Yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with key people from two Ajax providers, TIBCO General Interface’s Kevin Hakman and Zapatec Ajax Suite’s Dror Matalan. Each company has two quite different approaches to designing Ajax-enabled software and it highlighted an increasingly clear divide in the way that people are thinking about online software. In these early days of Web 2.0, the best methods of building applications are still more art than science. But as the Ajax development tools mature they are falling into two general approaches that have far reaching ramifications for Web 2.0 software design, reuse, and adoption. Since these tools make architectural choices that can cut different ways with long-term effect, it means Web 2.0 software designers have to some weighty choices to make before they decide how to proceed.
One thing is clear from these tools though, Ajax has come into its own in 2006. More and more people are recognizing that it forms a true software platform for the Web. To demonstrate what’s possible, the more mature Ajax toolkits, like General Interface, are actually entirely constructed in Ajax themselves. Thus Ajax is far more than an approach to Web user interaces; it’s a complete software environment, something more akin to a Windows or Linux though far lighter.
For these reasons and others, Ajax provides key capabilities that Web 2.0 software needs. But depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you’ll need select the right Ajax approach, and that’s still the tough part. Web 2.0 isn’t about technology in the end, but you will need it to build the software and you’ll want tools that guide you down the right path.
As I spoke to Kevin and Dror yesterday it became clear to me that the approaches to Ajax are increasingly falling into two ends of a continuous spectrum. On one endwe have full, self-contained frameworks that provide an integrated, and enclosing, solution and on the other there are lightweight Ajax pieces that can be included and woven together with other pieces. One of the Web 2.0 memes is small pieces, loosely joined, and this makes deciding between the comprehensive approach that General Interface, Atlas, or Backbase provide – versus more blendable solutions – a key pivot point in the design process.
Kevin Hackman, co-founder of General Interface, has himself has written about the trade-offs in the different approaches to using Ajax in The Four “Quantum States” of Ajax and he cited it in our conversation yesterday. But as I discussed the merits of Zapatek’s newly announced Ajax Suite with company president Dror Matalan, he made it clear he believed that providing granularity and choice to developers was one of the biggest strengths of his product. Dror said his tools “go deep” but don’t levy a complexity tax or vendor lock-in and can easily co-exist with other pieces.
Where do you think it’s going? Small pieces that are quickly and easily composable, or sophisticated solutions that do everything?
Another sidenote: We’re urgently seeking commercial Ajax authors for an exciting short-term project. Contact me for more details.