Ajax hype

March 21st, 2005 Comments Off

Ajax seems to be the new favorite buzzword among Web developers — a supposedly new approach to Web development that will free developers from the clutches of twenty-century-style Web applications deprived of any form of real-time interaction with users.

I’m not impressed. Maybe because I’ve been using something similar for the past four years and have seen what’s good and what’s bad about such approach. I agree with Ian Hickson that Ajax is just a new way to talk about what many developers have been using for a long time already. Been there, done that.

The only thing new about Ajax may be the branding issue, to which Jonas called my attention today via IM. In a certain way, the word Ajax defines a new way to think about those existing technologies that will make developers in turn think about new ways to use them, leading to the creation of new toolkits, communities, and applications based on the approach.

Even so, it seems to me that the enthusiasm around the whole thing is way to big

In early 2001, I was using Microsoft’s Tabular Data Control (TDC) under IE to avoid having to reload pages for simples changes in the information presented or needed, using DHTML to create pages that had no need of explicit roundtrips to the server to collect and manage large bodies of information with reasonable speed.

Some months later, I added XML and XSL to the mix to make the generation of XHTML fragments easier. With the coming of XmlHttpRequest, things got even simpler.

One of the first applications I created using those technologies was a hierarchical forum whose conversations were dynamic loaded to create a more interactive experience for users. It worked nicely. Later, I went to create a graph editor based on the same principles.

To me, XmlHttpRequest and TDC are sides of the same coin, much like SOAP and REST. XmlHttpRequest and TDC have similar purposes, only differing in the complexity and flexibility they offer. TDC was very simple, but worked as nicely as XmlHttpRequest for most tasks, which the later only offering a compelling advantage where XSLT where concerned.

Going back to what Hickson said, it makes no sense to treat the whole thing as if it were a gift from the gods. The limitations of the Web are still there, and using dynamic technologies with disregard to the environment can cause even more problems. Good accessibility, for example, is harder to achieve in such environments (I say based on my own experience).

Obviously, as a user of such technologies, I’m not against Ajax. I just think it must be judged on the light of what we have already learn so that we won’t lose what I won in terms of accessibility and usability with the increase in the correct use of Web standards.

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