Ajax in Perspective

Ajax in Perspective

June 26, 2008 0 Comments

Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of Ajax. In fact I spoke on Ajax at the Progress Exchange conferences in 2006 and 2007, and was very excited to see that several customers were speaking at Exchange 2008 on how to use Ajax with OpenEdge. However, given all of the hype around Ajax, I was surprised to see a recent Forrester Research report, reported on by ComputerWorld, that Ajax is not exactly living up to expectations.

You see conventional wisdom would say that with Ajax, we have finally solved the rich vs. reach problem. No longer do we need to decide if we want our applications to give users a rich dynamic experience that is tightly integrated with the desktop like a traditional desktop application, or do we want to allow our users to have access to our application where ever they are without installing anything by building a Web (browser)-based application.

With Ajax I apparently get the best of both worlds. All I need to do is pick an Ajax library is write a little bit of Javascript code or better yet use a open source Javascript library like Dojo, Prototype, ExtJS, or, to simplify the development process, and presto, I now have a rich user interface running in the browser just like it runs on a desktop.

And while that certainly would be great, according to Forrester, apparently things aren’t as simple as that. According to the Forrester report while Ajax is great for the “occasional user” or the “very infrequent user”, for the “power user, ' that is the user that is using the application for a significant part of the day to do their job, Ajax just isn’t holding up.

 You can read the Forrester report, or the ComputerWorld article yourself to get all the details, but suffice it to say that the reasons why Ajax is not holding up is centered around rendering performance when building complex screens, and network performance because most Ajax tend to go to the server to do validation much more than they do in a desktop-based client-server application. And while many of the Ajax libraries do a pretty good job of hiding differences across the latest versions of the most popular browsers, the problem is not completely solved because many IT organizations use  several versions of many different types of browsers and incompatibilities still do exist even with the latest versions.

So, what does this all mean? Should you stay away from Ajax? Of course not. What it does mean, however, as Salvador Vinals points out in his post in the Progress SaaS blog, and as is discussed in the Forrester report, is that you need to pick the UI technology that meets the needs of the end-user, and if your application has multiple different types of end-users with different usage patterns, then it may be highly appropriate to support more than one type of UI.

So if you have occasional users or infrequent users, users that move around a lot, and need to be able to get to the application from where ever they are then you certainly should consider building a Web UI and using Ajax to get a richer experience. I certainly would encourage it.

However, if your users are power users using a complex UI and primarily using the application from one location, then using one of the more traditional desktop UI technologies may be more appropriate.

And because we know that needs of the users and UI technologies change fairly frequently, one of the most important things you can do is architect your application based on the principles and guidelines of the OpenEdge Reference Architecture so that you can more easily change your UI or support multiple UIs when the need arises.

Ken Wilner

View all posts from Ken Wilner on the Progress blog. Connect with us about all things application development and deployment, data integration and digital business.

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