Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

The Elephant in the Room

I’m not sure why Ajax developers have become so ecstatic about DHTML development when they still face the problem of IE at Microsoft. Microsoft just has such a terrible reputation for ruining the party. The more complex Ajax apps become the easier it will be for Microsoft to break them. This is why I personally prefer Flash/XML app development. It’s not going to break (at least not due to Microsoft’s efforts).

All you have to do is look at Microsoft’s track record. Netscape introduces javascript. People start using it. Microsoft “sort of” implements it and introduces ActiveX. The same thing happened with the DOM and CSS originally. Microsoft implemented it differently than other browsers and brought most DHTML developement to a stop. To me, the only clear-cut difference between DHTML and AJAX is the XML element, allowing pages to be updated dynamically without a refresh. Are we all so sure that Microsoft won’t try to break this?

Most developers will answer that, “If they do that, there will be an uproar among developers.” Yeah, so? That’s exactly what developers originally did in regard to web standards. It didn’t (IMHO) change a thing really. Developers have to recognize that Microsoft’s IE is the undisputed browser king. No ajax application seems to be changing that fact and increasing some other browser’s market share. And if someone like Google becomes enough of a threat (perhaps by introducing a Google-flavored version of Firefox) it is not beyond Microsoft to change some aspect of the DOM (embrace and extend anyone?) that allows their Ajax apps to work fine but breaks everyone else’s.

I think Microsoft would have to do something far more drastic to break Flash. And as many people have begun to recognize, Flash is really just a different implementation of the same principles that Ajax is trying to establish. No, it’s not open source, but Macromedia has done nothing to create any paranoia about that. (Of course, Adobe is another story.)

Furthermore, as Alexander Kirk points out on his blog, all of this talk about development within the browser ignores what can be done out of the browser. Consider iTunes or Apple’s Widgets. Sure we can build applications within the browser but we can also development applications that are just as readily plugged into the web and provide more robust, faster interfaces. You COULD do the iTunes music store as an AJAX application, but given how it’s built-in to the jukebox portion of iTunes, why would you?

All in all I wish Ajax the best. I will certainly endeavor to use the simpler aspects of it to create more responsive forms and the like, but for the heavy lifting I’ll stick with Flash. I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, I just feel that history has taught that a healthy dose of skepticism towards Microsoft’s actions in the community has never hurt.

Update [8:45pm Eastern]: William Blaze has an even lower opinion of the Web 2.0/Ajax crowd than I do.

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