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Ajax emerging as RIA alternative of choice, says Burton

Ajax is pulling out of the pack of those rich interface technologies with Adobe holding the market for animation and streaming content, according to a Burton report released today.

Ajax is positioned to become "a mainstream tool used by Web developers as an alternative to other rich Internet application (RIA) technologies," writes Richard Monson-Haefel, senior analyst with the Burton Group Inc. in a report released today.

In my opinion, these JSF-based approaches will remain niche players.
Jason Bloomberg
Senior AnalystZapThink LLC.

Organizations considering RIA options are advised in the report to begin working with Ajax as opposed to the competing technologies including Adobe Flash, Java applets, Microsoft's Windows Presentation Foundation/Everywhere (WPF/E), Mozilla's XML User Interface Language (XUL) and Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG). However, Monson-Haefel does predict that Flash will be the choice for applications that require sophisticated animation as he finds it unlikely that Ajax will evolve to provide those capabilities.

"The principal advantage of using Ajax over other RIA technologies is its seamless integration with Hypertext Markup Language (HTML)," the Burton analyst writes. "Rather than being isolated to a box or a page component, Ajax functionality mixes well with HTML, allowing rich graphical user interface (GUI) capabilities to be incrementally added to existing Web sites without having to re-implement content."

Another advantage of Ajax, according to Monson-Haefel is that it can be used with "just about any application platform that supports the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP)." Ajax is compatible with PHP, Perl, Active Server Pages for .NET (ASP.NET) and Java 2 Platform, Enterprise Edition (J2EE), he notes.

The Burton report, "Ajax: A Rich Internet Application Technology", recommends that organizations take an incremental approach to implementing Ajax recognizing that while most of the technologies involved have been around since the 1990s, commercial tools for Ajax development are not yet mature.

While the report aims at organizations looking to dip their toes into Ajax, it notes that sophisticated Web developers are already making use of the technology. As sophistication grows, Monson-Haefel predicts more integration with the Adobe Flash products for streaming content and animation.

He notes that Ajax "is not as mature as Adobe Flash and has historically been viewed as a complex approach to RIA development." The reliance of Ajax on JavaScript, which not all Java developers are familiar with, has meant that advanced Web developers have been the primary audience for Ajax. However, he notes that is changing with "Ajax-enabling frameworks such as Java Server Faces (JSF), as well as Ruby on Rails, Struts, ASP.NET and PHP, which make it easier to do Ajax without being a JavaScript programmer.

On the JSF front, vendors are making progress, says Ted Farrell, chief architect and vice president of tools and middleware, at Oracle Corp. He notes that his company, along with Sun Microsystems Inc. and IBM, all now have implementations of JSF that developers can use with little or no JavaScript coding in their Ajax applications.

"As tool vendors, our design time has gotten better for JavaServer Faces," Farrell said. "I think we got smarter over the last two years in making components, shaping them to be simpler for the user rather than having them be complicated. So there's a combination of the components getting better and the tools getting better having lowered the barrier for people to start using and being successful with JavaServer Faces. applications."

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Ajax after the hype

Farrell also sees Ajax emerging as the RAI technology of choice and JSF as the way most developers can work with the technology.

"Developers don't have to learn anything new," he said. "They're still programming in JSP and JavaServer Faces like they always did. They get the advantage of being able to build rich Ajax-based applications."

However, Jason Bloomberg, senior analyst with ZapThink LLC., remains skeptical of the JSF tools.

"We've seen one other vendors tout the benefits of JavaServer Faces -- ICEsoft out of Calgary," Bloomberg says. "They also offer a JSF approach for creating Ajax apps without the need for scripting in JavaScript. An additional benefit is that it deals with cross-browser issues, but the downside is that it's a Java tool only for Java developers. In my opinion, these JSF-based approaches will remain niche players, while the language-neutral guys like Nexaweb and JackBe, as well as incumbents like Adobe and Microsoft, will become established as the leading players."

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