"Less is more" when it comes to Ajax, a much-hyped Rich Internet Application (RIA) technology, according to Richard Monson-Haefel, a senior analyst at Burton Group Inc. in Midvale, Utah. The enabling technology can greatly enhance the user's Web experience -- rather than reloading pages from the server, the Ajax paradigm is a single-page interface -- but it can make navigation difficult if used in excess, he said in a recent telebriefing on Ajax.
Ajax's prime advantage over other RIA technologies is seamless integration with HTML, he said, so it can be used incrementally without the need to change existing Web content.
"Think of it as seasoning a Web site," he said. "It's a pretty low-risk way of doing things." Ajax is also back-end agnostic and does not require any plug-ins. Used in conjunction with other RIA technologies, such as Flash from Macromedia, Ajax is a powerful tool, he said.
However, the technology is still immature, and tools and frameworks have not gained a lot of traction yet, Monson-Haefel said. "If you don't like working with tool kits and libraries, Ajax is probably not for you."
Burton Group defines "rich" Internet applications as those that offer functionality beyond standard HTML frames and hyperlinks. A well-noted example of Ajax functionality is Google Maps.
The dominant RIA technology in use today is Macromedia Flash/Flex. Other RIA technologies include the user interface markup language for the Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation called XAML (Extensible Application Markup Language), Mozilla's XML-based user interface language XUL, droplets and Java applets, and Microsoft's upcoming Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E).
"[Flash] is a nice technology, good for rich animations and graphs, but Flash is a bit of a big fish in a small pond," Monson-Haefel said. "The real market is not that big right now. So whether its dominance will last will be a question as the market grows. Microsoft will introduce WPF/E, which will be a major contender."
"It has built-in Ajax capability, which allows you to write Ajax applications in the Ruby programming language," he said.
The Tibco tool for writing Ajax applications is "quite good," Monson-Haefel said. "JackBe is pretty decent RIA technology and Backbase is probably one of the better ones right now. The advantage of an IDE is WYSIWYG development, but you buy into their GUI, so you're pinning yourself down with look and feel."
To date, much of the Ajax attention has been focused on business-to consumer Web sites, but Monson-Haefel noted that Ajax does have some synergy with Web services and SOA, and it could impact enterprise portals.
"Some people believe Ajax will [be] a major comeback factor in portal solutions. Portals came out with a lot of hype, but in reality they're not a quite a silver bullet. But the ability to combine Ajax presentation with portal functionally will enhance the corporate user experience."
His recommendation: "Exercise caution when implementing Ajax solutions."