Thursday, September 7th, 2006

Why Ajax?

Category: Ajax, Editorial

Ajax has changed the web. There’s no doubt about that. It’s made the internet a happier place to be (well, when it’s used well) and has helped fuel the Web 2.0 movement to make it what it is today.

But what I’m left wondering is – why?

No, I’m not saying that Ajax is overrated or that it’s not really useful (I wouldn’t be writing for this site if I were). What I’m going for is more of why Ajax is as popular as it is and what it is about the way we use the web that makes it such a perfect fit.

When it first came on the scene, it was a neat toy. Don’t deny it, you tried it out to make something like a auto-completion search box or pulling in content from a server-side text file. You were happy that there was something as cool as this that had the possibility to update content on command. Unfortunately, this is where some stopped. They saw it as this “toy” and dropped it like any other web-based feature, thinking it probably wouldn’t catch on. Good thing they were wrong.

Other developers, ones fascinated by the potential Ajax had, took things even further. They saw what was really at the core of what made Ajax special. They saw that, with Ajax, they could break free. Browsers had limited them to the “request a page and let it load” philosophy for so long they’d thought it was all there was. Jesse James Garrett showed them different – he cracked the door open and showed a sliver of light to these hard-working souls and told them that there was another way.

Javascript was the path to enlightenment, and through it, the ability to make their pages more than what they were. This is what the “Ajax difference” really is – a way to break free of the oppression of the normal page load, a simple path to more advanced functionality, and the one thing that anyone that uses a computer wants at all times – a fast, responsive application that “just works”.

Ajax has changed the face of the web forever. Save for some of the browser enhancements and a few other technologies, I dare to say that it’s had the most significant impact on the way we use the internet in it’s short life (well, the life as Ajax as coined by J.J.G. back in February 18th of 2005).

It allows us to realize our web-based dreams, one XMLHttpRequest at a time.

Posted by Chris Cornutt at 11:08 am

3.2 rating from 10 votes


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“..a way to break free of the opression (sic) of the normal page load..”
“It allows us to realize our web-based dreams, one XMLHttpRequest at a time.”

Passionately-written, I’ll say that much. A little sappy perhaps, but overall a nice read.

Now if we can keep web standards, accessibility, speed and performance all up with this newfangled Ajax stuff – *then* we will truly have a revolution! ;)

Comment by Scott Schiller — September 7, 2006

“Now if we can keep web standards, accessibility, speed and performance all up with this newfangled Ajax stuff – *then* we will truly have a revolution! ;)”

Scott welcome to HIJAX – Progressive Enhancement with Ajax – viva la revolution!

Comment by Ross — September 7, 2006

“I dare to say that it’s had the most significant impact on the way we use the internet in it’s short life…”

Rubbish. For designers, maybe; for users, nonsense.

Comment by ajaxmeoff — September 7, 2006

A 6 years old technology has changed the web. Funny. Java Applet should be the next, Web 3.0.

Comment by Robert — September 7, 2006

So you want I should go out and push a young virgin man into a volcano in Ajax’s name or something?

Comment by Shelley — September 7, 2006

Ajax is the biggest over-hyped piece of “sticks-and-stones” technology I’ve ever seen. To believe that we’ve reached the pinacle of web development using JAVASCRIPT, ROFLMAO!!

The whole Javascript+HTML “scripting” stack is a joke for serious application development. You will start to see it crumble under it’s own hype-infested weight over the next 5 years as a new wave of REAL built-from-the-ground up rich client internet technologies come alive.

Comment by NCR — September 7, 2006

NCR, You got my intrest, what REAL technologies are coming down the pipe?

Comment by nblade — September 7, 2006

NCR is too cool for meee

Comment by Jimmy — September 7, 2006

Java Web Start?

Comment by Robert — September 7, 2006

“Java Web Start?”


I don’t know about all the hype, but Ajax has helped me tremendously in my work. I don’t see it as the end all, but I don’t think people are going to wake up one day and say “Hey, I don’t like webpages that update on demand and do more”. I think ajax will go away eventually, but the concept of dynamically pushing/pulling content on the page never will.

XAML looks promising to me.

Comment by Chris Hamilton — September 7, 2006

What people often don’t realise is that Ajax is a technology (is it really a technology after all or just a way to use existing stuff? *confused*) that helps _improve_ sites, and not something to rely on entirely while developing web services. We see hundreds of “Ajax” and “Web2.0” Pages today that are just rubbish. The really good ones use it under the hood, to add some nice little features to existing services. It is a hype yes, but we can actually filter out the noise and get some pretty cool enhancements, I for example just love the fact that Ajax is pushing towards making content available as XML-Feeds or JSON, enabling developers to access this data from their application (Semantic Web here we come ^^).

just a tutorial writer that got fed up with the noise…

Comment by Christian 'Snyke' Decker — September 7, 2006

Great post.

But, you know what? You might need a post tool with a spelling checking.

Comment by gneheix — September 7, 2006

One thing that needs to get some credit is that the browser space is a lot easier to deal with than 5 years ago, when you had NS4, IE4, and IE5 all crawling around. XMLHR has been around since what, 2000, but 5 years back you couldn’t rely on IE and Netscape to render basic HTML the same, let alone the serious Javascript/DHTML stuff AJAX relies on.

Now, why didn’t IE-only AJAX catch on sooner? It wasn’t for lack of exposure-Outlook Webmail probably had an installed base in the millions years before gMail came out. Plenty of engineers and web designers used it every day at work, and wondered, “how’d they do that!?” I know that I just assumed it was some proprietary MS skullduggery and it never occurred to me there was a magical philosopher’s stone object sitting there for me to use. MS didn’t really go out of their way to tell us about it, and lacking an open community to develop chatter in, it sat there neglected. It’s an interesting case study in where their very closed and proprietary culture may have worked against their own goals. Think about the number of IE-only websites that would have been built, the opportunities for MS to layer in all sorts of wacky extensions… Web 2.0 could have all played out very differently. Instead it’s brought back exactly what MS feared in 1996–that a generic browser could someday replace the thick desktop.

Comment by Colin Kingsbury — September 7, 2006

This article is pointless … why AJAX?
I have been working with ActiveX objects for more then few years, similar to what “Colin Kingsbury” said, due to lack of documentation and today’s blogs, many people assumed its just IE magic and left it that. Others like “Mark Birbeck” who tried to use it for main stream use, were shot down by uneducated stakeholders.
Now days with many blogs, discussion forms and ability to read about latest craze, same stakeholders who didn’t want a toy … today they want to say “AJAX” in their meetings or blogs. Thus the AJAX hype / craze was born. Believe it or not many CEO’s in companies don’t even understand what AJAX is … they call anything flashy AJAX, where in reality, it has nothing to with it, its just JavaScript.
AJAX hype in new upcoming developers is similar to what happened with frames in early 90’s, when people discovered you can create two small pages and link them together instead of one page, many started using it. After a little while the hyper wore off and developers have cut down on framesets. Then when Netscape six came out, iframes became cross browser and many used iframes just like how AJAX is used today, the difference was that they didn’t call it HIJAX.
I agree with “Robert” and “NCR”, you can’t say a old technology has changed the world, if you do then are nothing more then just glorified front end developer and clearly haven’t done anything besides HTML+JavaScript, and probably have just obtained your “Web Developer” certificate from an online course. I am not knocking down AJAX, I love it and use it often, but enough of the hype already.

Comment by Tahir — September 8, 2006

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NCR Said:
The whole Javascript+HTML “scripting” stack is a joke for serious application development. You will start to see it crumble under it’s own hype-infested weight over the next 5 years as a new wave of REAL built-from-the-ground up rich client internet technologies come alive.

Nblade asked:
NCR, You got my intrest, what REAL technologies are coming down the pipe?

I think, XAML/WPF/E is a great client, but from Microsoft/Vista. Flex2 is also a good candidate.

Then, we need good tools and IDE’s that can match Windows/VB++. There are many contenders to fill this gap. For example, one of my friends GUI Classes:

He doesn’t think HTML platform can scale well, especially to support custom 2D/3D components.

Comment by NSPrasad — September 11, 2006

I have to agree with NSPrasad, JavaScript is not the way this will go on forever, it is however a nice thing that Ajax is pushing the bounds of feasability for Web-Applications and -Services and shows the clients what can be done. It basically is an avantguard for upcoming, web-centric, applications, that may or may not be based on Javascript and related technologies.
ThinkFree is a really nice example to this ^^

Comment by Christian 'Snyke' Decker — September 11, 2006

AJAX helps bring down the priestocracy of expensive, dedicated systems to stream data. Perfect example is with what Yahoo is now offering in constantly updated quotes.
I agree with the underlying concept that AJAX permits the desire of information to be free to get closer to that level.

Comment by Flux Amm — September 11, 2006

I think it is quite clear that it is impossible to separate the movement to rely more on JavaScript from the AJAX movement, and these discussions highlight that. What I believe is a really important revelation in current web development, and that is the true power of JavaScript. It is not just the most widespread language (in every browser), but I believe it is actually more powerful than Java, and a signficantly better platform for major application development. Closures, delegates, object augmentation are all features of the dynamic JavaScript language that a static language like Java can not handle, and as the web development continues to become more and more dynamic, just as static html became outdated, I believe that static languages will start to show their antiquity. I believe this is going to be highlighted as persistence becomes more and more a part of everyday programming, and object lifetimes become non-transient and static object structures become more limiting.
What happened over the last decade was an excessive swings towards thin clients. This was great for deployability, but writing good client/server applications requires understanding what part of the application is best for the client and what is best for the server, the AJAX movement is partly about restoring the art of creating well balanced client/server applications, and the nice thing is that we haven’t lost deployability.

Comment by Kris Zyp — September 12, 2006

I have to disagree with Kris, JavaScript is all but a stable and reliable base on which to build applications:
– It has major Cross-Browser issues
– It is not really high performance either
– Not to mention memory and caching issues
All these problems are adressed with Java, which may rely on a really wide set of opensource and reliable Libraries that can be easily reused (which speeds up development process) and it smoothes the bumps in the different Browsers so that we can use a uniform platform and we don’t have to care about them ourselfs.
Although I’m a big supporter of the whole Web 2.0 movement, I’m convinced that Ajax is nothing but the first step towards more interactive and reactive applications, maybe Java is the next step, maybe we’ll be stuck in the JavaScript world for a long time…

Comment by Christian 'Snyke' Decker — September 13, 2006

It’s good to have a matured set of scripts (aka ajax) that give me the option to dump my old sources from 2003 that did (and still do!) the same as Ajax but in a different and now inefficient-looking way (by loading javascriptised data in a hidden iframe for example). Now other ppl do the bugfixing, testing and develop new features on Ajax which saves me time like some many other open-source-coders. The quality of the software increases because of the scale -> more users = faster bug-detection and more coders = faster bug-fixing. Nobody can’t argue that. But it’s not that breathtaking as many might think. Old expert developers have used that xmlhttprequest object for lotsa things ever since it was introduced in Internet Explorer 5.

Furthermore it’s pretty easy to do all kinda things in (Adobe/Macromedia) Flash which don’t require complex javascript-libraries and is cross-platform and is reasonable fast and is reliable as hell and is user-friendly and fully customizable and can even run stand-alone (projector .exe) if you don’t need online data. imho.

Comment by Walter Tak — September 19, 2006

Boy, Sawyer sure turned around from the jerk to a seemingly likable guy. And I think him and Kate will be having a baby soon :).

Comment by mr skin — October 7, 2006

I just launched a (non Ajaxian) site where I enabled caching of the main menu bar, and this it does not reload, and it feels like an Ajax app. If reloading is such a big concern, why not play around with the browser caching stuff?

Comment by Giorgio — October 15, 2006

[…] Why Ajax? Chris Cornutt – September 7th, 2006 […]

Pingback by Niederrhein Blog » Ajax Tutorials und Ajax Scripte - Links und Bookmarks — October 21, 2006

Look at zimbra, now thats Ajax for you…

Comment by westereng — November 1, 2006

Its really greate to have a tool like AJAX ,but for the web pages which have the ads changing after every page refresh this tool is futile.If the developer codes that in such a manner only that part of the page gets refreshed /connected to server then,that again uses the traditional approach .

Comment by Aashee — January 29, 2007

I agree AJAX changed the web. If you don’t agree try this out ;)

Comment by Gevorg — July 31, 2007

Sorry I forgot to say register here.


Comment by Gevorg — July 31, 2007

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