AJAX faces cultural obstacles

By Peter Coffee  |  Posted 2006-01-16 Print this article Print

too"> Other barriers to AJAX development are as much cultural as technical. The perception that real programmers write [insert technology here] applications, with the insertion being chosen from .Net, Java or other technology du jour, may be entrenched in a development shop.

Developers may even argue that the generation beyond AJAX is already being defined by Microsoft Corp.s .Net languages and frameworks—specifically, the presentation and communication foundations of Microsofts forthcoming Windows Vista. This platform offers developers the prospect of powerful asynchronous communication mechanisms plus engaging client-side interaction, freed from the confines of a Web browser. One could argue that AJAX takes aim at the problems of browser-based application development, just as the developer community prepares to leave the browser behind.

Does Microsoft want a piece of the AJAX action? Mary Jo Foley thinks so. Click here to read more.
If a preference for open standards drives AJAX adoption nonetheless, an outcome to be avoided is one in which AJAX is oversold. Its appeal may seduce newly empowered front-end developers into shifting too much of a task off the server and into the browser. "Front end technology can never replace ... back end technology, or vice versa, because the two have different purposes," states the JavaScript Manifesto. "Back end technologies search for, collate, and serve data and business logic. Front end technologies present this information to the user. The two need to be properly separated."

AJAXs "X" for XML should be taken as descriptive, not prescriptive. "XML is the most fully developed means of getting data in and out of an AJAX client, but theres no reason you couldnt accomplish the same effects using a technology such as JavaScript Object Notation or any similar means of structuring data for interchange," Garrett said. He apparently couldnt resist, however, the temptation to embed a reference to XML as the price of a catchy name.

Developers must steel themselves against the implication that theres some organic connection between JavaScript and XML that makes AJAX an all-or-nothing proposition. Its useful for developers to appreciate the generality of the ideas that are at risk of becoming straitjacketed by the AJAX label. "The name AJAX was apparently coined because HTTP + XML + HTML + XMLHttpRequest + JavaScript + CSS was too long," suggested software researcher Ian Hickson in a blog posting one month after the AJAX name emerged.

Understanding each of those component technologies, and letting each do what it does best, may be a better approach than seeking out a packaged AJAX solution and letting its choices and limits become the developers as well. Microsoft Program Manager Dare Obasanjo made this point from another perspective with a comment on his blog last March: "What I find particularly disappointing about the AJAX hype is that it has little to do with the technology and more to do with the quality of developers building apps at Google [Inc]. If Google builds their next UI without the use of XML but only JavaScript and HTML, will we be inundated with hype about the new JUDO approach (Javascript and Unspecified DOM methods) because it uses proprietary DOM extensions not in the W3C standard?"

Googles high profile has contributed to an aura of fairy dust surrounding AJAX, making it seem both more powerful and less risky than it may prove to be in the hands of any but the most talented developers. But as Sophocles wrote in 440 B.C., "Ever do I behold thee scheming to snatch some vantage oer thy foes. Skilled in the chase thou seemest. Say what eager quest is thine, that I who know may give thee light." Thats Athenas opening speech in the classic play "Ajax."

Peter Coffee can be reached at peter_coffee@ziffdavis.com. Check out eWEEK.coms for the latest news, reviews and analysis in Web services.

Peter Coffee is Director of Platform Research at salesforce.com, where he serves as a liaison with the developer community to define the opportunity and clarify developersÔÇÖ technical requirements on the companyÔÇÖs evolving Apex Platform. Peter previously spent 18 years with eWEEK (formerly PC Week), the national news magazine of enterprise technology practice, where he reviewed software development tools and methods and wrote regular columns on emerging technologies and professional community issues.Before he began writing full-time in 1989, Peter spent eleven years in technical and management positions at Exxon and The Aerospace Corporation, including management of the latter companyÔÇÖs first desktop computing planning team and applied research in applications of artificial intelligence techniques. He holds an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from Pepperdine University, he has held teaching appointments in computer science, business analytics and information systems management at Pepperdine, UCLA, and Chapman College.

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