Tuesday, December 06, 2005

All this talk about AJAX is making me nostalgic.

I just read this following article on Eric Pascarello's blog:Eric's weblog - AJAX..Is It hype?. It seems that every development website you turn to is talking about AJAX. For those not in the know, AJAX is an acronym Asynchronus JavaScript and XML. The phrase was coined by Jesse James Garrett, to refer to a specific type of web application.

AJAX applications essentially minimize 'browser flash' by loading the UI into a single web page and then update the page behind the scenes obtaining XML data from the web. Google has developed a lot of these applications of late like G-Mail and Google Maps.

But while the term AJAX is new, the technologies used to fuel it are almost a decade old. 8 years ago, I was working for a small consulting firm and asked to develop a rich application for Dow Jones / Telerate. Flash was in its infancy, and used for not much more than pretty displays (most of the hooks for data had not come into the picture yet), and JavaScript was being used heavily as a client-side development tool. For dow, we developed a prototype called TAC - Telerate Active Channels. TAC was a very simple project to illustrate how a single web page could be opened, kept open a whole day, and still receive active content as the day wore on. One of our designers developed a single web page to use for the UI. Together we worked on the DHTML and Javascript Elements, and then I needed to do the hard part - get the data there. I basically wrote a small java-based client and server application to handle the data. The server would generate random news stories and stock/fund/index quotes from data in text files. The client, a Java Applet with no UI, was able to log on to the server, subscribe to a news feed, that would automatically update the UI via JavaScript. Sound familiar? While we didn't know it at the time, we were developing technologies very much akin to AJAX and her cousin - RSS. We did it all without any real APIs, tools, or 3rd parties.

While the prototype was far off from a real application, it piqued Dow Jones interest and led to follow-on work developing Offline (yes Offline!) browser-based trading applications (one for Commercial Paper, the other for ForEx). I know what you're thinking - why would anyone need an offline browser-based application? Well back in 1997, many companies didn't have broadband, and wanted to work offline before dialing up and syncing. With some of my colleagues, we developed a local browser app that could save data to an MS access database and then synchronize when connected. I wonder if anyone is doing that with AJAX? :)

Unfortunately, Bridge Information Systems bought Telerate from Dow Jones while the project was in development, and sadly, it never got launched. Maybe I will develop an AJAX app - if not for anything else, than for old times' sake :)

No comments: