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The Ajax Renaissance

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In his blog “The Clever Monkey“, Curl’s VP of Developer Relations, Richard Monson-Haefel, writes about a new feature coming in IE8, stunningly, citing new Ajax features in IE as signs of the “End of Ajax”.

Richard does not seem to be aware that the XMLHttpRequest API – sometimes called the “X” in Ajax – was a Microsoft proprietary extension first.

It is now an international standard present in all major browsers.

Proprietary innovations that have value get copied and become standards.   It is precisely this kind of innovation – innovation by multiple vendors trying to leapfrog each other – that moves standards forward quickly.

You only need to look as far as, for example, the Surfin Safari blog to understand how this works.  In the past months, major new features for Ajax – including CSS-based image transformations, CSS-based animations, and CSS-based reflections – have been added to Safari and simultaneously put forward as drafts for future international CSS standards.  At the same time, even though Firefox 3.0 provided gigantic performance improvements for JavaScript and Ajax in general, Safari 3.1.1 shipped with a yet faster JavaScript engine, with more improvements on the horizon.

So of course the IE team starts announcing IE8 features to build buzz.  Look at what’s at stake – the Mozilla Foundation had revenues of $56.8 million in 2006 attributed to search royalties alone(source: Wikipedia).  Based on market share hovering around 15% throughout the year, that makes every percentage point of market share worth around $3.8 million per year to the Mozilla Foundation.  It could be argued that the same market share is worth even more to Apple or to Microsoft.

All of these browser vendors understand that the best way to gain market share is to provide features that are compelling to developers and which provide a path to future standardization.  Before Microsoft dominated the browser market, that was exactly what was happening, and that’s where JavaScript (you know – the “J” in Ajax), HTML, CSS and the DOM API came from.  Now that there is renewed competition for browser market share, the innovation is accelerating again.

This is the exact opposite of the “End of Ajax”. This is the Ajax Renaissance.