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Where is the Real Ajax/Flex Revolution Happening? 89

Posted by Cliff
from the more-about-web-2.0 dept.
andzik writes "Even with all of the buzz around Rich Internet Applications these days, using toolsets like Ajax and Flex, most sites that utilize these technologies seem to be incremental improvements, not revolutionary interface changes. Where does the Slashdot community feel the best opportunities are to substantially create different/better user experiences using RIA tools? What will be the killer app? Are we just not seeing them because the best improvements are being made to web based applications and not in the public space?"
On a related note, Vertigo asks: "Not so long ago everybody believed that it was a good thing to have the freedom to modify your software to suit your needs or to mangle your data in any way. But now that users are flocking to non-modifiable, one-size-fits-all web 2.0 apps like Gmail or Flickr, are we moving away from our open source ideals? Those services do provide many important benefits, but in the process of their enthusiastic adoption did we not loose sight of the most important issues?"
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Where is the Real Ajax/Flex Revolution Happening?

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  • it's the cloud! (Score:5, Interesting)

    by yagu (721525) * <yayagu@TIGERgmail.com minus cat> on Friday March 03, 2006 @06:56PM (#14846687) Journal

    One key question in this Ask is

    What will be the killer app?

    Just my opinion, but I think the killer app may be out there already but in stealth form. It's mostly a question of discovery and trust, and I think both lurk right around the corner.

    Just my anecdotal internet experience, but I'm migrating virtually all of my work into cyberspace and allowing internet services to manage my data and backup. I'm not completely there yet, but I've been a heavy gmail user for over a year now, and have almost forgotten how to use local pop clients (though I still do for peace of mind pop/download the e-mails for local storage -- I haven't gotten that far with my trust). And the sheer convenience of being able to "do e-mail" from any browser has been more beneficial than I'd predicted. I now have complete threads at my disposal whereas I used to find myself re-constructing threads dispersed across multiple machines (typically laptops "on the road").

    Lately I've tried some of the on-line word processors and calendars, and yes even some of the spreadsheets (some of the on-line spreadsheets are very responsive and offer functionality 99% of excel users typically tap). They're not all there and ready for prime time yet, but they're getting close.

    The word processors for my general use are already good enough that I'm willing to do my word processing on line and let "them" do the management. I wouldn't even consider (not that I did anyway -- I'm an OpenOffice user) any of the pricey Microsoft Word Processing/Spreadsheet options. Again, the side benefit, almost unexpected, is the universal access to my work with NO effort, just a reasonably current browser.

    So, from my perspective, that's the "killer app"...: the security; the ease-of-use; the convenience; the cost; the true benefits reaped from a net where your data is created and managed in the internet "cloud" (sorry about all of the "quotes").

    (As for the one-size-fits-all, I think the eventual internet app winners will be those who provide the functionality with the flexibility. And if you shop around you'll find these on-line versions seem to providing reasonable (maybe not complete, but reasonable) flexibility)

  • untapped market (Score:3, Insightful)

    by larry bagina (561269) on Friday March 03, 2006 @07:04PM (#14846739) Journal
    instead of complaining about the lack of killer apps, maybe you should be out building one.
  • Since when? Web applications are built on a foundation of HTML, which is simply a way of marking up information. How user-agents interpret that information is up to them. UserJS/Greasemonkey can modify web applications on the fly too. It's a bit of a stretch to claim that web applications aren't modifiable.

    • by hitchhacker (122525) on Friday March 03, 2006 @10:56PM (#14847950) Homepage

      Web apps non-modifiable?

      The source code that generated that HTML might not be modifiable. The php scripts of a GPL'd website can be modified by someone else and not have to redistribute the source because they aren't distributing the modified source. they have it sitting on some server somewhere not copying itself. Most web-apps don't even release their source code.. see digg.com, del.icio.us, gmail, etc. That's why there are open source equivalents of these.. respectively: pligg [pligg.com], scuttle [scuttle.org], and the Hula Project [hula-project.org]

      Brett Smith of the FSF just email me today to notify me of the Affero General Public License [affero.org], which requires the source code of the site to be available to anyone who receives content generated by the site.
  • by LDoggg_ (659725) on Friday March 03, 2006 @07:12PM (#14846790) Homepage
    most sites that utilize these technologies seem to be incremental improvements, not revolutionary interface changes.

    I like the idea of AJAX being used to enhance applications, not completely rebuild them.
    If I wanted to do something like change the menus/site navigation I could already hose up the browser's controls with a flash based site.

    If i want to do a quick validation in a form against a remote database, I'll use AJAX

    If I want to add a quick way to change a record(ex. disable a user) in a table, I'll add a link that makes an AJAX call.

    If I want a text box to do a spellcheck without posting a complete form, I'll use AJAX

    • by MikeFM (12491)
      I typically make an effort to make apps work in pure HTML first. I then tie in Javascript, CSS, etc as possible to enhance that experience. There is no reason an app shouldn't be usable in a text browser and still offer full AJAX style interfaces when possible.
    • "If I want to add a quick way to change a record(ex. disable a user) in a table, I'll add a link that makes an AJAX call."

      Yup, GETs to change data. Good thinking. No one's already run into that problem en masse and pushed emphatically for that not to be the way to do things. Oh, crap, except for the whole Google Web Accelerator fiasco.
      • Yup, GETs to change data. Good thinking. No one's already run into that problem en masse and pushed emphatically for that not to be the way to do things. Oh, crap, except for the whole Google Web Accelerator fiasco.

        Wrong.
        Google's Web Accelerator won't handle a link that does a javascript:void(0) and calls a function to create an xmlhttprequest with an onclick event.

        Google only precaches valid href elements on anchors, it won't parse javascript for you. There is nothing fundamentally wrong with doing an
        • Though it's feasible to do what you suggest, it goes against W3C Recommendations. Doing that is what caused the GWA problem in the first place, as prior to GWA the way things were being done weren't a problem. Just follow the W3C...

          http://www.w3.org/2001/tag/doc/whenToUseGet.html [w3.org]

          From the site...

          1.3 Quick Checklist for Choosing HTTP GET or POST

          * Use GET if:
          o The interaction is more like a question (i.e., it
    • Kinda like I made such a web front end for a database application.... back in 2000 using the IFRAME/ILAYER trick. Still works.
  • Wait (Score:1, Flamebait)

    by Kawahee (901497)
    There's only so much you can reasonably do with a web app before it becomes more feasible to make it a proper application. Wait for the day when we have a real programming language (Read: C/C++) as script, instead of Javascript, and then you'll see how powerful the internet really is.
  • by Anonymous Coward
    I've been viewing the web for 10 years, all I want from a website is information and I want it fast. Web documents have no place being applications and javascript and flash have no place in documents. Why do people not understand this?

    BTW: Flex is a popular lexer based on Yacc and not some web2 buzzword.

    • Web documents have no place being applications and javascript and flash have no place in documents.

      I see some really nice web designs out there, but when it takes a minute (or more!) to load a page with a DSL line, then I get a little testy. And many times, I absolutely agree with you. I just want the information, the graphics/Flash/whatever do not add anything. And many times, it makes site navigation difficult because the page becomes so cluttered, it's hard to make out what you're looking for.

    • by Anonymous Coward
      Web documents have no place being applications

      So says the guy that just used a form to post to slashdot.

    • proper JavaScript can really help when user input is involved. Would you prefer to wait for your data to be sent, processed, and another page rendered just to tell you that you forgot to fill in a required field? Or do you want javascript to check it for you?

      Used properly, Javascript and Asynchronous JavaScript can improve the user experience.

      • by psyclone (187154) on Friday March 03, 2006 @09:41PM (#14847651)
        Heh, you better not rely on javascript to validate your forms. What happens when the malicious user disables/modifies the javascript? You still need to send that data to a server-side process for validation.

        Using asynchronous javascript to send the data to the server and get the response is a way of saving time by drawing less of the page. But you still need to server-validate.
        • Of course you should always check server side. But that doesn't mean that you can't check client side as well to have a nicer user interface.
        • Yeah, no kidding. I actually take advantage of this regularly. My main email is a .info domain and a lot of sites choke on it. My first "hack" is "turn off javascript, reload, resubmit". It usually works. I swear to god the monkeys that shit code these days...

          After that, I follow-up with a "Contact Us" email about their website being broken. I've had some success in getting people to fix the problem. I usually recommend they do the same thing with email addresses as passwords -- have users type it twice. Sl
    • ...and all some other people want from the Internet is some entertainment, and they want it fast. Others might want long-distance interaction, while some might want remotely-hosted processing power. Gotta love a dumb protocol.
    • by OzRoy (602691) on Friday March 03, 2006 @09:05PM (#14847476)
      I find it very difficult to believe that you only use it for straight static data, the internet hasn't been about straight data reading for a long long time. Almost every website out there now is dynamically generated with data customised and tailored to each visitor. You are reading one right now, if you had a user you could manipulate the comments to only display the ones you want, or even the stories. You can submit and share your ideas. It's so much more than just reading a document. Slashdot itself is a web application.

      I don't think I ever experience the internet before all this was possible. The internet very quickly became a way of manipulating data as well as just reading it. It was just done in a very crude way using CGI programs. AJAX is just the next step allowing us to make the process of updating and manipulating data much more transparent to the user. It allows us to converge things that used to be done by external applications into a single application, the web browser. This is a good thing. You no longer have to download Yet Another Application just to remotely manage Yet Another Data Set. Gmail and Google Talk are perfect examples of this. I can chat to my friends without having to install yet another IM application. It's all done through the web browser.

      Granted that at the moment AJAX is currently undergoing it's overhyped bubble effect, but once it bursts and settles down to a more reasonable level I can guarantee you that you will probably be using it without even realising it. Just as you are currently using current web applications without even realising it.
    • Web documents have no place being applications

      Well, yeah, by definition. But that's like saying "computers are good for calculating projectile motion, they have no business being communication devices"... it's a robust technology with multiple uses.

      Flex is a popular lexer based on Yacc and not some web2 buzzword

      I presume you're being deliberately obtuse here, but just in case, let me help you out: Adobe Flex 2.0 [macromedia.com]
    • I agree. The web was not disigned for applications, and technologies that try to use it for such are kludges. The web should be for hypertext documents, and we need a new separate technology for internet apps. For this reason I started the NewI\O project (http://www.newio.org./ [www.newio.org]
    • While there is a cool factor to all this, its essentially a hackup of a document presentation interface. The code ends up an unmaintainable mishmash of 2 or more languages within a file. Sure, you get a charge out of making it all work, but it really is crappy software engineering.

      For instances where you really can't run an executable on the client, and all you have is the browser, it's obviously the only solution. I think these situations are the minority, however, and users can be much better served by
  • You lost me. (Score:2, Interesting)

    I don't know about Ajax or Flex. OTOH: But now that users are flocking to non-modifiable, one-size-fits-all web 2.0 apps like Gmail or Flickr, are we moving away from our open source ideals? Those services do provide many important benefits, but in the process of their enthusiastic adoption did we not loose sight of the most important issues?"

    What users are you talking about? Those who use OSS or your typical Internet user?

    Bare in mind that the internet, aside from the technical sites, has become a huge b

  • Killer app (Score:3, Funny)

    by MyLongNickName (822545) on Friday March 03, 2006 @07:23PM (#14846868) Journal
    Those services do provide many important benefits, but in the process of their enthusiastic adoption did we not loose sight of the most important issues?

    The killer app is one that automatically fixes "lose" misspellings? ;)
  • No. "We" have the vision clearly in mind in all of the cases you mentioned. Gmail, for example, is available to you from almost any contemporary communication device, including your handheld, laptop, public terminal, cell phone, etc. The same functionality is also provided by nearly all other hosted email services, including those one might build for exclusive use. This is the "freedom" users value. Precisely which "ideals" and "important issues" do you suspect have been so "enthusiastically" abandoned
    • Precisely which "ideals" and "important issues" do you suspect have been so "enthusiastically" abandoned?

      User privacy.
      User control over upgrades/downgrades/UI changes.
      Ability to switch applications while preserving data.
      etc.
  • Iv'e found some apps that allready kill their software counterparts. http://meebo.com/ [meebo.com] is an IM client that I use at home and at the office because of its portability and ability to function over trillian or other IM clients. A killer app is something that should do it for YOU not the market as a whole. I swear by Meebo but other AJAX apps fall short. Microsofts "Live Office" is grand for the avarage user, but he tech community will find it lacking... it is all about useage for YOU.
  • Semi OT: OpenLaszlo (Score:5, Informative)

    by WoTG (610710) on Friday March 03, 2006 @07:40PM (#14846971) Homepage Journal
    I've just discovered OpenLaszlo [openlaszlo.org] earlier this week. It's a (now) open sourced web RAD system. It compiles into Flash files so almost anyone can run the apps, and it feels a lot less hacky than Javascript ever did... blasted browser wars, "standards", and all. Pretty interesting technology -- especially if you can't wrap your mind around building an application in the Flash "everything is a movie" model. The IDE is an Eclipse plugin.

    I think the original point to my post was that AJAX is nice but I don't think that the standards are there yet.
    • I'm keen on Laszlo too (pandora is a really good use of it--google if you don't know), but I need to be picky about some of your points.

      First, you're not really building your application in flash. You're building it in (mostly) xml and Laszlo is currently compiling into Flash 6/7/8. They explicitly say that they designed it so that if someone else comes along that's as-good/better that they'll try to support that as well. It's just that flash really has few RIA competitors, so they're using it now.

      Seco

      • Fair enough. For the record, I didn't intend to imply that JS itself was hackish, it's the browser compatibility and consistency that drives me nuts.
      • Yeah, OpenLaszlo's been "asynchronous javascript and XML" since its inception, even before the XmlHttpRequest support.

        And we're demoing a pre-alpha DHTML runtime now:
            labs.openlaszlo.org [openlaszlo.org]

        (I work for Laszlo Systems.)
  • The SMF forums use AJAX for post previewing. I was a bit confused at first, but it was somewhat gratifying to see your post previewed without having to reload the whole page.

    VBulletin also uses AJAX in its latest version, specially when you edit a typo in one of your posts.

    But I think the real revolution will happen in intranet apps, where there are TONS and TONS and TONS of forms!
    • You're right about forms.

      A lot of things will change when anyone can start making and using business quality electronic forms the same way they use word processing and e-mail today. All you'll need for taxes is this year's ODF/XForm. 80% of "business app" software will go away. Standards committees like HL7 and X12 will become un-necessary.

      We're getting closer. (see: freebxml.org, PDF, OpenOffice, XForms, Mozilla) It just isn't quite there yet. Who knows, some revolutionary forms client may use asy
  • Brag up my own site. I'm only using a modest amount of ajaxy stuff, but I'm making heavy use of javascript/svg, for things that people wouldn't think possible without java.

    It is sort of a picture trading site, I suppose you could say. Free users get credit for uploading pictures, and for using a webapp to enter metadata about those already uploaded. All pictures thusly cataloged are searchable (and no, it isn't just tags). Wish I could show some of the applets, but they're not really SFW.
  • by mdavids (143296) on Friday March 03, 2006 @08:00PM (#14847083) Homepage

    AJAX is a transition point in the web's evolution beyond the browser. The real killer app is what happens when these applications' communication protocols standardise. It's not so long ago that when you wanted to run a blog, you either hand-coded HTML or had to have a server running slashcode. Now you can choose between dozens of free and non-free web apps or hosted services, and it doesn't really matter which you choose because your audience can aggregate from any of these via RSS, and view your content in whatever client they choose. I'm sure Blogger.com is still a viable business, but it's increasingly irrelevant.

    Similarly, it's rapidly becoming possible to share calendaring information with others via CalDAV without caring which client and server options you and your collaborators prefer.

    Whenever I do a Drupal site for an organisation I like to encourage them to set up an LDAP directory, so that they can use the same authoritative data source for authenticating to Drupal and other systems, internal address books (usable from a multitude of clients), and finely-grained control over sharing personnel data with affilliated organisations. The ability to do all this is very cool, and not at all dependant on my choice of OpenLDAP (which is, frankly, a bastard to get working), as the critical element is the LDAP open standards.

    These are pretty simple examples, but I don't think it's too much to expect that open standards for interacting with applications like Flikr and Del.icio.us will emerge, along with increased choice over back-ends and interfaces and effective commoditisation of the services. Value moves up the chain, innovators move on to the next big thing, and it all starts over again.

    At least that's how it should work.

    Matthew.

    • Nice, well done post. I agree with most of it.

      However ...
      I'm sure Blogger.com is still a viable business, but it's increasingly irrelevant.

      Consider the "side effects" of such a business, for google. With the increasing services Google has been playing with, tying a better Blogger into it could be a very nice step forward. If, for example, blog entries and comments are immediately available in Google search results, they may have something of value to both searchers and advertisers, as well as authors. For e
  • by Anonymous Coward
    We are a small web development team ( 4 people ) doing web app work to interface with our mountains of textual data stored away in our DBs ( oracle and mysql ). We used to use the traditional click/reload web app design but have recently made the switch to focusing EXCLUSIVELY on Ajaxy clients doing a lot more with a lot less development work. I wrote the framework that we use to generate Ajax logic on the fly with our scripted templating engine ( think RoR, only with a lot more power and a lot more flexibl
  • But now that users are flocking to non-modifiable, one-size-fits-all web 2.0 apps like Gmail or Flickr, are we moving away from our open source ideals?

    Perhaps there needs to be a distinction between "we"s here. We, as in the open source believers/advocates/etc, may indeed be partially giving away our open source freedoms in exchange for convenience in using new web-based apps like these. We, as in the mainstream, are doing exactly what could have been predicted we'd do: going for convenience as we alway

  • the killer AJAX app will be a XUL app, not a web page.
  • Why do people feel a need for technologies to have a killer app? I mean, yes, killer app = good, but if a technology doesn't have one, maybe it's just not destined too.

    Okay, so I'm a little fed up about hearing about AJAX. It's not a cure for cancer people, it's a way of updating web pages without a page refresh! For the people that find it useful, great. I really like GMail, for example.

    I see comments like "most sites that utilize these technologies seem to be incremental improvements, not revolutionary in
  • Even if the web is a very democratic place only the biggest player get a top place. Just look how Yahoo declared itself as satisfied with second place or like Microsoft won't overtake Google anytime in searching. To overtake any leader of a certain kind of a web site you need huge amounts of resources, resources which only the leader can afford. So whenever there's this killer idea any big player simply takes it over and integrate it into their own side. Only when big players sleep like Microsoft did with I

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