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[web] AJAX... just another pain in the butt? or worth it?

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So... I read up a little on AJAX, thought the concept was pretty cool... and departed to Borders in search of a good book on it. Long story short, I made it to Borders, found a good book, but quickly began to realize how big of a pain in the ass it would be to incorporate it into my site. The only real advantage I can remotly think of is quicker load times. Instead of using a form to sumbit info, then forwarding the user back to another page... I can send the info over to a hidden frame, have it grab the updates, then pass it back to the main browswer using lots of javascript and <div\> tags. So, I will put the question out there. Is AJAX really worth all the extra programming time required to enhance the user interface? Or is it just another big new thing? My vote is currently for the latter.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
I'd say "it depends". It's a nifty technique, but only use it if it's actually necessary.

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I think ajax really is the next evolution of the web. I think that much is legit at least.. but I'm also going to say that many problems with ajax are still being figured out right now design-wise. My own newer web development all employs ajax technology, because it offers the kind of interactivity you would really *want* in a web application. But careful thought really has to be given as to where it would work best.

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Michael Tanczos

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Ajax is the powderly thing that you should not eat and is always in everybody's bathroom cabinet.

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A lot of the places I see AJAX being used are just plain obnoxious. It's like flash, it'll be overused and in all the wrong places for all the wrong reasons. Also remember, AJAX breaks search engine spiders. Don't hide anything they should be able to see behind AJAX. Use it sparingly, only where it would have a noticable (and positive) effect on the user interface.

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Ajax is a great tool if used for the right reasons. "getting quicker load times" is not a good reason. "offering interactivity that is not possible with standard HTML forms" is. I have used Ajax on a website before: I had two dropdown select boxes next to eachother. When you selected an item from the first one, the contents of the second one would change, depending on what you picked from the first one.

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If you can build the site in HTML, then do so. As soon as you start adding javascript or anything non-html then you will run into compatibility issues, either with search engines or older browsers etc. The whole point of the web was to be able to be used on any device.

So if you can do it in HTML, do so. Then anyone using a mobile / portable device, can use your page (which will be a pretty large market in coming years)

However where AJAX really excels is in "Web Applications", here you have no choice but to use it. If your developing a web based Word Processor, or other application, then by all means use it.

Dont use AJAX just to have fancy sliding menus, or as in a demo I saw, the ability to drag an item from a shop onto your shopping basket. It might look great, but your losing market share.

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Quote:
Original post by Saruman
Check out Atlas.NET, which is a pretty nice toolset.


are you sure thats the right name? googling it returned almost nothing.

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Incidentally, Flash is also a bathroom cleaner in the UK. I wouldn't advise eating that either.

Seriously, I also advocate nice simple sites. A bit of javascript doesn't hurt here and there, but a flash intro for no good reason is just a waste of my time, and I almost always click skip before its even finished loading.

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Ajax certainly has it's uses, but many people seem to abuse it. On dynamic drive they have Ajax text scrollers. WTH?! Why would you use Ajax to get data you only need to get at load time?! Also, using ajax is really quite simple once you get a decent framework to play with. Check out the Yahoo! UI Library. Some nice tools in there.

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The usefulness of AJAX is situation dependent.

AJAX is not the panacea some have made it out to be. It is the current buzzword in web programming and will likely be applied to many situations where it just doesn't make sense.

By the same token, AJAX isn't some totally useless technology as the guys over at slashdot would have you believe. There are many people who seem to hate anything that becomes popular just for the sake of being antagonists.

Where AJAX really shines is in web "applications". Static webpages gain very little from AJAX. There are exceptions of course, but if you site is just text, links, and graphics then there's not much for AJAX to do. The real power is in making web sites that behave much more like desktop applications than a webpage.

Bill Gates said years ago that the future was in "thin client" applications. AJAX is one of those technologies that can be used to create such thin client apps. From my own AJAX development and looking at what others are doing i'm sure it's just a matter of time before a robust, Microsoft-Office killer makes it to the browser. It will be the fulfillment of Gate's vision, but judging on how poorly Microsoft is doing on their AJAX-powered Hotmail service I doubt MS will be the one to make such a killer app.

Stating that AJAX is somehow "bad" because it won't work in any browser version made is just retarted. Sure there are still people using windows 95 out there, but that doesn't mean I should ensure my win32 app will run correctly on it. If you want your application to work on every possible platform/hardware configuration/software version, then it won't take advantage of any of them. You will have nothing more than a lowest common denominator program when you finish.

According to my website tracking software, roughly 5% of my web visitors have javascript disabled. Does that mean I should avoid using JS on my sites because of those 5%? Absolutely not. Sooner or later you have to give up on those who are way behind the technology curve if you are ever going to advance the state of your software. Roughly 5% of my visitors still show up at 800x600 resolution, but i'm not coding my pages to be 800x600 friendly. Why make the other 95% suffer because there are a few percent that way behind?

You can still fail gracefully so the users with ancient browsers, JS disabled, or Super VGA screen resolutions at least know why the site doesn't work for them.

~PD

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Quote:
Original post by Cygnus_X
Is AJAX really worth all the extra programming time required to enhance the user interface? Or is it just another big new thing? My vote is currently for the latter.


To be honest I managed to knock up a very quick and simple AJAX interface within an hour. You can come up with a simple protocol for yourself, post all your requests to one place, and get back standardised responses. You can make your life easier by using one of the many kits that exist to make this easier for you, and you can also make it easier by not insisting on using XML for the data transfer - plain text or JSON work better in many cases.

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I can see fairly good reasons for using AJAX techniques for a management interface to something. That's to say

- A private area of a web site that web robots have no business visiting.
- An area that people can't access with javascript turned off - because you have control over who they are, and insist that they have it on.
- An area where you have at least *some* degree of control over what browser they use. They won't be allowed to access it from a cybercafe etc, so it's no problem.

Actually using AJAX has the following good implications for your app

- It makes them simpler to write in some cases
- It forces you to make the application with a RPC layer in
- It *can* enable better code reuse - but it can also cause confusion.

My advice would be, if you do use ajax, use it entirely consistently across your application. Use a single entry point that uses the same base code for creating / deciphering requests and composing / processing responses.

You can potentially make the server portion relatively straightforward - adding new functions to the RPC layer can be very easy indeed, as you'd already have the base code.

Then the client portion tends to be more complex - but that's still usually pretty quick to develop.

Mark

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Quote:
Original post by Michael Tanczos
I think ajax really is the next evolution of the web.

Tragically, yes.

AJAX is just another workaround for the fundamental limitations of the web's synchronous page-based model. <insert W3C haterade> Given the web as it is, though, it has its uses.

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Quote:
Original post by Sander
Ajax is a great tool if used for the right reasons. "getting quicker load times" is not a good reason. "offering interactivity that is not possible with standard HTML forms" is. I have used Ajax on a website before: I had two dropdown select boxes next to eachother. When you selected an item from the first one, the contents of the second one would change, depending on what you picked from the first one.
This can be done with straight javascript and no Ajax, but it's cleaner with Ajax.

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The silly thing about AJAX is that it's the NC warmed over, yet again. How many more times do the technology strategists have to oscillate between the client/server and workstation/database paradigms?

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Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
How many more times do the technology strategists have to oscillate between the client/server and workstation/database paradigms?


Easy. Forever. It's the same as the trend for hardware to specialize (separate GPU's, or FPU's) and generalize (GPU's/FPU's becoming general purpose and eventually folding back in the CPU) or the fact that corporations always seem to centralize/decentralize in a 5 year cycle. It's the great osscilating circle of life :-)

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Quote:
Original post by Sneftel
The silly thing about AJAX is that it's the NC warmed over, yet again. How many more times do the technology strategists have to oscillate between the client/server and workstation/database paradigms?


I don't think it's really an oscillation - it's more of a refinement of the existing web development model than a change between client/server and fat/thin.

You could of course treat it as that, but it would be a massive mistake (SQL statements client-side == BAD)

Mark

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Quote:
Original post by markr
I don't think it's really an oscillation - it's more of a refinement of the existing web development model than a change between client/server and fat/thin.

Sure--of the WEB DEVELOPMENT MODEL. Web development != development. Why is everyone so fired up about AJAX when there are so many other great cross-platform application frameworks available?

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Because it leverages the browser and the web directly. I don't think of it as a replacement for traditional applications, but I do see it as an important step towards improving the functionality of the web.

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Quote:
Original post by Kylotan
Because it leverages the browser and the web directly. I don't think of it as a replacement for traditional applications, but I do see it as an important step towards improving the functionality of the web.


Agreed. I'm not sure I would agree that web development != development, however. The difference being that here we are leveraging the power of the browser rather than making up custom compiled apps. So the platform for launching these apps is already in place on most machines, which gives you a much wider audience than you could achieve with other application frameworks without considerable effort in deploying your product.

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Michael Tanczos

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I heard of ajax just recently and may be wrong but this is how I feel about ajax:

Wouldn't ajax be most appropriate for huge sites with databases such as member management and such? and with at least 1000 members, to simplify search.
or when a lot ( over 1Mbs of text ) of content MUST be delivered on one page.
Forexample, I currently developed an administration tool and has several categories, and the size is over 1Mbs on one HTML page.
I can do several things to avoid the download lag of 5 seconds on high speed internet:
1) make each of the 20 categories 1 page. and save each time the customers change something in 1 category, which is extremely inconvenient.
2) use ajax, get fast downloading speed, and save everything at once in the end.

I doubt there's many things that NEED ajax, but I feel ajax will become common as technology grows and as the prices of softwares drop. It seems like sooner or later, database systems will be implemented in schools and parents will be able to find out when their child was absent, his scores on each test and etc... ( if the law permits this that is )

I believe what ajax makes possible is to retreive dynamic content without refreshing the page. so, where ever search is required, and has a lot of database content may be a good place to implement ajax.

here check out this cool link: http://developer.ebusiness-apps.com/
pinnacle of ajax technology.

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Quote:
Original post by Tradone
here check out this cool link: http://developer.ebusiness-apps.com/
pinnacle of ajax technology.


Pinnacle? None of their live examples work for me (FF 1.5). All I get are javascript errors.

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Guest Anonymous Poster
Easiest things that can be AJAX-beneficial:

1)Form validation
2)Password strength checks
3)Inline searching
4)Gallery slideshows
5)Office Apps(I have written a MSExcel,MSWord and MSProject mockup.)
6)Live Search
7)Spellfix(spellcheck for the web)
8)Dynamic forms

Extreme AJAX Programming:
1)Live whiteboarding
2)Non-java,non-flash chat systems without flicker
3)UML Apps


Things that are overused for AJAX:
1)Login systems
2)Live commenting
3)Date retrieval



However, what a lot of people in-the-know know are that you really don't need ajax. You could use frames to send data back and forth...AJAX is just cleaner.

Things that make AJAX worthwhile:
1)No page reloads
2)Multiple libraries
3)Clean coding structure
4)Allows for 'secondary page loading'
5)

Banes of AJAX:
1)Lack of directly controlling page state(using frames, even in conjuction with AJAX fixes this)
2)Overuse
3)Some sites are not developing their apps to be cross-platform and cross-browser compliant
4)LAck of knowledge for some users causes poor site design and implementation

Do yourself a favor, anyone learning AJAX, buy Ajax in Action and visit ajaxian.com and ajaxpatterns frequently. Learn patterns in web programming. And make every single page 1) accessable, 2) cross-platform compliant, 3) cross-borwser complaint, and 4) no bulked with AJAX.

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