AJAX: Are You Experienced?

AJAX has taken the developer world by storm, but it could be even more effective with the right browser capabilities, claim a pair of AJAX experts at the AJAX Experience show.

SAN FRANCISCO—AJAX has taken the developer world by storm, but it could be even more effective with the right browser capabilities, said two AJAX experts at the inaugural AJAX Experience conference here.

Dion Almaer and Ben Galbraith, co-founders of Ajaxian.com, opened the conference on May 10 with an evening keynote where they delivered their wish list for features of a next-generation browser. The list consisted of four items: 2-D drawing (Canvas) acceleration on top of DirectX, Quartz and Cairo/xgl; Just-in-Time compiled JavaScript; a transparent memory model with memory introspection/debugging tools; and an offline storage API.

"Were sick of people saying the Web sucks, you need rich clients," Galbraith said. "With these features wed be pretty excited about the world we could live in."

In a lighthearted interactive session where the two speakers played off each other, the pair poked fun at many of the issues hindering greater adoption of AJAX, or Asynchronous JavaScript and XML.

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"Why did we not have this conference in 1997?" asked Galbraith. He said 1997 was when XMLhttpRequest (also known as XHR) appeared on the scene. "If we did have this event in 1997, the show would have to be at Microsoft, with Adam Bosworth and the IE [Internet Explorer] team," Almaer said. Microsoft is said to have invented XMLhttpRequest.

Meanwhile, XMLhttpRequest went unnoticed for several years until Mozilla introduced it into its browser, and "XHR went undiscovered in Mozilla until Gmail, Google Maps and Google Suggest," Galbraith said.

He noted that the Web developer community is adept at innovating within constraints. However, the latest set of constraints will enable developers to go pretty far, he said. With AJAX and the current technology base, developers can create user experiences comparable to desktop applications, Galbraith said. And he said he believes "Comet will change the server-side game."

Comet is a programming technique that enables Web servers to send data to the client without the client having to request it. It allows creation of event-driven Web applications that are hosted in the browser.

Meanwhile, Almaer said "a lot of the desktop guys are jealous of some of this stuff," referring to the rich user experiences afford by AJAX.

"Its actually easier to do rich applications in AJAX than in the desktop tools," Galbraith said. "Although Microsoft is innovating with Avalon. And youll see the rich clients of yesterday turn into the filthy rich clients of tomorrow."

Galbraith noted that Adobes Flash holds a special place in the AJAX world because "with Flash there is a lot of stuff you cannot do with a browser." And "thanks to the Flex bridge [from Adobe] you can seamlessly combine you AJAX app with your Flash app," he said.

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Almaer and Galbraith warned the audience not to expect much from Microsofts Internet Explorer.

"IE 7 will not have a lot of new features," Galbraith said. "Firefox and Safari have SVG [Scalable Vector Graphics] and Canvas, and the VML [Vector Markup Language] wrapper for IE helps, but … it doesnt go far enough," he said.

However, Microsofts WPF/E, or Windows Presentation Foundation Everywhere, "may help here, provided it ships," Galbraith said jokingly.

"WPF/E is a portable subset of WPF and can run on multiple platforms, so when this ships it will be interesting. Were really excited about WPF/E, and it will be interesting to see how WPF/E and Flash compete in the market."

Meanwhile, the pair of keynoters also joked about what other names they could have used for the conference.

"If we didnt have the term "AJAX," what would we call the show?" Almaer asked.

Among the options were "How to Become a DHTML Wizard in Three Days," "The JavaScript Experience," "The EcmaScript Experience," "The ActionScript Experience," "The Web 2.0 Experience" and "How to Make Web UIs that Dont Suck Experience," Almaer said.

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