The Web Gambit

Thoughts on Web Development

Silverlight/Flex/JavaFX versus AJAX

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Last week a big announcement came from Microsoft regarding their new Web platform dubbed Silverlight. This is Microsoft’s answer to Adobe’s Flex platform and serves as an extension of the .NET framework. Today Sun announced their competitor to both platforms, dubbed JavaFX.

So why are all these companies eager to make a Flash replacement (or extender in Adobe’s case) when just 2 years ago everyone was calling AJAX the Flash killer?

The reason is very simple, writing AJAX code is painful. While a lot of work has been done to make using AJAX easier through frameworks and toolkits, the core problem remains that underneath the hood AJAX still looks and feels like a hack to provide State over HTTP, a protocol which was initially designed to be Stateless.

The holy grail that web developers are trying to reach is a true separation of presentation logic from content. Currently AJAX does not easily provide this abstraction as it typically requires either a developer or a designer to write a lot of Javascript. Even simple things like forcing one html control to affect another without posting back the entire page require either significant amounts of Javascript or an external toolkit to work with most of the web platforms out there. With many developers finding issues with Javascript, it’s only natural that they would try to find an alternative.

Despite its weaknesses, great things are being done with AJAX every day and this is likely to continue for quite some time. But with three major software companies putting their weight behind easy to develop, non-AJAX platforms for web development, it’s just a matter of time before AJAX becomes too unwieldy to be considered over Silverlight, Flex, or JavaFX.

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