The Emerging World of AJAX



What would the hot technology du jour be without its own dedicated conference (and of course a new magazine too)?  With that thought in mind, I visited the inaugural AjaxWorld Conference and Expo today at the Santa Clara Convention Center. It wasn't a large gathering, but I found it quite informative and interesting.

Obviously, there is a lot of enthusiasm around the new world of AJAX, and hand in hand with that were the slew of new (and a few not-so-new) companies that were exhibiting their wares. Web2.0 excitement (and hype) is alive and well in Silicon Valley, and frankly it's nice to see us all emerge from the dot-bust gloom of not too long ago. And to be fair, "hype" might be unfair -- this really is excellent new technology that will continue to enhance the user experience on the Internet.

In walking around the exhibits, it quickly became apparent that there were too many players with almost the identical pitch. Booth after booth held companies hawking their AJAX framework, platform, components, pre-built widgets, and so on. Not being a hard core developer nor having the time to dig deep into each offering, they all blended together after a while, and I wouldn't be the best person to pick one over the other if/when we decide to buy vs build. Of course this is a positive and typical sign of any emerging market, and the strong will survive (or be acquired), and the rest won't.

I wrote previously about our new effort to integrate downloads more seamlessly into the sun.com experience, and I know AJAX technologies will be a key enabler to achieve our goals. Instead of "handing off" a customer as we do today between the sun.com product pages and the actual download application, we'll use AJAX to (as much as possible) keep the user on the same page, or at least make any transition much more integrated and less jarring. As most Sun downloads are free, we want to have a "download basket" (analogous to a shopping cart in a commerce environment) so customers can download more than one product in one transaction. Ideally, we'll have an expandable product catalog hierarchy with drag and drop into a basket, all on the same page.

I discussed these concepts with a number of vendors. Many explained how their technology would enable this and keep our team from having to write JavaScript code. Better yet, I met the CEO of  BackBase, Jouk Pleiter, who showed me a slick working example of a self-contained, drag and drop, AJAX product catalog and shopping cart environment. Seeing is believing, and I was quite enthusiastic to see the concepts we've been discussing come to life! (Note: Jouk was very kind to take the time to show me his product, and it was really impressive, but please don't take this as an endorsement above the other vendors. I didn't have adequate time to make such comparisons.)

Sun Microsystems was also exhibiting, and I much appreciated Carla Mott taking the time to talk with me about what we're doing in this space as well as demoing the very exciting jMaki project -- "jMaki uses the best parts of Java and the best parts of JavaScript to deliver rich AJAX style widgets."

It's much too early to say what we'll end up using as we bring our new download experience to the 'net. We always want to use our own technology, of course, but sometimes it's just good business to buy vs build. I was encouraged today to see how many options we have and amazed at how quickly this market is evolving.

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About

I helped design, build, and manage download systems at Sun for many years. Recently I've focused on web eMarketing systems. Occasionally, I write about other interests, such as holography and jazz guitar. Follow me on Twitter: http://twitter.com/garyzel

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