Ever since the article Ajax: A New Approach to Web Applications unleashed itself on the Web I've seen the cacophony of hype surrounding Asynchronous JavaScript + XML (aka AJAX reach thunderous levels. The introduction to the essay already should make one wary about the article, it begins

Ajax isnt a technology. Its really several technologies, each flourishing in its own right, coming together in powerful new ways. Ajax incorporates:

So AJAX is using Javascript and XML with the old new twist being that one communicates with a server using Microsoft's proprietary XmlHttpRequest object. AJAX joins SOA in ignominy as yet another buzzword created by renaming existing technologies which becomes a way for some vendors to sell more products without doing anything new. I agree with Ian Hixie's rant Call an apple an apple where he wrote

Several years ago, HTML was invented, and a few years later, JavaScript (then LiveScript, later officially named ECMAScript) and the DOM were invented, and later CSS. After people had been happily using those technologies for a while, people decided to call the combination of HTML, scripting and CSS by a new name: DHTML. DHTML wasn't a new technology it was just a new label for what people were already doing.

Several years ago, HTTP was invented, and the Web came to be. HTTP was designed so that it could be used for several related tasks, including:

  • Obtaining a representation of a resource from a remote host using that resource's identifier (GET requests).
  • Executing a procedure call on a remote host using a structured set of arguments (POST requests).
  • Uploading a resource to a remote host (PUT requests).
  • Deleting a resource from a remote host (DELETE requests).

People used this for many years, and then suddenly XML-RPC and SOAP were invented. XML-RPC and SOAP are complicated ways of executing remote procedure calls on remote hosts using a structured set of arguments, all performed over HTTP.

Of course you'll notice HTTP can already do that on its own, it didn't need a new language. Other people noticed this too, but instead of saying "hey everyone, HTTP already does all this, just use HTTP", they said, "hey everyone, you should use REST!". REST is just a name that was coined for the kind of architecture on which HTTP is based, and, on the Web, simply refers to using HTTP requests.

Several years ago, Microsoft invented XMLHttpRequest. People used it, along with JavaScript and XML. Google famously used it in some of their Web pages, for instance GMail. All was well, another day saved... then someone invented a new name for it: Ajax.
So I have a request: could people please stop making up new names for existing technologies? Just call things by their real name! If the real name is too long (the name Ajax was apparently coined because "HTTP+XML+HTML+XMLHttpRequest+JavaScript+CSS" was too long) then just mention the important bits. For example, instead of REST, just "HTTP"; instead of DHTML just "HTML and script", and instead of Ajax, "XML and script".

What I find particularly disappointing about the AJAX hype is that it has little to do with the technology and more to do with the quality of developers building apps at Google. If Google builds their next UI without the use of XML but only Javascript and HTML will we be inundiated with hype about the new JUDO approach (Javascript and Unspecified DOm methods) because it uses proprietary DOM extensions not in the W3C standard?

The software industry perplexes me. One minute people are complaining about standards compliance in various websites and browsers but the next minute Google ships websites built on proprietary Microsoft APIs and it births a new buzzword. I doubt that even the fashion industry is this fickle and inconsistent.

Postscript: I wasn't motivated to post about this topic until I saw the comments to the post Outlook Web Access should be noted as AJAX pioneer  by Robert Scoble. It seems some people felt that Outlook Web Access did not live up to the spirit of AJAX. Considering that the distinguishing characteristic of the AJAX buzzword is using XmlHttpRequest and Outlook Web Access is the reason it exists (the first version was written by the Exchange team) I find this highly disingenious. Others have pointed this out as well, such as Robert Sayre in his post Ever Wonder Why It's Called "XMLHTTPRequest"?


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Tuesday, 22 March 2005 15:01:14 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
>the new JUDO approach (Javascript and Unspecified DOm
>methods) because it uses proprietary DOM extensions not in
>the W3C standard?

Oh now you've done it - I bet that sticks ;)
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 18:29:21 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Perhaps we can start calling it the POXSCRIPT approach for "Plain Old Xml and Script"
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 18:35:26 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
The references to XMLHttpRequest as a "proprietary Microsoft API" threw me for a bit because although it originated in IE as an ActiveX object it is now a de facto standard supported by several browsers.
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 19:20:54 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
As Ken stated, XmlHttpRequest has moved from being an IE only technology to a de facto standard. I believe this to be the big mover for AJAX.

There's _still_ no fun in developing IE-only web-apps :-)
Tuesday, 22 March 2005 21:39:22 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I agree with the point of the post, but the history is not correct. The term DHTML was coined before the term DOM.
Wednesday, 23 March 2005 02:28:28 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, you've won me over with this release.


Wednesday, 23 March 2005 12:37:34 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
You make excellent points here. I just had a similar discussion with someone over the exact same use of the word "new". But we all know there's no such thing as "new", right?

Anyway, I think this should be a signal to you guys at Microsoft. You should now see just HOW FAR AHEAD you are with regards to what the world needs. Back in 1996, IE3 gave us the capabilities to do some fantastic things that weren't possible before. As time went on and the technologies that you mention came into existence, that was about the same time that everyone was making a sport of smashing Microsoft. That's when Netscape refused to support ActiveX. And since they weren't doing that, they also decided that document.all(e) was not worthy of their support.

You guys are so far ahead. It should make you smile that the world is finally seeing the value in the technologies that you were trying to help them understand nine years ago. Nine years from now, people will finally understand teh value behind the common language runtime and eleven years from now it'll be XAML.

You have to give the rest of the world time to make something valuable out of your discoveries. Who ever used VML? I'll bet one of these "AJAX" geniuses will add that to the mix before too long since it's already in the browser.

If the non-IE browsers of the world would have worked to support the great new ideas that the IE team was adding to IE, this world of "AJAX" would be much farther along.

I continue my reply here...

Wednesday, 23 March 2005 13:37:19 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I think you're missing the point behind the term: sometimes applying a mnemonic to a common practice helps to consolidate people's approach to a problem. Just look at the Design Patterns book. These are mechanisms that people have been using for years, but by collecting them in the manner that they did, it gave people a standard way of talking about some parts of architecture.
Thursday, 24 March 2005 09:00:04 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I actually agree with the post and I could care less what it is called (Ajax or DHTML or ..) but I thought I'd correct a couple of historical points. We (I led the IE MSFT 4.0 team which shipped in the fall of 97) called it DHTML because we introduced the read and writable DOM so that Ecmascript could dynamically modify the page to react to fine grained user actions and asynchronous events. That really was new and inventing this and the term occured simultaneously. Scott Isaac drove this work and worked tirelessly to get it into the W3C. We (MSFT) had a sneak preview for many developers in the fall of 96 actually showing things like pages expanding and collapsing in the gmail style and Tetris running using Javascript and DHTML in the page. Before then, javascript could hide/unhide items and react to some coarse events, but that was about it. We added the XMLHTTPRequest object (Chris Lovett actually did this) in IE 5.0 when we wrote the auction demo to show how XML could be used with IE to build a new interactive client. If there was a pioneer for Ajax, I'd argue that the auction demo was it.
Thursday, 24 March 2005 20:06:25 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I have one statement to make...

you wrote:
"One minute people are complaining about standards compliance in various websites and browsers but the next minute Google ships websites built on proprietary Microsoft APIs and it births a new buzzword"

First - for clarification - the XMLHTTPRequest is proprietary, going both ways.. IE has it's ActiveX object.. Moz/Net has a built in object to do the same function. As previously said a 'defacto standard'.

Second, companies like Microsoft and Google push the boundaries. *not flame* Java is what happens when you sit down and try and plan out every single occurrance/possible use of technology and the API in advance, it just doesn't work */not flame*. The work these companies do unearth the difficulties and the relative advantage of solving a problem in any given way. It is easier for the standards bodies to have some evidence to look at when deciding the path of least resistance. We should be thankful for their work (only when they make it flexible enough for industrial use). The clamor for standards is the lack of support for needed elements, or the superceding of a proprietary API over/in spite of the standard.
Friday, 25 March 2005 04:14:28 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
People will always come up with acronyms, or shorter ways to say something. There is simply no getting around that I am afraid.

Recently at work our manager asked if we could "un-brand" one of our tools which has a 3 letter acronym name. It's basically a knowledge base tool. I was like YEAH, LETS CALL IT A KNOWLEDGE BASE!! Heh.. in my company every group, every project, every application has it's own LOGO.. it's insane.. INSANE!!
Friday, 25 March 2005 17:17:28 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I couldn't agree more. I actually thinking this is pretty cool, now that other browsers can finally support this. The Current MSDN Library has basically been doing this for 5 years now, though not completely "standards" compliant. You'll could probably find that Google/Gmail isn't exactly "standards compliant" as well, bu they seem to be going in the right direction with the concept...
Saturday, 26 March 2005 01:21:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Dare, software industry perplexes you because you are assuming the industry is made of mature reasonable folks. It's not. It's made of immature excitable kids. I personally believe this is what keeps the industry an exciting place to work in.

Take the silliness out of a monkey and you got an accountant.
Saturday, 26 March 2005 04:10:58 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Adam Bosworth, be careful with 'we' because DHTML was a co-development with Netscape, and both Microsoft and Netscape proposed it (CSS-P) to the W3C.

I also wrote on this, and could care less about the name. But if people are going to write essays that build the path to the next coming, at least they can use technologies newer than five years old.

Oh, and 'defacto standard' is an oxymoron.
Saturday, 26 March 2005 20:21:29 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
Shelley - Actually Adam's representation is accurate. I am not going to completely rehash history, but the DHTML work in IE4 was the precursor to the standards that were created. I authored the initial CSS-P (based on our earlier work with the IE3 HTML Layout Control) and DHTML specifications and presented it to the W3C. I then worked closely with Scott Thurman of Netscape to produce the public working drafts. The resulting CSS-P document was an early great success of competitors cooperating to create a new web standard.

The name Ajax doesn't bother me either (I just call it DHTML :-), but if it raises awareness to building better and richer web experiences - great - even if it took 7 years to get there. It really doesn't matter what us geeks call it, all that matters is how we can apply technologies to serve our customers.
Scott Isaacs | scottATNOSPAMwebloggingDOTcom
Tuesday, 07 November 2006 00:03:05 (GMT Standard Time, UTC+00:00)
I actually agree with the post and I could care less what it is called (Ajax or DHTML or ..) but I thought I'd correct a couple of historical points. We (I led the IE MSFT 4.0 team which shipped in the fall of 97) called it DHTML because we introduced the read and writable DOM so that Ecmascript could dynamically modify the page to react to fine grained user actions and asynchronous events. That really was new and inventing this and the term occured simultaneously. Scott Isaac drove this work and worked tirelessly to get it into the W3C. We (MSFT) had a sneak preview for many developers in the fall of 96 actually showing things like pages expanding and collapsing in the gmail style and Tetris running using Javascript and DHTML in the page. Before then, javascript could hide/unhide items and react to some coarse events, but that was about it. We added the XMLHTTPRequest object (Chris Lovett actually did this) in IE 5.0 when we wrote the auction demo to show how XML could be used with IE to build a new interactive client. If there was a pioneer for Ajax, I'd argue that the auction demo was it.

i agree
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