Is Ajax a Victim of its own Success?

Has Ajax become a victim to its own success? Using readily available technologies, the Ajax folks have proven that their relatively simple methods not only work, but can open up significant new business opportunities for the web.

The good news? Hundreds of low-cost or free tools are available to design Ajax pages. The bad news? Hundreds of low cost or free tools. The problem? Most carry their own frameworks, tags or approaches to coding Ajax.

While the individual pieces of Ajax are standards, the way they are used isn’t. Until recently, that wasn’t an issue. Who cared if the JavaScript for your web page was different from mine when the pages we were developing were each self-contained? The problem is when you do mashups that mix and match bits and pieces of Ajax from a bunch of web pages. Admittedly, the problem has been somewhat contained until now because popular targets, like Google Maps, enforce their own Ajax style. If you want to mashup a Google Map, you’d better be able to read Google’s tags. But given the fact that there are relatively few technical barriers to doing mashups with other Ajax web pages floating around, you’ve got some potential interoperability problems on your hands.

Last spring, roughly a dozen vendors formed the OpenAjax Alliance to cut through the interoperability riddle. Today that group has grown to over 50 members and is christening a website, publishing a mission statement. In a couple weeks, they plan to elect a board of directors. Can the attorneys be far behind?

Their first task is developing a hub to mediate the chaos of a couple hundred tools and frameworks. At run time, the framework would provide a place to register Ajax libraries, invoke them, and check for potential conflicts with other libraries that might be trying to call the same web page objects. But what’s missing here is a methodology for resolving conflicts that inevitably are going to arise – that’s going to have to be addressed.

OpenAjax came together in a spate of idealism recalling Linux of 5 – 6 years ago. The resemblances are more than coincidental. Nobody owns either technology, it’s accessible, you can get them practically for free, and there’s still lots of room to do your own thing. Back at LinuxWorld 2000, we recalled Linus Torvalds praising “the good fragmentation” that came about when open source made the entire Linux community one virtual research lab, spawning rapid innovation. That’s what the OpenAjax folks hope to emulate.

Given the independent, grass roots natures of both technologies, developing standards looks akin to herding cats. But as dispersed and chaotic as Linux development appeared, at the end of the day there was an arbiter who decided what went into the kernel. At some point, something’s gotta give with Ajax standards. Just as happened with Linux, de facto or formal standardization will displace the fragmentation. OpenAjax can serve as a clearinghouse for vetting API candidates. But at some point, somebody’s got to play the heavy.

About the Author

Tony Baer is a Senior Analyst at Ovum, covering application lifecycle, SOA, and IT Service Management. Tony is a well-published IT analyst with over 15 years background in enterprise systems and manufacturing. A frequent speaker at IT conferences, Baer focuses on strategic technology utilization for the enterprise. Baer studies implementation issues in distributed data management, application development, data warehousing, and leading enterprise application areas including ERP, supply chain planning, and customer relationship management. As co-author of several books covering J2EE and .NET technologies, Baer is an authority on emerging platforms. Previously chief analyst for Computerwire's Computer Finance, Baer is a leading authority on IT economics and cost of ownership issues.

More by Tony Baer