Monday, March 27, 2006

Ajax for Ajax's sake

I, like many of you, have been waiting with bated breath to see what Michael Robertson would put out when ajaxWrite debuted. We all expect a lot from him, since his many ventures made waves in the industry in the past few years, from MP3.com to Linspire. Well, ajaxWrite fails to impress on several fronts:

The point of Ajax is not to reproduce functionality of desktop apps to the letter - it is to expand and enable users to do something they couldn't do before. ajaxWrite can do little more than Windows owners can do with WordPad. What if you don't have Windows? Well, pretty much every OS includes a similar app that lets you create simple documents right out of the box. The cool thing about Writely was not that it really felt like a desktop app; that is secondary. The cool thing was centralized storage, collaborative features, RSS notifications when document was changed, etc. That is what web applications are meant to do.

That leads me to the second major drawback of ajaxWrite - it runs only on Firefox! Now, as a long-time Opera user that obviously irks me more than your average Firefox user, but that alone would not be so bad if this was a temporary limitations while they improve the application. But unfortunately, I believe this is a permanent handicap as ajaxWrite relies on XUL to create the user interface. XUL? There is an X in Ajax, but it's not for XUL! Using browser-specific technologies (Mozilla-based developments are the only ones that support XUL) is exactly how not to build web applications. There really is no difference to the end user if you use XUL over ActiveX. I hope this trend stops with ajaxWrite and its siblings. Let's not worry so much about reproducing the desktop look and feel but focus on creating new and compelling solutions.

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