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Monthly Archives: April 2010

Ajax stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. It is a way of providing a dynamic web page without the need to constantly refresh it. It employs a combination of JavaScript, XML, XMLHttpRequest, HTML and CSS, among others. Ajax does away with the familiar, traditional process of viewing web pages: click on something, then wait a second or more for the page to change. Instead, it creates more interactivity and responsiveness, like desktop applications do. It can update portions of a page without refreshing it all. Ajax can request small pieces of  information from the server instead of the whole page at once. That saves a lot of time.

Ajax is based on open standards, which makes it work well across many browsers. It is cross-browser and cross-platform compatible. It’s possible to build Ajax-based rich Internet applications on most modern browsers. People like having options, so not being limited to using a certain type of browser is a very important thing for a developer. By being based on standards that many people are familiar with already, the learning curve to transition to building rich Ajax applications is not that big. Ajax also works well when it is combined with Flash.

Ajax helps to improve usability. It provides a better experience for the user. It feels as if any changes that happen are instantaneous. Good user interfaces make things get done quicker. In this information-rich age, efficiency is key.

Many successful websites currently use Ajax technology. Google Maps is a considered one of the most impressive ones. Other popular services from Google, such as Gmail, Reader, Suggest also use Ajax. In Gmail, Ajax takes care of spell-check, auto save and checking for new emails, among other things. Flickr uses Ajax too, and so does Meebo, a popular web-based IM client.

Some things that Ajax could be used for are browser-based chat applications or instantaneous form validation – done while user is typing. It could be used for smooth navigation, contracting and expanding them without the need to load a new page.

Ajax is mobile-friendly. Pocket PCs and smartphones support it. It can be easily predicted that Ajax will play a key role in enhancing mobile user experience.

In the end, Ajax sounds like a very useful thing to know. It is very powerful, as evidenced by the success and popularity of Google Maps, Facebook, Gmail, etc. By being based on technologies that are already sort of familiar to people, it encourages people to learn it. Trying to program something in Ajax isn’t going to feel like learning a completely foreign language. That, combined with how much can be done using with, makes people excited about working with it.

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Open source technology is very useful. It gives people access to so much more material and widens the possibilities of any project. Its first benefit is that it’s free. That encourages people to test software or scripts out. If it turns out it’s something they don’t like or not what they really need, it’s easy to delete it and move on to someone else. No money has been invested, nothing lost – except a little bit of time.  Another encouraging thing is that often many great people try and improve the open source scripts and software, which is better for the end user. The public’s collective knowledge is really immense.

People like not being limited in what they can do. A recent article notes that open source developers prefer working for the Android and not the iPhone and that more projects are built for the Android than its competitor. The article states: “Android likely gained in popularity in 2009 thanks in part to its open source nature and the fact it has the support of a large handset vendors and operators.”

There are great programs that use open source technology for Mac and Windows computers. They are alternatives to paid programs and sometimes they are even better. Thunderbird, for example, is a viable substitute for Microsoft Outlook. VLC is an open-source media player. I’ve had the experience on trying to view a video with Quicktime and it wouldn’t play right, but it would work just fine on VLC, without prompting me to install a bunch of supplements or codecs.

Personally, using open source things gives me confidence in the product. I like free things. It’s great knowing that so many resources are made available by talented programmers to help make our lives easier. While it is rewarding and impressive to come up with your own script to use in a project, for example, sometimes the cost may outweigh the benefit. It may result in many hours being lost trying to figure out how to do something. If someone else already did the work, why not save time and use their knowledge instead? There’s nothing wrong with saving time.