OK- I wasn't going to mention it. I'm not sure why I didn't want to. Sure, the ABM crowd (Anything But Microsoft) will say I didn't want to mention AJAX because of my innermost fears (they are so dramatic, those ABM conspiratologists). Actually, I suppose I didn't want to look like I was just following the crowd by mentioning it in my blog. But, in the end, I decided I had something to add to the conversation.
If you are trying to figure out what I am talking about, here's a good starting point: Scoble blogged about it today. You can follow his links to get to more info.
The deal is, AJAX is a label for a technological implementation based primarly on the use of the XMLHttpRequest object. Let's be clear: it's not a new idea. It's all about doing asynchronous calls to the Web server in a way that doesn't give the user the rather primitive "click-and-wait" Web app experience (dumb spinning globes being the low-point indicator of the Web experience). Thanks to Andrew Clinick, our own Visual Studio Tools for the Microsoft Office System luminary, we have a pretty good description of the rudiments of the technique from 1999 (to his credit, he did not send me the link, as he is too modest): Remote Scripting.
So, what's the big deal? Well, if start spidering out from Scoble's post, you will see that this technique has been used to great advantage by Microsoft and, as we should expect, its competitors.
Dare Obasanjo very rightly objected to the polemic of Jesse James Garrett suggesting that this is a "new" approach. It isn't. Let's all get honest anyway: how much of what we are doing is really that "new"? The privileged point of "origin" for anything is pretty elusive and probably ends up somewhere with Prometheus and the incident with fire (and the continually devoured liver, yadda, yadda- it's a grisly story). Anyway, what Mr. Garrett should have contended is not for the novelty of the approach but for the novelty of the implementation. This is what makes it important. Undeniably, some pretty clever things are being done via this technique. What is striking to me is how much innovation I am seeing in the world of Web technologies.
My question is: Where is that same level of exciting innovation for the client? Where are the bold, sweeping, mind-blowing innovations with the client-side, intalled-bits app? Yes, there are innovations going on with every release. I don't deny these, and I do not wish to minimize their impact. I look at things like the Research task pane in Office, and I am actually pretty impressed. It's great stuff. But, I am thinking more broadly, beyond just one app or suite. And, I'm thinking big. Really big. For example, where in the client have we seen the kind of innovation and its effects that blogs have brought about? Blogs are not just a technical innovation. They have quickly impacted many aspects of our culture (although their influence is also way over-estimated at times).
I submit that the Word Processor was the last great innovation of that sort- the notion and liberation of desktop publishing. It has unquestionably had a huge impact on nearly every aspect of our culture.
Rock Thought for the Day: I have never heard the orignal song by the Animals, "Girl Named Sandoz". But, the Pumpkins did a cover of it that is a great, great track. They recorded for the John Peel session they did in the UK that was a near disaster. Let's just say that there are two sides to every story, but the fact remains that no one was happy after this deal went down. Anyway, I have been playing it on my guitar (it's actually pretty simple- as many of the great songs are), with my Washburn way fuzzed. What fun!