AJAX: telling it like it is…

Marcus Baker, author of the excellent PHP unit testing toolkit Simple Test lays it on the line: Listen kids, AJAX is not cool;

Marcus is goes straight for the jugular, playing the “it’s the network stupid” card and puts it in far more succinct terms than I’ve been cautiously trying to do in some of these blogs.

The more I think about it, the more it’s clear that some kind of delaying HTTP proxy, that I was suggesting here, is badly needed to make people see how badly AJAX can suck when you inject a little latency – AJAX@localhost is always going to look good.

Marcus mainly refers to hooking up UI components a user can interact with directly with AJAX. There is another way to go with AJAX, which is suggested in Ajax: It’s not all about XMLHTTPRequest (part I) and part 2 – namely start treating Javascript as a real runtime, occasionally “syncing” with the server to prevent data loss. In theory that’s probably the right way to go but it raises a whole bunch of new issues, from redefining the notion of a session to whether Javascript is really a robust platform for application development (see point 3 then follow that up by reading Javascript sucks vol. 1). Marcus highlights the lack of mature testing tools for Javascript (or even the lack of an environment to automating testing of Javascript in), which is part of this picture of Javascripts deficiancies.

From where I stand, Javascript is today where it should have been about 5 years ago as people were discovering DHTML – you can now write code which has a pretty good chance of running under all the modern browsers for the sake of neat web page gimmicks. But what Javascript isn’t is a sane environment for building MVC applications where the data model is available courtesy of AJAX.

Things like GMail and Tibco General Interface are exceptions, not the final destination. With enough money and manpower practically any technological pig can be made to fly – that doesn’t translate to the reality of small web shops building apps for SME’s.

Of course this not going to stop anyone from trying – we’re talking holy grail here. But what is worth remembering is if you decide to go AJAX, realize that you’re significantly increasing the risk that your project will “fail”. Don’t try it where real money is involved. As Marcus puts it;

When you write AJAX applicatons you drive a horse and cart through one of the most successful metaphors of all time.

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