Wednesday, January 18, 2006

AJAX Desktops - More than a Kitchen Cleaner

Just as RSS is changing the way content is published and subscribed, AJAX is changing the way content and applications are created and, more importantly, consumed on the web (and how users customize their interfaces).

Imagine creating your own personal home page - full of new feeds and applications you want and use - in literally less than 30 seconds. And all without a lick of technical skill.

Or using a word processor or spreadsheet over the web, for free, with the same functionality as Microsoft Office. And then being able to share that word "document" via the web to collaborate with others, before publishing it to a shared site or blog. Sure beats emailing around a word document with the annotation feature turned on.

Next, imagine news and data literally streaming through your browser, updating in front of your eyes without the frustrating need for the webpage to refresh.

While AJAX is the term for a relatively new programming language (technically a combination of existing protocols), it's implications can be enjoyed by everyone who uses a web browser. In short, AJAX enables webpages to change instantly without having the whole page refresh.

This sounds like a small nuance, but in reality, it's enabling applications to be delivered literally as webpage in a way not possible before. Airline prices change instantly as you choose different routes, maps zoom in or out instantly. Changing text from bold to italic instantly. And that's just the beginning.

The two areas in which AJAX is making most inroads today is for personal home pages or start pages, and as a web-based alternative to Microsoft Word. Both of these items have sent a chill through the folks in Redmond (see what Bill Gates & Ray Ozzie told MS employees) - as they threaten Microsoft's grasp on basic Office apps, as well as outlook and the browser.

Why? Because today there are a small number of start up's offering Word-like functionality, over the web, for free (revenue comes from advertising, not software license sales).

Check out http://www.writely.com/ and you'll see what I mean.

I'm sure it's not long before Google buys them, and takes a run at Microsoft. Or MS buys them and moves Word into a free-for-use model.

Then there's the new phenomenon of personal start pages. There are probably more AJAX 'start page' products out there than RSS readers. And of course, all these AJAX start pages function as RSS readers.

I've been testing a few of them, including Google and Microsoft's "live.com," as well as a cool one called Netvibes.com. Others include:


Eskobo
Favoor
Goowy (Flash, not AJAX)
Pageflakes
Protopage
Zoozio

The differences appear minimal at this point (most of these have been in existence for only a few months), other than the integration with email.

Google seamlessly shows your gmail inbox, and Microsoft's live.com shows your MSN mail box. They all have ability to load basic content like stock tickers, weather, news and alike. At this point, though, I'm torn between using an AJAX start page, and a stand-alone RSS reader.

While the start page is great for viewing my gmail inbox, stock list, and RSS headlines, I'm finding I like my RSS reader (I use Newsgator) better for RSS feeds, as there is more content scanable without clicking - and simply have my gmail email sent to my outlook client.

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