~it~ makes sense. They both have their place.

grumble grumble…

Comment by Jesse Kuhnert — June 14, 2006

Honestly, he sounds like someone who is afraid of anything new. Is there really anyone left advocating Java Applets in this day and age? That seems to be his answer.

Comment by Iain — June 14, 2006

I for one still advocate for other solution in both java and flash or whatnot when they make sense.
I do agree that Ajax is sexy, lightweight etc. but is definetely not revolutionary.
Just think of Outlook Web Access. Between 1999 and 2001 there was a similar trend going on towards DHTML.
What killed dhtml/ajax then was the slow adoption of newer browsers and the movement towards standards/cross browser scripting.
The only difference now is that the Netscape Browser has finally died, and the most popular browser all supports the technique. (I see AJAX being more of a technique than a real technology)
So right now the audience has widened considerebly.

Java applets suck not because they inherently do. They suck because of the big A$$ downloads + the vm problem. How many times did you have to update/downgrade your vm to even see an applet.
How many times did it crash your browser?
My C:\Program Files\Java folder is over 160 megs with just the 1.5 releases. That’s ridiculous. Most people don’t have every possible java version to make sure they’re not going to have any problems.
That’s where sun is failed, in it’s distribution/upgrade channel.
Plus, Applets are not sexy anymore. They are old news. But, I still write Applets when I have to, when there is nothing else that can solve the problem.

On the other hand that’s what macromedia got right. The flash plugin is assured to work in more browsers () and more consistently then ajax. (javascript turned off ??)
Companies like Macromedia and Laszlo really make web based ui/application very interesting and, to me, much sexier.

In short (lol) I agree with him about the fact that is not revolutionary, it just reached public acceptancy and moved past the tipping point.
And you should also always ask yourself “What problems am I trying to solve?”.
Aside from that there was a lot to disagree but I already typed too much :D

Comment by Diego — June 14, 2006

Not revolutionary. Sexy? Who cares. Evolutionary. All hype is overhype.

Comment by Forsooth — June 14, 2006

And with the latest Ajax vulnerability, he has a point about “security implications”.

Comment by Ara Pehlivanian — June 14, 2006

How in the world did that put Ara as my name….AHH, also said I duplicated my response, now I see why people yell in the comments. LOL

Eric Pascarello

Comment by Eric Pascarello — June 14, 2006

I’ve been reading the Apress boook, “Foundations in AJAX”, which clarifies a bit of the hype. I like Google maps, but have you tried it over dialup? Forget it.

I am beta testing the new yahoo webmail interface written with ajax, and even on a dual pentium with highspeed provided by my employer, the application chugs along, occassionally crashing my browser.

Shoving all that application logic into the front end drastically increases the load times on the browser if it’s doing more than the cpu can handle.

Comment by Web Developer — June 14, 2006

“In fact, with a few exceptions, I have hated just about every browser-based application that I’ve ever used.”

Ok. And a year after Java was first released, how many crappy Java apps were there? Anybody else try using that Java version of Wordperfect?

Sorry, but pointing out that there are crappy implementations of a newer technology isn’t really meaningful.

Comment by Paul Watson — June 14, 2006

Almost every single customer has asked us if we deliver our application over the web. We must be living in a different reality.

Comment by Berend de Boer — June 14, 2006

Revolutionary? Not yet. Sexy? Yup.

Here’s why I’m excited: It’s a deep ripple in a pool I was already excited about. That and, well, job searches got a whole lot easier. Head over to’s bay area page and search jobs with keyword ‘ajax’. Nice :)

Comment by Kenan Banks — June 14, 2006

Have you consider the possibility that we can build superior online applications at fraction of the cost compared to Swing. Please review the invention, which can help build applications “Richer than rich desktop applications” at half the cost.

Pioneer-soft said that they are going build GUI-API that is more flexible than Java/Swing for both SVG and XAML/WPF/E. They have provided more than substantial proof at their web site:

The webpage says:
To build great Ajax GUI applications one needs great reusable Ajax GUI Classes (a Class Library or GUI-API) that are more flexible and easy to use than desktop GUI Classes, for example, Java/Swing or Windows/VC++.

All one needs to know is: how he can build GUI Class for one component. The same process can be used to build a GUI Class for any other GUI Component.

Of course, they haven’t yet created a full GUI-API for all the components, but have presented all evidence one needs, which is backed by many SVG examples to clearly illustrate that it is possible to build such reusable GUI Classes.

Can any one prove that any piece of their evidence is flawed? The GUI Chars are more flexible than any charts I have ever seen. No flaming or unsubstantiated sound bites. If you don’t agree just prove them wrong. There are thousands of very competent developers are here, if they are wrong, you should not have any problem finding it.

Comment by Mike — June 15, 2006

in my opinion AJAX sucks from the developer standpoint. I love to write code in Java in my IDE. Javascript/dom support is not great in IDEs.

The result is that I’m more productive writting java than anything else.

But who cares about the developer? From the user standpoint, AJAX is great. The browser lets you access thoushand applications without hte need to install anything on your computer. With AJAX these web applications can feel (almost) like their best desktop application. As a user, I like AJAX.

The developer knows that the browser is a bit limited and that it’s performance (of the javascript app) is not so good compare to a desktop app. So the developper has to play a lot of tricks to get an acceptable user experience. That’s a pain for the developer but the user is not ware of it or doesn’t care.

Comment by James — June 15, 2006

“in my opinion AJAX sucks from the developer standpoint. I love to write code in Java in my IDE. Javascript/dom support is not great in IDEs.”

Check out the Google Web Toolkit. It allows you to avoid exactly what it is you hate about AJAX.

Comment by Ken Fehling — June 15, 2006

“Companies like Macromedia and Laszlo really make web based ui/application very interesting and, to me, much sexier.”
They really know how to put on their AJAX makeup and look appealing – something others can’t easily achieve. Besides, it’s not just the makeup – they’ve also learned how to walk and talk to others well. That’s an art. The rest is just cheap makeup and $$ appeals.

Comment by Les Papier — June 15, 2006

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