The NWC Interview: Adaptive Path's Jesse James Garrett

He gave us the acronym "Ajax." Now, the president of Adaptive Path talks about Ajax's suitability to speed Web applications...and what it still has to prove.

October 19, 2006

3 Min Read
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Jesse James GarrettPresident, Adaptive Path

You personally coined the acronym Ajax (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML) a year and a half ago when you were trying to persuade a client to use the underlying technologies in a Web application. Because you're good at compressing ideas, how would you describe the business benefit of Ajax?

One benefit is making Web applications more responsive to users. The project that really got us interested in Ajax was an insurance company's policy-processing application--the software its agents used to manage the business. There was a considerable competitive advantage to be gained if that application was more responsive; there would be an opportunity to take business away from competitors.

Haven't the technologies underlying Ajax existed for years?

That's right. I have often been asked what it was about 2005 that made it ripe for Ajax in ways that 2001 or 1998 weren't. Basically, we got smarter as an industry about how to use these technologies effectively.

Ajax is the man behind the curtain on some popular consumer applications, including aspects of the DVD rental service Netflix and the photo-sharing site Flickr. Are there ways in which Ajax is particularly suited for enterprises and intranets?

In the enterprise, developers often have a controlled client environment where they can be assured that everyone is going to be using the same browser on the same platform. That's an enormous advantage that developers of consumer-facing Ajax applications don't have.Google has become the poster child for successful Ajax implementations with Gmail and Google Maps. Can companies whose core expertise isn't in technology realistically expect to be successful using Ajax?

From a technological perspective, Ajax is getting easier to implement all the time. There are more and more frameworks and toolkits available. So it's not like it was when Google developed Gmail, which it essentially had to create from scratch.

How supportive is Microsoft of Ajax?

They've got an Ajax development toolkit called Atlas that has been in development for a while now. In addition, there's the Windows Presentation Foundation, which is another set of tools to enable the development of these kinds of applications, although that would be Windows platform-specific, as opposed to Atlas, which wouldn't. Microsoft's strategy is to provide tools for every kind of developer, and then see which way the industry goes.

How are you addressing clients' security concerns with Ajax?We are advising caution. What's likely is that some of those security concerns--about the visibility of personal information, about access to underlying business logic, those kinds of things--are going to be manifested in some real exploits. Somebody's going to get burned, and then the industry will apply itself toward solving that problem.

What odds would you put on it one day being considered passé to do applications anyplace other than on the Web?

The zero-deployment quality of Web applications makes them very attractive, obviously, for IT administrators. But what we saw with the migration of a lot of different applications to Web-based applications on intranets is that a lot of people would find ways to work around them if those new applications weren't delivering the same level of value to users. These Web-based replacements for desktop applications are really going to have to prove themselves.

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