Friday, October 20, 2006

AJAX - The New Web Concept

A lot of web developers have been reading about how AJAX is going to transform the way people use websites. In short AJAX enables developers to create Web Applications that look, work and feel like a regular desktop application. It adds the extra functionality that is missing in common web technologies, e.g. Flash and HTML do not have any components for pop-up dialogs or tabs. AJAX also concentrates on providing a more animated interface.

is an AJAX toolkit that allows you to write your web application in technology-independant code and then publish the application as either Flash, XHTML and soon Java for Mobiles. Currently only the Flash version is usable, heavy work is going on the XHTML version and development on the Java for Mobiles version has just started with Sun Microsystem's help. I like the Flash version but the XHTML version still needs quite a bit of work.

I have also been looking at the ZK Web Framework which is a XHTML based AJAX framework. The last time I checked there were quite a few bugs with the Firefox version.

My personal opinion is that an XHTML AJAX toolkit will always have problems mainly due to cross-browser compatibility issues. Anyone who has ever tried to use advanced javascript on their webpages knows this. Then there issues in webpage rendering from one browser to another. Since AJAX tries to introduce animated features to the interface, I have found a lot of bugs especially in browser rendering.

For XHTML based AJAX toolkits to really take off browsers will also need to be updated especially their rendering engines. Historically HTML content of webpages has been mostly static thus web browsers have a low refresh rate for it. But in order for AJAX to be a true desktop application replacement, browser makers will have to increase their HTML content refresh rates so actions like dragging a component seems more natural.

For example, when trying out the ZK Component Demo in Firefox, using the slider component you will notice a slight delay when dragging the slider. Also when using any of the pop-up dialogs and dragging them, when you drag the window beyond the right or lower edge of the browser window (causing the scrollbars to resize) a very unnatural effect takes place that a user will never see in a desktop application.

I forsee open-source browsers like Firefox to become more AJAX friendly, but I am almost sure that MS Internet Explorer will probably never do that. AJAX is seen as a threat to Microsoft's Windows desktop development platform which locks in users to using only Windows. If AJAX achieves its goals, it will shift a lot of users away from dependancy on using Windows.

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