December 1, 2005 4:00 AM PST

Ajax spurs Web rebirth for desktop apps

A correction was made to this story. Read below for details.
Slicker development techniques like Ajax, a way of building interactive browser-based applications, are fueling a surge in consumer Web applications.

These new techniques are even reviving efforts to create what was once considered impractical: online alternatives to Microsoft Office.

The launch of high-profile Web services, notably Google Maps, which provided a noticeably better user experience than traditional Web sites, helped publicize the Ajax technique. Now, dozens of start-up companies are using it to create hosted versions of desktop applications, from word processors to project management software.

But rather than simply replicate Microsoft Office online, many of these Web applications, sometimes referred to as Web 2.0, focus on publishing and sharing information over the Net.

The base Ajax technology--which uses the JavaScript language and other Web standards--was invented in the 1990s.

But not until recently--around the time the term Ajax was coined in February--have a large number of developers and entrepreneurs grasped the new opportunities Ajax presented, according to analysts and entrepreneurs.

Google's use of Ajax this year helped demonstrate how Web applications could rival the look and feel of existing desktop applications. And wider adoption of Web standards in browsers has given developers some assurance that Ajax applications will run on most PCs.

"When Ajax came out earlier this year, companies started sprouting up everywhere," said Richard Monson-Haefel, a Burton Group analyst. "These start-up companies with smart developers can take Ajax and without any constraints some (tool) vendor set up, can do anything they imagine."

Interactive Web pages built with multimedia tools such as Macromedia's Flash and Flex have been around for years. These so-called rich Internet application tools will continue to exist for sophisticated tasks, but Ajax fits the need for simpler jobs, like adding interactivity to an existing Web site, Monson-Haefel said.

The ability to build a better Web is paving the way for hosted services funded by advertising or subscriptions. That's a shift from the traditional desktop software model where customers pay an up-front fee to install software onto a single machine.

Microsoft, the dominant supplier of desktop software, is moving aggressively, if belatedly, into Web-based application services.

The company realigned its business units around software services and in November launched the initiative, which includes many services stemming from its MSN division. Many of these services, such as Hotmail (to be called Windows Live Mail), rely on a revamped front end built using Ajax.

Ajax Office?
The growing use of Ajax--and Microsoft's embrace of services--has spurred discussion of Web-based Microsoft Office replacements. Some companies have already done online productivity applications, but are now making Web-based communication an integral part of their offerings.

For example, Writely is an online word processor. But the greater value of the system is the ease with which people can collaborate and share their Web pages, said Sam Schillace, co-founder of the four-person outfit, Upstartle, which created

"In the last four or five months after we launched, people said we were crazy. Why would anyone edit a document in a browser?" Schillace said. "Now you see Microsoft and Google doing the same. So we've gone from crazy to conventional wisdom in six months."

Google has decided to dedicate some of its workers to the OpenOffice open-source project, which has led to speculation that it will offer a hosted productivity suite.

Microsoft, meanwhile, hasn't announced plans to offer a fully hosted version of Office. The company last month said that it plans a new service called Office Live for small businesses to track customer accounts or manage contacts. But that service will augment, not replace, Office. Office Live will come in both ad-based and subscription versions, Microsoft said.

Another start-up that has been building Web-based Office-style applications is Silveroffice, creator of gOffice. This site offers word processing and printing and intends to soon launch an online spreadsheet and presentation software. A service to convert documents to Adobe Systems PDF format is planned for January, said Kevin Warnock, founder and CEO.

gOffice applications are free to users and funded by ads. The company intends to offer subscriptions for customers, particularly  

Correction: This article incorrectly described the origins of Ajax technology. Ajax came from a number of sources, including Microsoft.

CONTINUED: Bootstrapping that start-up…
Page 1 | 2

See more CNET content tagged:
AJAX, start-up company, desktop software, Microsoft Windows Live, Web application


Join the conversation!
Add your comment
Looks like a duck, Walks like a duck,
... and quack like a duck..... it is a duck; and, if this holds true then "These new techniques are even reviving efforts to create what was once considered impractical" are apparently nothing "new" as if one is to review earlier developments of WorkSpace-On-Demand which was introduced by IBM almost a decade ago where it is pointed out in a paragraph about -- What WSOD Can Do for You" in an article which describes where "In business, a local financial consultant is giving serious consideration to WSOD. He currently uses OS/2 and NetWare. In his office they run different tax programs for each year. OS/2 does the best job of running some of those old DOS programs. The planners and assistants only use a spreadsheet, word processor, and their planning/tax programs. So the constrained interface of WSOD is a perfect fit"; see link;

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does MS own patents on AJAX?!
I'm sure if MS owns patents on AJAX they'll find a way to pre-empt it if it goes too far (further threatens Office)
Posted by technewsjunkie (1265 comments )
Reply Link Flag
invented by microsoft?
ajax was not invented by microsoft.
in fact, if anything, it was invented by Netscape/Sun when they introduced javascript and liveconnect.
Posted by cilquirm (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Ajax is made possible by xmlhttp introduced by microsoft
It is the xmlhttp object in the browser that made ajax possible.

IE dabbled with Remote Data Script(Not great security wise).

Microsoft is definetly deserves some credit for AJAX.

Google deserves credit for making it popular.
Posted by Tanjore (322 comments )
Link Flag
An on-line application....
.... means that all your data and information and whatever which
you use in the application are essentially published for others to
read as they wish. Many organizations look at this as access to
provide targeted ads, But that's about the most benign option.
Security is totally shot to h--- in this approach.

I don't intend to get paranoid about it, but I'll stick with
applications that aren't built to blab.
Posted by Earl Benser (4310 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Yes, invented by MS ~ 1996
IE's implementation of DHTML, and MS' invention of asynchronous HTTP requests for Outlook Web Access, is where "Ajax" (man I loathe that fake marketing term) started. To claim as the article does that it came out earlier this year is hogwash.
Posted by bobsil1 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Enhanced by MS - Not Invented
I would have to disagree that "AJAX" was invented by Microsoft. I know that AJAX means asynchronous JavaScript and XML. However, AJAX captures two real ideas: asynchronous communication with a server and the ability react to this communication and render content in a web browser. How you accomplish this is really inconsequential, JavaScript and XMLHTTP are just the most convenient way we have to do this (for now).

Early versions of Netscape supported JavaScript. This is the technology that really created opportunities to bring the browser to life. Combining JavaScript and HTML created a number of ways to communicate with the server asynchronously. One way was to use hidden frames and do form submits. Form submissions thru hidden frames allowed sending and receiving information without the user experiencing page reloads. Another way is to take advantage of the capability to dynamically load images. The capability was created for image rollovers, but you could co-opt this capability via a technique called "GIF data pipes" (<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>) By attaching cookies or query string parameters to the request for an image you could communicate with the server and the server could respond by sending cookies down with the new image.

JavaScript provided a number of ways to render content on pages. The earliest that I am aware of is "document.write()". I used to call this poor mans DHTML because it worked in nearly every browser even Netscape version 2. The capabilities in browsers have definitely evolved for the better. NS 4 introduced layers, they were limited in functionality, but wow were they exciting at the time. With the later introduction, IE 4 Microsoft introduced some eye popping DHTML capabilities.

My point is that even with old non-Microsoft technology you could AJAX. I totally agree that Microsoft took these technologies and enhanced them, but they by no means invented them. I'm sure there are earlier examples of this capability, I just wanted to point out that in browsers this capability has been around for quite some time.

Another point is that developers didn't just realize that AJAX was great; many have known it since the Netscape 2 days. The problem is that users had all sorts of browsers. Some supported X some supported Y other didn't even know what X &#38; Y were (links anyone?). When google released google maps it was just an "ah-ha" moment. All of the sudden the mantra beaten into web developers heads: "build to the lowest common denominator" seemed very outdated. We still though of the lowest common denominator as NS 3 or NS 4. The real change here is that people have upgraded their browsers. Now we can pretty much be assured that the user is running IE 5 -6, Firefox 1.x, Safrai, Opera, KHTML or some other browser with all these great capabilities. Consumers of the web have been slowly changing browsers all these years, the thing is we just noticed it all at once.

Posted by doogie04 (5 comments )
Link Flag
Yes, invented by MS ~ 1996
IE's implementation of DHTML, and MS' invention of asynchronous HTTP requests for Outlook Web Access, is where "Ajax" (man I loathe that fake marketing term) started. To claim as the article does that it came out earlier this year is hogwash.
Posted by bobsil1 (13 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Just how "concatenation" challenged is Microsoft...
... along with some other companies who "have already done online productivity applications" which appear to lack certain "spreadsheet" functionalities - Economic Rate of Return -- ERR (even the quite recently released 2.0). Hopefully, the community whose goal is to 'create the leading international office suite that will run on all major platforms and provide access to all functionality and data through open-component based APIs and an XML-based file format will in the not too distant future achieve this objective as users will find these functionalities very compelling.
Posted by Captain_Spock (894 comments )
Reply Link Flag
AJAX versus Flash/Flex
&gt;&gt; These so-called rich Internet application
&gt;&gt; tools will continue to exist for
&gt;&gt; sophisticated tasks, but AJAX fits the
&gt;&gt; need for simpler jobs

Not quite.

AJAX not only revives the user experiences, but also explores better programming models that make sophisticated app easy to develop.

The ZK project, an open-source Web framework, is an example. Details at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a> and demo at <a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>.
Posted by tomyeh (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not invented by Microsoft
People, Microsoft did not invent AJAX. The writer of this article is misinformed. AJAX is a combination of already existing technologies. The only part MS invented was the XMLHTTPRequest browser object, which is used in AJAX. But to claim that Microsoft invented it is preposterous.
Posted by Sentinel (199 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Origin of Ajax technologies
To say Microsoft invented Ajax is an over-statement and inaccurate. They created the XMLHTTP object, which is part of the Ajax combination. We're changing the original text. Thanks for pointing out the error.
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by mlamonica (330 comments )
Link Flag
Microsoft did invent AJAX
and the browser, and the internet...
<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>
Posted by (25 comments )
Reply Link Flag
An article about this topic
A Software Architecture Toolset for Choosing the Right Type of Client Application
Choose "web application" or "desktop application"? Rich-Internet or a Smart-Client Application?

<a class="jive-link-external" href="" target="_newWindow"></a>

by Oren Cohen Shwartz
Posted by orencs (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag

Join the conversation

Add your comment

The posting of advertisements, profanity, or personal attacks is prohibited. Click here to review our Terms of Use.

What's Hot



RSS Feeds

Add headlines from CNET News to your homepage or feedreader.